Why Alliterated Outlines are Almost Always Absolutely Atrocious

sermon development Sep 23, 2014

Some preachers alliterate their outlines making all their points begin with the same letter. Sometimes just the main points are alliterated, other times the sub-points are alliterated, still other times the sub-sub-points are alliterated. At one point it was taught as a great way to organize your message and really get your listeners to remember. To make it stick, alliterate! was the mantra. But we don’t see as much alliteration anymore. But does it make a difference? Alliterate or not, does it matter?

Here’s why alliterated outlines are almost always absolutely atrocious:

1. They make your message seem contrived. Alliterated outlines can appear contrived and forced. Like the preacher just needed a matching, neat outline so he grabbed whatever word fit the others regardless of whether it was actually the best word that communicated the meaning he wanted. Like this:

God wants three things from you:

1. Surrender
2. Service
3. Supplication (Seriously? “Prayer” would work just fine here more people would know automatically what it means)
2. Some alliterations can seem crowded and overly complicated. I’ve read pulpit commentaries that teach pastors how to alliterate several words in a line and make each subsequent line a parallel matching line. Here’s an example from a sermon I heard once: 

 A genuine disciple is: 

1. Committed to a pure life.
2. Consistent in their personal life.
3. Constrained by the purpose of life.
4. Convinced of their position in life.

In addition to seeming painfully contrived, this is a complicated mess to navigate through. If we can learn anything from companies like Google, simplicity rules the day. A wordy, crowded, alliterated outline makes it difficult to navigate what is most important for your listeners to remember. 

3. They do not communicate authenticity. This is because it doesn’t seem like a real conversation. We don’t speak to each other in neat, alliterated sentences. As a preacher delivering a sermon you have to work hard to seem connected to your audience. Don’t make this harder on yourself by developing an outline that doesn’t seem real.

Every rule has an exception. Alliteration is not technically the problem. Overuse of alliteration and forced alliteration is the problem. Sometimes it can be very helpful. Other times it is a huge distraction. For me what makes the difference is whether memorizing it will help your audience when they walk away. If memorizing the outline is not something that would help them, then there is no need to alliterated. 

If you were preaching on three ways God wants us to love him your outline could be Head, Heart and Hands. “God wants us to love him with our minds (head), he wants our full emotions (heart), and he wants us to serve him (hands).” It’s simple and could be very useful to your listeners.
But this can be overused too. And if done too much or in a forced way can also be a distraction. So I am careful not to use something like that too much.
Do you alliterate? Why? Why not? What have you found to helpful when organizing an outline?

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