Street Preaching: Using Notes

By Tony Miano
edited by Matt Slick

Some excellent open-air preachers instruct those who are new to the craft not to use notes1 2. Instead, they encourage street preachers to memorize their messages. Some open-air preachers suggest notes are too distracting to both the preacher and the listener. They say notes are an unnecessary crutch.

George Whitefield, one of the greatest open-air preachers who ever lived, wrote the following:

But I think the ministers' preaching almost universally by notes, is a certain mark they have in a great measure lost the old spirit of preaching. For though all are not to be condemned that use notes, yet it is- a sad symptom of the decay of vital religion when reading sermons becomes fashionable, where extempore preaching did once almost universally prevail.3

Some outstanding street preachers also suggest not holding a Bible while preaching. 4 5

Contrary to what noteable street preachers past and present assert, there are several valid reasons for using notes in open-air preaching.

No Street Preacher Has a Photographic Memory

Most people have a palpable fear of public speaking.6 Add to that the discomfort many people feel about memorizing anything of length, and the fear of public speaking only intensifies. Notes, even full manuscripts, can curb the before-mentioned anxiety and fear that keeps some people from open-air preaching.

Notes Help Ready the Preacher to Give an Answer

The open-air preacher must be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in him (1 Peter 3:15). He must be ready to answer a fool in his folly (Proverbs 26:5). He must be ready at all times to reprove, rebuke, and exhort others (2 Timothy 4:2). Nowhere in the Word of God is it suggested that the street preacher must be ready to extemporaneously7 do these things without notes. Having notes on hand helps the open-air preacher to give appropriate, timely, biblical answers to questions.

Your Greatest Weapon is the Greatest ‘Notebook’ Ever Written

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart,” (Hebrews 4:12).

There is nothing wrong with, or passe about, holding a Bible in your hand while you are preaching on the streets. While every Christian should practice the discipline of memorizing Scripture, the open-air preacher will never memorize all of it. Again, there are some public heralds of the gospel who have photographic memories and an extraordinary ability to recall chapter and verse very quickly. But they are the exception and not the rule.

To hold a Bible while street preaching is not to carry a crutch. It is to carry the God-breathed Word of God and the very authority for everything you say about God, man, Jesus Christ, His gospel, and everything pertaining to life and death.

Yes, it is authoritative to quote Scripture by announcing, “The Bible says...” However, it is even better to have the Authority in your hand as you not only quote it, but also read it to those who are listening.

Accuracy Over Eloquence

There are times when otherwise solid, biblical open-air preachers can employ some of the same pragmatism used by seeker-sensitive/seeker-driven churches around the world. Evidence of this is seen when street preachers spend more time trying to be innovative in drawing crowds instead of studying Scripture to find great truths to share with the masses. Sometimes open-air preachers forget substance is always more important than form; accuracy is always more important than eloquence.

Using notes when street preaching may not look as polished as a message extemporaneously delivered, but there is less chance for error when the preacher occasionally refers to notes to keep him on track. This is especially true when engaging hecklers. Many hecklers try to get the preacher to stop preaching, or to rattle him to make him forget what he was saying. Having notes in hand or in the preacher’s Bible can minimize the effectiveness of a heckler’s efforts to stop the preaching of the gospel.


The street preacher should never pridefully or pragmatically set aside the use of notes or the reading of Scripture to impress his listeners with his ability to effortlessly recall information. However, street preachers should not hide behind notes to sheepishly avoid making eye contact with listeners. Nor should notes serve as some type of imaginary, protective barrier between the open-air preacher and his audience. Street preachers should come to know the Word of God so well they can extemporaneously proclaim the law and the gospel when necessary. The open-air preacher should use notes if he wishes, and unashamedly and authoritatively hold and use his Bible while standing atop the box.

Watch this video 8 for an example of using notes while open-air preaching.

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About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.