One of the preacher’s greatest challenges is choosing what to preach and when. Three years ago, this challenge escalated for me when we started adding off-site campuses with live preachers. Planning for multiple locations has forced me to think farther ahead and formulate concrete principles around which we build each series.
Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
1. For everything, there is a season.
Certain times of year are easier to attract the unchurched. We want to leverage these opportunities by building our calendar around them. For Americans, two to three weeks after school starts, three to four weeks after the New Year, and Easter and the weeks that follow it are the best times to target the unchurched. During these seasons, we want to 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 things like book studies.
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, all of our growth has come from campaigns. Campaigns are intentional series that combine weekend preaching with mid-week small groups and daily readings, all on the same subject. That’s why my books The Bible Questions, The God Questions, Future History (Daniel), and Jonah all were designed as church-wide campaigns. In each of these campaigns, we’ve grown between 10 and 20 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 percent.)
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?”
5. 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 there. (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.