We have all been there before. It’s 11:45 on Saturday night. You have one thought you stole from your favorite preacher, and that’s it. You have prayed, begged, and pleaded for God to give you a “word” for the church, but it just isn’t happening, and now you’re in major trouble.
Unfortunately, this is all too familiar for so many of us pastors who are expected to have a groundbreaking message that will change the lives of people who call the church home. And if somehow we do make it through Sunday with something good to say, the minute it’s over, Sunday is coming again! I grew up watching great preachers walk up with a few thoughts scribbled on a napkin and preaching the best hour of my life. If you are anything like me, you might not have been born with that gift. We need structure and systems to help us honor the time that people give us every weekend.
Here are a few practical tips on message series planning that could help you stay balanced in topic and flow as you communicate messages every weekend.
PLAN WITH A CALENDAR
Start with a yearly calendar to help identify the rhythms and seasons that every community has. In general, each community has “growth” and “development” seasons. Great churches capitalize on holidays, school schedules, and natural rhythms of life in sermon planning. For example, you could do a series on how to have a “new you” in the new year in January, giving practical tips on health, time management, and goals. Or try to put a series on being thankful in November during the Thanksgiving holiday. The goal is to work with the natural rhythms of people’s calendars.
PLAN “FELT-NEED” AND “DEVELOPMENT”
Once you know how your calendar outlines, you can start strategically placing series in different parts of the year. If you had one year to preach to someone, you would make sure they had a “balanced diet” of topics for their lives. One way to help you classify and calendar message series is using two broad categories: “Felt-Need” and “Development” series.
“Felt-Need” series tend to be more focused on our relationship between people and the world they live in. We can use “Felt-Need” series to connect and help someone who might be less mature in God. We can put these topics into categories such as physical, relationships, financial, family, or personal growth. These are topics that people deal with and need help with regularly. Preaching on these topics during high guest seasons in your church will reach people where they are and help you earn the right to develop them further in more complicated things of God. For example, Valentine’s Day is in February, so you might do a series on relationships since love and relationships are on people’s minds.
“Development” series tend to be more focused on relationships between people and God. “Development” series can be used to develop the “core” of the church in more complicated or difficult aspects of the Christian life such as Christian disciplines, complex books of the Bible, or tough spiritual topics. For example, in the middle of June, many families are vacationing or adjusting to life at home with kids all day during the summer. Attendance might be lower, with much of your core audience attending, which could be a good time to teach on prayer and fasting to develop a more mature Christian.
PLAN TO BE GONE
As crazy as it might sound, many pastors communicate so much it is unhealthy. Everyone has their own tolerances and limits, but in general, most preachers need a break. One study showed that one 30-minute sermon is equal to eight hours of emotional energy, so we must be strategic with the time we take to rest. Generally, a good rhythm could be taking a break every 4-6 weeks. This time could vary based on length of messages, type of preaching, physical health, etc. I know it feels nerve-racking to leave, but let me make a case for you taking time away.
Your church needs you for the long haul. You can’t run on empty for very long. Taking a break could be the difference between making it to the end or burning out before you get there.
The church can benefit from different voices. We all know that no one can preach like you, but that’s the point. Other communicators can help people see a different perspective from parts of the Bible. New voices can also keep familiarity from creeping into the church and undervaluing you as the primary communicator.
Some Sundays on the calendar make for a good break. I get it, every Sunday matters. But the truth is some Sundays during the year allow for your absence. Summer months, New Years’, and time in-between message series are good places to be gone.
You can develop novice communicators. Life-giving churches identify those with the gift of communication, train them, and give them opportunities to communicate regularly.
- Do a series once a year simply about Jesus.
- Do a series on an Old Testament book and a New Testament book each year. This can help keep people well-rounded.
- Be strategic with how you teach on money, and earn the right to preach on it. Take a strategic and measured approach over time.
- Use the school calendar for your planning. September – June is a good starting point, depending on the district.
Aaron Grijalva is the Senior Pastor of RISE Church in San Antonio, TX. He was born and raised in California where he received Jesus Christ as his Savior at the age of twelve and felt the call to ministry. Aaron, his wife Erica, and their five sons moved to San Antonio and launched RISE Church September of 2018, with a vision to Reach People and Build Lives. It is Pastor Aaron’s vision to build a life-giving church where people do life together and reach their full potential in Christ.