series planning

Is Your Preaching Calendar Helping or Hurting?

52 weeks of sermons. Does that seem daunting? Maybe, maybe not. We’ve got a lot of material we could cover. It shouldn’t be that hard to fill the time. You’ve been doing that for years.

52 weeks of life changing, vision casting, church growing, awe inspiring sermons. Okay, now my palms are starting to sweat.

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If you’re like most pastor’s you have a plan. You already have a system for thinking ahead and most likely already have an Annual Preaching Calendar.

But is that preaching calendar helping or hurting?

Is your preaching calendar helping or hurting?
— Steven J Barker

When it comes to building a preaching calendar, most standard advice focuses on balance.

Balancing content. Ensuring that you have some doctrinal series, some ethical series, and maybe some relational teaching as well. Not to mention balancing content between the New and Old Testament. Keeping your content fresh by balancing content types is important, but it’s not most important.

Balancing tone. It would not be very helpful if all we ever did was comfort our audience with the hope we find in Christ. At the same time it would be exhausting to spend a year only challenging people on their shortcomings. Sure, balancing the emotional tone from one series to the next is important, but it’s not most important.

Balancing style. There are many different approaches we can take to teaching.  One could address an entire book of the Bible and then in the next series into a character study of Moses or David. You could even follow those with a biblical look at parenting. Engaging a broad range of learning preferences is important, but it’s not most important.

Balance can't the primary objective for our preaching calendars, because if it is our primary objective it assumes teaching every seven days is an absolute. Do you think Paul felt that way? Did he write to the early church communities because he was on a set schedule? Not by a long shot. He wrote to help them. He wrote to address the issues they were dealing with. He wrote to cast vision. He wrote to inspire life change. He wrote to grow the church and increase those that were being saved.

So what then is our primary objective?

It’s to help people and to lead our community.

Do this right now: find your church's annual goals. Assuming that your goals are driven by a compelling, community driven, Christ centered vision, what does your church what to accomplish in your community in the next 12 months?

Print them off, set them on your desk.

Now, how can you help energize those goals?

  • What does your community need to understand about God’s character in order to move forward?
  • What’s distracting them? What are they dealing with? What is their life context?
  • If your goal is to launch more campuses, what does your church need to biblically understand in order to move forward?
  • What content, character studies, series tones and styles can help you lead your community?

When you think about your church’s annual goals, they represent your hopes, your dreams and your plans to impact your community. Goals outline our anticipated accomplishments each year, so should our preaching calendars.

Goals outline our anticipated accomplishments each year, so should our preaching calendars.
— Steven J Barker

Sure, your Annual Preaching Calendar needs to be balanced. It needs to stay fresh and engaging, but when it comes to the end of calendar will you be able to look back and say you and your church accomplished something?

What do you want to accomplish with your 52 messages this year? 

The Top 6 Reasons You Should Teach in a Series

#2. Sequencing                                           Photo Credit: Irum Shahid 

#2. Sequencing                                          Photo Credit: Irum Shahid 

Here are the top 6 reasons you should teach in a series: 

  1. Predictable!
    • This is probably the most powerful reason to teach in a series. The best way for our audience to grow is when people tell/bring their friends. The easier you make it for your current audience to explain what their friend can expect when they come, the better. Teaching in a series gives your current audience a feel for what the whole series will be like and they are more equipped to invite someone to join them. 
  2. Sequencing
    • When you decide to unpack a specific issue over a series of 5 talks this allows you to build one week upon the next. You can teach one concept and then in the following week, apply that concept and add some new information. While it’s not likely that everyone in your audience attends every week, it is likely that they may feel the need to catch up on what they missed. 
  3. Repetition
    • It’s not likely you or I will remember something if we are only told once. We need repetition. It’s not likely you or I will remember something if we are only told once. We need repetition. (Not a typo…think you’ll remember that?) So when we are building on the same core idea for a series of weeks we begin to reinforce our message in the minds of our listeners. 
  4. Bigger Idea
    • Every talk hopefully has one big idea your are trying to deliver, but when you teach in a series it gives you the opportunity to focus on a Bigger Idea and tackle that idea from a number of angles. Again, having a Bigger idea gives your audience a more predictable experience (which is a good thing, check out #1 again). 
  5. Even B Movies Get Finished
    • This one can feel depressing at first but more so I want you to feel encouraged. Have you ever sat down and started watching a “B” movie on TV only to start running out of time? Your spouse starts calling for you to get ready to leave for that evening’s event but you can’t pull yourself away from the TV? You know the story is terrible and the actors are barely believable but you can’t pull yourself away. It’s stupid, but you can’t. This is good news for you and me. Even if you prep like crazy and one week’s message falls flat on it’s face, there’s a possibility that if you’ve set up your series well enough you might get a “bye week”. Just make sure you drop hints about what the follow week will cover to keep them coming back. 
  6. Efficiency
    • Many communicators use media to support your message delivery, wether that’s marketing, slides, graphics or social media. When you teach in series you get a little more bang for your buck when your not having to “re-commission” new graphics every week. Plus, you have the opportunity to build a mini-brand for a few weeks at a time.

Teaching in a series can save you time and make your delivery stronger as a whole. The key to a stronger teaching series is having a "just clear enough" idea of where your series is headed.  

How To Add Word-of-Mouth To Your Next Teaching Series

Imagine someone in your audience talking to a close friend. Half way through the conversation they say, "You've got to come with me Sunday. They're starting a new series about ________. It looks like it's going to be really good." 

Photo by  Benson Kua  from Toronto, Canada

Photo by Benson Kua from Toronto, Canada

The problem is that in many churches we don't give our audience enough information to get excited enough to be the one spreading the news. 

Here are three steps to adding word-of-mouth to your next teaching series: 

  1. Do the work.
    Outline your next series in as much detail as possible. Explain the value your teaching will offer. Why is the topic or the text important to look at? What difference will it make in the lives of your audience? 
  2. Stop "pushing" your series promotion, start "pulling" them toward it. 
    What do I mean by this push and pull? (see great little post by Seth Godin) Many communicators fear that the next series may overshadow the current one. Or worse, that it will distract their audience's attention from what they should be doing today in response to today's message and focus it on something new and shiny that will happen in the future. This is completely don't distract them, tease them. Mention the new series, but don't "promo it". Send them somewhere else for more information. This could be on site at an info table or it could be online, but let them take the next step to find out more. 
  3. Be predictable. 
    I don't mean be boring! Be predictable enough that your audience can spread the word and not be surprised. Surprising them too many times and it gets riskier for them to invite a friend. People can't get excited if they don't know what's coming!

So plan your next series. Know where you're going and why it's important for them to not to miss it. Start promoting it at least 3 weeks out and make sure your audience knows enough about what's coming that they can persuade their friends to join them.