If we are going to reach the widest audience possible with meaningful, challenging, and God-honoring messages that are faithful to Scripture, we must plan our preaching. Our planning should go beyond next Sunday. It should include the entire year.
Admittedly, designing a preaching calendar for an entire year’s worth of sermons might seem intimidating. You might even be thinking, “It is hard enough to write a single sermon each week, how am I going to pull together a year’s worth of ideas, texts, and titles all at once?”
Let me offer you a few tips to get you started.
1. Determine your church’s needs
With what is your church struggling? What encouragement do they need? What initiatives do you have for the year, and how does your church need to be equipped? In what areas of theology and doctrine do they need to grow? What is happening in the surrounding culture?
Your answer to these questions will most likely differ year to year, which is why they are good questions to ask and answer as you seek to develop a preaching calendar. You will want to target your series and individual messages to both meet your church’s needs and challenge your congregation. Doing so will not only help them see the Bible is relevant to everyday life, but it will also help you initiate Word-centered change in your church.
2. Preach expositionally through books of the Bible
I don’t know about you, but determining what text I will preach is a struggle. Stand-alone messages and topical series have a place in a preaching calendar, but I find preaching through books of the Bible gives me a leg up when it comes to developing a year-long preaching schedule. With your congregation’s needs in mind, spend time praying about what book(s) the Lord would have you preach through, along with your stand-alone sermons and topical series.
3. Determine the main idea of the books you will preach
The book’s main idea should help you determine the theme and ultimately the title for the sermon series you will preach. It also gives you a main theme to focus your sermons around so that your series is cohesive.
For instance, my sermon series through the book of Galatians is Jesus + Nothing = Everything. I chose that as my overarching theme for the series because I believe the book of Galatians has a strong focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ as the exclusive means by which we experience salvation and sanctification. As I write each individual sermon, I will seek to link it to that theme.
The introductory sections of commentaries are helpful in determining the book’s main idea. Additionally, search out the theme and title others have given to a series on that book. I’m not suggesting you adopt them as your own, but use them as inspiration and a place to start as you think through the focus of your series.
4. Work to break the book(s) you will preach into pericopes
A pericope is a unit of thought. Developing your message around the book’s pericopes will aid in determining how many messages you will preach from a given book. For instance, two books I am preaching through this year are the books of Jonah and Galatians. I divided Jonah into four messages. One message for each chapter. Galatians was a bit more difficult, but I determined to divide it into sixteen sermons.
The best way to find a book’s pericopes is to read the book through several times. As you read, make note of changes in thought or argumentation. Keep a list of the sections.
After you have compiled your list, see if you can develop a main thought from each section. The main idea doesn’t have to be perfect. You aren’t writing a sermon; you are simply testing your breakdown to determine if you have enough material to develop a sermon.
Once you are satisfied with the breakdown, attempt to write the title and the main idea of each pericope. Keep the book theme in mind at this point so as to develop a cohesive series through the book. Again, it doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get something down to work with later.
5. Keep special dates in mind
As you develop your preaching calendar, keep special dates in mind. I always take a break from my series to preach special Mother’s Day and Father’s Day messages, an Easter message, and a Christmas message. Make sure to specifically call out special dates when developing your preaching calendar.
6. Plan for days off
Spend time thinking through when you are going to be out of the pulpit. When will you take vacation? Do you have a conference you plan to attend? What preaching engagements do you have for the year? Do you want to provide the opportunity for others to preach? Whatever the reason, think through as best you can when you will be out of the pulpit and put those dates on the calendar.
7. Plan for the Summer
Summer is typically a time when families take vacation. With the drop in attendance and regularity, summer is a good time to take a break from major preaching initiatives.
Don’t plan to preach a series on your church’s new vision during the summer or one that builds on itself each week. Instead, choose to preach a topical series, or through Psalms, or even the Parables of Jesus. Preaching any of these is a good way to keep consistency in your preaching calendar while also providing your congregants the opportunity to miss a Sunday here and there without feeling lost when they return. It also provides an opportunity for others to preach in the series since each message will most likely have a stand-alone theme.
8. Plan your planning
To successfully develop a preaching calendar, you must plan your planning. If you don’t carve out time to sit down and plan, you will never get to it. Take a couple of days or even a week off with the intention of planning. If you don’t have the opportunity to take time off, then plan to set aside time every day for a week or two to develop your calendar. However you decide to do it, plan your planning.