How to Preach from an iPad or Tablet

It’s very tempting to stop wasting paper in favor of digital notes displayed on an Apple iPad or some other tablet, like a Nexus 9 Android tablet or the new Microsoft Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3. I’ll show you how to preach from an iPad or other tablet. This includes the setup of a simple and easy workflow for writing notes and then automatically transferring notes to the tablet to use for preaching or teaching from an iPad or other tablet.

This will work differently depending on what software and hardware you use. However, I’m going to show you the simplest way to do this almost no matter what kind of hardware you use. It requires Microsoft Word and syncing notes via OneDrive built into Microsoft Word.

Setting Things Up

office365
Don’t pay full price for an Office 365 subscription. If you bought a new Windows PC recently, it may come with one year free. Or go to eBay and fine one cheap.
Shop around for an Office 365 personal subscription for around $50-$60. For families, go for the more expensive Office 365 Home, which you can find for around $70-$90 instead of the full $100/year price. These are all annual subscription costs. You may already have it if you bought a new Windows PC in the last year or so. Also, many people buy a computer with the Personal version but don’t need it so they sell them on eBay for under $50. I’ve seen them as low as $26-$30.

If you don’t mind walking on the wild side, try the Office 2016 Technical Preview, which is pretty stable and free until they finally release the full version. It is a technical preview, which means you should avoid if you hate occasional crashes.

The Office 365 subscription lets you install the Office mobile apps on an iPad, iPhone, or Android device. Install OneDrive on the computer and the mobile device. Sign into the Office 365 subscription on both the computer and the mobile device. Copy over all your old sermons and Bible studies to a folder in the OneDrive folder to start syncing them across all your machines and devices. For more details about OneDrive syncing see the Microsoft helps site.

On a Mac the Menubar icon includes the program's menu. Click it to set preferences.
On a Mac the Menubar icon includes the program’s menu. Click it to set preferences.

To summarize the steps…

  • Buy and sign up for an Office 365 subscription using one of the links above
  • Install Office 365 on the computer or install the Office 2016 Technical Preview.
  • Install the Office apps for your mobile device.
  • Install OneDrive on the computer and on the mobile devices (not necessary, but helpful for looking for documents outside of Word)
  • Copy files from your computer to the OneDrive folder created during the OneDrive for computer installation process (some newer Windows machines come with it integrated into Windows 8.1).
  • Follow steps below for setting up a useful sermon/Bible study template.

Creating Preaching Notes

With apologies to Dr. Haddon Robinson, my preaching professor at Gordon Conwell, I use notes when I preach to remember what I want to say. He thinks all preachers should preach from memory, but I don’t do that. However, I do not use a full manuscript in the pulpit. That way I can look down, read a short phrase or one word to jog my memory and look at the audience as I preach.

I study in Bible software and record research findings in the notes feature of my favorite Bible study software. However, when it comes to finally putting together the sermon, I use Microsoft Word. It works on both Mac and PC and now comes with versions that run on iPad and most Android tablets. For those of you with great eyes, it will even run on a phone, like an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy Android phone.

Here's an example of my sermon notes used to teach from. Notice the red type for Bible passages, green type for headings and use of bullet points.
Here’s an example of my sermon notes used to teach from. Notice the red type for Bible passages, green type for headings and use of bullet points.
Here’s a few tips for making your preaching notes easier to use once you get them on the iPad.

  • Create a template with styles and keyboard shortcuts
  • Use the template each time you create sermon/Bible study notes document
  • In your template reduce the margins to half an inch to maximize screen space since you won’t print this file
  • Use color to draw attention to major points, sub-points, Bible passages and quotations
  • Use bullet points and phrases instead of long sentences so you’re not reading notes but using them to jog your memory
  • Use blank space to show new sections – a new section can come after two or three blank lines or make the headings with space above by default

If you don’t know how to do any of the above, see Microsoft’s great tutorial on creating templates or on using styles.

Now write your sermon. Preachers who preach from a full manuscript should highlight key ideas in the manuscript to quickly and easily draw attention to them. For example, make quotes red and bold or major movements or points of the sermon green (see my screenshot above of a recent Bible study document). Put Bible text in your notes and make it red or some other color.

Save all your notes documents to OneDrive. This makes them easy to open on the tablet.
Save all your notes documents to OneDrive. This makes them easy to open on the tablet.
Once you’ve created the notes, be sure to save them in the OneDrive folder on the hard drive or in the One Drive section of Word 2013 or 2016. This way they will show up in Word for iPad or Word for Android. OneDrive handles the sync process.

Make sure that the OneDrive syncing client installed on the computer is running. It gets shut down mysteriously on my Mac so I have to often start it manually. Once it’s running, right-click on the Menubar icon in Mac or the System tray icon in Windows and open the preferences and check the one that tells OneDrive to open each tim you log onto your Windows or Mac computer. The computer has to connect to Wi-Fi for the syncing to take place. After saving the file, give it a minute to sync before shutting down the computer.

Put a check mark in Open at login to keep OneDrive running all the time.
Put a check mark in Open at login to keep OneDrive running all the time.

Opening on the iPad or Tablet

Find your document in the Recent documents section of the Open dialog box in Word for iPad.
Find your document in the Recent documents section of the Open dialog box in Word for iPad.
It’s time to fire up Word on the iPad or the tablet. If you’re suing and iPad, open the app and look in the Recent files section along the right. If you didn’t already, sign into the same account you signed into in OneDrive and Word on the computer. Give the app a minute after connecting to Wi-Fi or LTE (wireless cellular data service). The document should show up in Recent section.

If the file doesn’t show up in the Recent section, then open it manually from OneDrive. Tap on the Open icon on the left edge. Then tap on OneDrive and drill down to the folder where you stored the document on the computer. It will download the file from OneDrive regardless of which place you open it from. You’re ready to go on to the next section.

On a Windows tablet, like the Surface Pro 3, just open the file inside the full version of Windows.
On a Windows tablet, like the Surface Pro 3, just open the file inside the full version of Windows.
For people using Android, it works the same way. Owners of a Windows tablet, like the Microsoft Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3 can just open the full version of Word. Make sure it’s signed into the same account used on the desktop or laptop. The Surface 3 or Surface Pro 3 benefits preachers wanting to preach from a tablet, because they can write the notes on the tablet and then later open them in Word on the tablet. They don’t need to worry about the syncing process. Just open the file when you’re ready to preach.

Preaching from a Tablet 101

Pur the tablet in landscape mode and tap the View Ribbon tab and tap Page Width.
Pur the tablet in landscape mode and tap the View Ribbon tab and tap Page Width.
Here’s a couple of tips for those who preach from an iPad or other tablet. If you’re like me and have bad eyes, turn the tablet to widescreen mode. Open the document as described above and make sure to set zoom in so that the document fills the screen. To do this, tap on the View Ribbon tab at the top of the screen. Then tap on Page Width to automatically resize the text so it fills the screen. For those who don’t have a problem seeing tiny text, go ahead and use it in portrait mode, but still use this trick to make the page fill the screen.

While preaching, swipe through the notes with a finger as you’re preaching instead of turning pages of written notes.

Alternatives to Word and Office 365

Many people will tell you that there’s a cheaper solution available. In fact there’s a number of cheaper solutions. I prefer to use Word, but you don’t have to. Here’s a list of other options that cost less or in many cases nothing.

  • Mac users can rely on Apple’s Pages which comes preinstalled on all Macs and is free on iPads. This won’t work on Windows or Android.
  • Google Docs is available free on all systems. Load notes in an Evernote note to preach from it.
  • Preach from Bible software notes. Olive Tree seems to work best for this, but most of them will do.
  • Any text editor that opens basic text files. Write in Notepad or WordPad on Windows. Use Notepad or Text Editor on Mac or get an app from the app store.
  • My friend Antoine Wright from Mobile Ministry Magazine and our Theotek Podcast uses images instead of written text and draws them on his iPad using the Paper app By Fifty-three. See the notes he took from one of my sermons recently.
Antoine Wright does "sketch notes" for his messages. Here's an example of some notes he took while I was preaching.
Antoine Wright does “sketch notes” for his messages. Here’s an example of some notes he took while I was preaching.

Which Tablet Should I Buy?

That’s a really hard question, but you can’t go wrong buying an Apple iPad. iOS Bible apps usually work better and come with more features that Android Bible apps with the same name. That’s true for Logos, Olive Tree, WORDsearch, PocketBible and Accordance. In the case of Accordance, there’s no Android version.

Get as much iPad as you can afford. The basic iPad Air 2 model costs $500 and comes with 16GB of storage and no LTE. Add $129 for LTE and add $100 for each step up in storage. So a 64GB iPad Air 2 costs $600 or $729 with LTE. The 128GB iPad Air 2 costs $700 or $829 with LTE. Alternatively get the iPad mini 3. It’s only $400 for a 16GB Wi-Fi only mode. Add the same amounts for LTE and the steps up on storage. To save some money consider shopping around for an older iPad Air or iPad mini 2 or get a used iPad on eBay or Craigslist. Shop in the refurbished store on Apple.com to get an iPad with a full warranty for less.

The best bang for the buck with an iPad is the 64GB models with Wi-Fi only. Most people who own a smart phone can use their smart phone as a Wi-Fi hotspot to get online when away from the home or office. Also, Wi-Fi’s become nearly ubiquitous in most cities in America.

Microsoft-Surface-3-with-iPad-Air

Preachers who need a new laptop and don’t mind a slightly smaller screen should take a close look at the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It’s expensive, but don’t compare the $800+ price to an $500 iPad or a $300 Android tablet. Compare the price to a high-end ultra-portable computer plus an iPad. The new MacBook, a MacBook Air or a Dell XPS 13 compare nicely to the Surface Pro 3 in terms of power and quality. The Surface Pro 3’s actually a lot faster than the new MacBook. Those machines range in price from $800 for an 11-inch MacBook Air to $1,600 for the new MacBook.

Even if you grab a cheap $300 Android tablet, that’s still at least $1,000 and you’ve got a slightly under powered computer and a budget laptop instead of a high-end computer that’s also a tablet with the Surface Pro 3, which replaces both a tablet and a notebook computer in one and handles preaching from digital notes, writing the sermon and using any Bible software without any problems. It also lets users install other great software like Adobe Photoshop or some games.

The new Surface 3 just released this Spring uses a slower Intel Atom processor and measures at only 10 inches instead of 12 inches like the Surface Pro 3. It’s slower, but still does a great job replacing a low-end notebook and a tablet. The quality compares to a $600-$800 Windows laptop and an inexpensive Android tablet that usually costs about $300. You’re saving a lot of money and only need one device to do most of what those two can do.

However, if you still don’t want an iPad, already have a great Windows or Mac desktop and/or laptop, and just want a decent Android tablet, then get a Nexus 9 (read my review). It’s the best Android tablet money can buy and costs $400. Otherwise look at a Samsung Galaxy Tab S ($400) or Samsung Galaxy Note 10 (under $300 street) or Note 12 (under $600). The Note tablets come with a great pen stylus, like the Surface 3 and Surface Pro 3 uses. The Note 12 also comes with a keyboard making it an option as a 2-in-1 tablet and laptop replacement. You can take notes in meetings on it or do mind-mapping, a great way to plan out sermons visually like my friend Antoine mentioned above. Then hook up the keyboard for typing.

2 thoughts on “How to Preach from an iPad or Tablet

  1. The only thing I’d add would be using Evernote or OneNote. From linking to the text, to adding images, to presenting the final right from the same “doc” it makes sense when either in a small church or leading a small study.

    Thanks for linking to the sketchnote I did at your church. Others I’ve done are linked at http://sketchnotes.antoinerjwright.com

  2. One other point that is crucial.

    Always back your notes up to something that can be accessed by a different device, using a different program, as soon as you’ve finished writing them.

    Do not rely on either your cloud storage vendor, or your Bible Software developer/vendor, to be able to retrieve any notes, when something goes wrong with your device.

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