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Outlining in Microsoft Word

This week we are featuring a series of articles by Pastor Jamie Hart on using technology in ministry.

By Jamie Hart

If you use Microsoft Word, chances are you have a love/hate relationship with the application. And if there is any part of MS Word that you hate, chances are it’s the numbering and outlining feature. Outlining in Word can be extremely frustrating. Word will automatically change your indents and tabs and will choose its own numbering scheme. Breaking apart an outline with other text makes it difficult to continue your past numbering system. For the average user, these frustrations may be an occasional annoyance. But for the pastor or ministry leader who uses outlining on a regular basis, it’s a regular irritant!
There is good news! Using styles from a template you created can make outlining extremely easy and will add a great deal of new functionality to your documents. I’ll show you how.

Creating a Sermon Template

To create a template in Word, we will use Styles. Styles do a lot for you. They hold specific formatting so you can keep consistency in a document as well as any other document you create from the template. The Headings styles will automatically outline your document and open up powerful features like the Table of Contents and the Outline View. For the sake of this post, we will assume you are using Word 2007. If you would like instructions for another version of Word, send me an e-mail with your version of Word and I will send you the proper instructions(
  1. Open MS Word and start a new, blank document (just opening Word will create a new document).
  2. On the Home tab, in the Styles group, find the Heading 1 style. (You may need to click the “More” button).
  3. Right-click the Heading 1 Style button, and choose “Modify.”
  4. This will open the Modify Style Dialog Box. In the bottom left-hand corner, you will see a “Format” button. For our example, we will format the Font, the Numbering, and the Paragraph settings. So to get started, let’s click “Font.”
  5. In the Font dialog box, you can make any changes to the font you like. Change the Font type (Arial, Times New Roman, etc.), Font attributes (bold, italics, etc.), and so on. You can also add special formatting effects like small caps in the Effects section. Since the default Heading 1 style in Word ’07 is blue, you may want to change the font color here as well. Once you have made the appropriate changes, simply click OK on the Font dialog box.
  6. Next, we will change the Paragraph setting. To do this, click on “Format . . .”, then on “Paragraph . . .” in the Modify Style dialog box.
  7. First, be sure the outline level is set to “Level 1.” It should be set there already by default. Next, I would suggest removing some of the spacing before and after paragraphs. Simply change the spacing before and/or after to “0” (zero). You can simply change it to a lower number if you would like to retain some of the spacing. Now click OK.
  8. Next, we will apply a Numbering format to this style. Click on the “Format . . .” button again, and choose “Numbering . . .”
  9. Since this is our Heading 1 style, we will use this style for our main points. I use roman numerals for mine, so I will choose that style. Select the style you would like. And if none of those work (you know, like if you want to use the 1A. numbering system), then choose “Define New Number Format . . .” and do so. Once you have selected your number style, click OK.
  10. Since all the changes we would like to make to this style are now complete, we will click OK on the Modify Style dialog box.
  11. Next, right-click Heading 2, and follow the same steps, making the appropriate choices for that style. Keep formatting the different headings as far down as you need to go. If you need more styles than are listed, send me an e-mail and I’ll give you the proper instructions.

Saving the Template

Once you have modified all your styles, you should still have a blank document. Now you can save this as a Word Template.
  1. Click the Office button and click on Save As. (Click on the button itself without worrying about the options in the Office Menu.)
  2. Toward the bottom of the Save As dialog box, click the “Save As file type” drop-down, and choose “Word Template.”
  3. On the left side under “Favorite Links” you will see “Templates.” Click on that link. This will place your template in the Templates folder for easier access.
  4. Type in a name for your template (I use “Sermon”), and click Save.

Using the Template

Now let’s use this!

  1. Close out any open documents on Word by clicking the Office button and choosing “Close.”
  2. Click the Office button and choose New. On the New Document dialog box, choose “My Templates” and you should see your new “Sermon” template. Double-click the icon.
  3. Now watch the magic. Click on your Heading 1 button and type in your first point. Press Enter, and you will see that it returns to your normal style. You can also press Ctrl+Alt+1 on your keyboard to get the heading 1 style., (Ctrl+Alt+2 will give you heading 2 style).
  4. Type your sermon with the new styles and be amazed at the ease of using a template!
If all this was just too much work, you can download my sermon template: Once you’ve downloaded the file and have it open in Word, just use the “Saving the Template” instructions and you should be able it use it.
Other articles in this series:
If you have any questions at any time, please feel free to e-mail me at Also, post in the comments with any helpful tips you use!
Jamie Hart is the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Elkhart, Ind., and is an MCAS certified software instructor.


  • David king says:

    Jamie thanks for the contribution. I currently use microsoft for about everything and I create templates for my sermon series in PowerPoint and word. The outlining tip will be very useful.

    Thanks man!

  • Jamie Hart says:

    Thanks, Dave!
    Word does have some powerful features, if you know how to unlock them. I hope this helps save you some time

  • mike.smith says:

    Working with tempates actually saves you lot of time. It is not only design, but styles, formats, shortcuts and macros that can be saved there.

    So you can have several completely different sets of templates destined for completely different tasks while pressing same shortcut combinations. 🙂

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