One of a preacher’s greatest challenges is choosing what to preach and when.
So much rides on your decision. Attendance. Growth in Christ. Momentum. And most of all, God’s purposes for your church.
Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned that help us pursue a perfect preaching calendar.
1. For everything, there is a season.
Certain times of the year are easier to attract the unchurched. We want to leverage these opportunities by building our calendar around those times.
For Americans, the best times to appeal to the unchurched are:
- two to three weeks after school starts,
- three to four weeks after the New Year, and
- Easter and the weeks following.
During these seasons, we do attractional series on topics like The God Questions, The Purpose Driven Life, family, marriage, or money management.
2. Balance depth and breadth.
The author of Hebrews understood that some of his audience needed milk, while others were ready for meat (Hebrews 5:12).
To balance the “milk” of high felt-need attractional series, we fill in the rest of the calendar with deeper series like book studies. This year I’m preaching through the book of Luke before and after our attractional series in January and following Easter. Last fall, I preached an evangelism equipping series for believers before we started inviting the community to church at Christmas.
3. Numerical growth comes mostly from campaigns.
Children don’t grow at a steady rate. They shoot up a half inch one month, then grow little over the next few months and then hit another growth spurt.
Churches do the same.
At New Song, our growth comes primarily from campaigns.
Campaigns are intentional series that combine weekend preaching with mid-week small groups and personal daily readings – all on the same subject.
In each of these campaigns, we’ve grown between ten and twenty percent, with consolidation (and some attrition) following.
We’ve positioned most of our Campaigns during the attractional seasons of September, January, and Easter, though we found that Future History hit the spot by starting it in December. Daniel was a wiseman, so his early chapters fit well into the Christmas season. By the time we hit the future portions of Daniel in January and February, our attendance popped 17%.
4. All growth comes from Jesus.
As our team sits down to strategize the preaching calendar, we recognize that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Prayer is as important in the sermon-scheduling process as it is in the sermon-writing and sermon-delivering process.
A key question we ask during planning is, “Lord, what do you want to teach your people during this time of the year?”
Ignatius Loyola said,
“Work as if it all depends on you, and pray as if it all depends on God.”
That’s good advice! Fortunately, it doesn’t all depend on you. But God is depending on you to do your part in his partnership miracle of bringing words to life.
5. Sermon series titles matter.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, but most people decide to read a book based on its cover.
A bad title is a reason to stay home. A good title can spark curiosity, anticipation, and momentum, and motivate your people to invite friends. A good title promise benefits, raises intrigue and sticks in your mind.
Where can you find good titles?
Search Amazon’s best-sellers list and surf the websites of some of the large churches you know. You’ll find lots of great sermon titles. You’ll probably also find that many of them have borrowed those titles from somebody else. You can, too. There’s nothing new under the sun.
6. Your perfect preaching calendar is not entirely in your hands.
In late 2019, I developed the perfect preaching calendar for 2020. You can imagine how that worked out.
I had planned a year of preaching theology in a way that balanced meaty and attractional. It all got set aside in the pandemic as we progressed through being briefly closed, then online, then into the parking lot, then the hybrid inside and outside, and now to church inside and some still online.
Theology obviously wasn’t a high felt-need topic during the pandemic, but it was a good plan. See How to Preach Theology in a Year and Watch your Congregation Grow. I may circle back around to it in 2024.
In the Summer of 2021, in our church parking lot, I preached a series on 2 Chronicles that spoke to the need of the times with high Bible learning. It was situated in the pandemic, but the series is still relevant as the pandemic wanes.
So we pray, plan, and re-evaluate when a crisis hits. Don’t hold fast to your plans. The Holy Spirit will lead you.
7. Advanced planning is the key to excellence.
Choose your series 9 to 12 months ahead of time. Work on it 2 to 3 months ahead of time.
For example, here’s the timeline for our fall church-wide campaign:
- By Christmas, we have our September campaign on the schedule.
- In May, we’ll make sure we have the materials chosen and ordered (or are writing them).
- In June, we recruit small group leaders.
- In July, we prepare graphics.
- In August, we begin small group enrollment.
- Mid-September, we launch with sermon series, small groups, and individual study all on the same topic.
Impactful series don’t happen because of 6-10 days of preparation; they happen because of 6-10 months of preparation.
You won’t be able to sink a thousand hours into every sermon series.
However, investing a few hours a year in advance, a few more hours three months in advance, and a few more hours a few weeks in advance will elevate the effectiveness of your preaching.
I think God will be honored through your planning.
And I know from experience that you will feel better about it, too.
We have a tool that will capture these strategies and help you work out how they apply in your situation. You can find it in the Pastor’s Personal Toolbox. It’s a library of our best tools and resources — all in one place. Tap below to learn all about it, and get the planning sheet that will help you work out the perfect preaching calendar.
- How to Preach Theology in a Year and Watch your Congregation Grow
- How to Preach a Better Sermon this Weekend
- How to Have 2 Awesome Hours of Sermon Prep
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.