By Carl Stagner
No, the speakers weren’t boring, and the times of worship were anything but a snooze. Still, while others were obviously listening intently to the teaching and preaching of God’s Word, one glance at Joe Watkins would reveal a head down, pen and sketch pad in hand, and then—double-take—is he drawing cartoons? How disrespectful! Is that guy paying any attention to the important things these men and women are saying? In fact, yes. Perhaps even more closely than others. The pastor of New Hope Community Church of God in Dayton, Ohio, has adapted a note-taking strategy that helps him best remember and process information. Not only does sketchnoting serve him well in sermon prep and delivery at New Hope, but it also proved beneficial to many others who also seemed to not be paying attention to the sermons, but really were—those who were live-tweeting, Instagramming, and Facebooking through the Regional Convention in Anderson, Indiana.
Included with this article are some photographs of Joe’s sketchnotes that he shared via social media during the Regional Convention in Anderson. For those who have yet to attend one of the conventions, these notes offer only a glimpse of the whole story. Your opportunity to fully experience all that God has for you and the Church of God in Reclaim 2016 is September 27–29 at New Covenant Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For those who attended either Vancouver or Anderson (or both), these illustrations may remind you of the message God impressed on your heart and enhance your takeaway. But Joe is quick to insist that these are not just illustrations or doodles.
“It’s definitely a note-taking technique,” Joe explains. “I’m a visual/kinesthetic learner, so being able to see the images, and the experience of actually drawing the images, helps activate the best part of my brain so that I retain more of what I’m hearing or seeing. For a long time, this was just something I did for myself, but inevitably someone would see my notes in a class or during a sermon and comment on them, or show them to others. Recently I’ve been encouraged to be more intentional about sharing my notes, and that’s been a fun experiment.”
For Joe, it all began during his time at Anderson University School of Theology. In 2005, Joe had returned to formal education after a three-year hiatus and knew he needed a practical way to renew his study habits. At a session with AU’s Learning Center, Joe heard about a student who had decided to take notes through cartooning. Joe’s background in graphic design made this option an appealing one. “My notes looked a lot different than they do now, but drawing my notes those four years at the SOT started me down the path until it became the only way I ever take notes now.”
Today, Pastor Joe says that sketchnoting helps ensure a coherent message. He also includes a fill-in-the-blank version in the bulletin to help his congregation follow along. Working with Prezi software, he’s finding that on-screen visuals have also enhanced listener’s learning and retention. Anyone can learn sketchnoting, Joe insists, though those more artistically inclined are more likely to try. All you need is a paper and pen, though tablets and apps now offer electronic sketchnoting opportunities. It shouldn’t surprise you that there’s even a “movement” centered on sketchnoting today, fueled by resources developed by sketchnoter Mike Rohde.
“One of the strengths sketchnoting brings to an event like #Reclaim2016 is that is makes identifying trends and reoccurring themes easier,” Joe concludes. “When I’ve drawn a similar idea three or four times, I start to think about how this thread ties things together. At Reclaim 2016, that thread was the idea of presence. Each of the speakers told stories, or stressed the idea, that for the church to have an effective ministry in the world, we must be present with people. I did a reflection sketchnote after the fact that stressed what I believe was the important message to the church (and to me) to reclaim our call to be the loving, reconciling, hospitable, sacrificial presence of Jesus in the neighborhood; all themes that were drawn out of the various session sketchnotes.”
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