the shape of leadership

How to Plan a Sermon Series

Long-term strategy for weekly impact

Chris Colvin on November 8, 2018

It’s never too early for sermon planning. With the end of the year approaching quicker than you might think, and with all the busyness of the holidays just around the corner, it’s a good time to start thinking long-term about your sermon series for next year.

Each pastor has his or her own preferred process for weekly messages. The problem I often see, though, is that many pastors fail to actually plan long-term. They might have good intentions, but they let other tasks distract them. Maybe they’re not sure of the best approach or even where to start. They see it as an impossible task, so they fear digging in. And it can be boring, after all.

So, here to help you is a quick and easy four-step process for planning individual sermon series. This won’t cover the creative process or research. And it won’t address how to assemble a team and assign tasks. But for those who want to get a jump-start on next year’s sermon series calendar, this is a great place to start.

Decide on a Topic

The first step is to pick a topic for the sermon series. Even if you preach exegetically through a book of the Bible, choosing a topic is an important step. It’s really about deciding how you will preach the Bible, not necessarily what part of the Bible to preach.

Your topic should resonate with your listeners. Pick one that fills a known need. Sermon series are a great way to teach the Bible with a view toward felt needs. It is the No. 1 way to make your messages relevant to your community. When you preach on a felt need, you show the world how to apply the Word of God to everyday life immediately. It’s providing timely application to timeless truths.

Another reason felt needs are so impactful is the advertising advantage they give your church. Along with your branding, which involves the name of your church, your individual vision, and even your logo, felt needs are a way to provide a call to action to your neighbors. And preaching on felt needs is also a great way to get your people involved in inviting their unsaved friends.

Keep a list of topics that you believe God wants you to address. They can range from relationships, finances, and parenting to sex, mental health, and career. First, highlight the ones you want to address weekly, like salvation. Then, find topics you need to reinforce regularly. That could be giving or service, for instance. Finally, keep a list of topics you want to touch on either once a year or once every other year. This gives you clarity on how you’re doing at hitting those topics.

Sermon series are a great way to teach the Bible with a view toward felt needs.

Decide on a Text

Now that you have a topic decided on, it’s time to pick a Scripture passage. I know what you’re thinking: Shouldn’t this be the first thing you choose? Not necessarily. Once you have a topic, you’ll want to research how God’s Word talks about it.

First, look at how Scripture addresses the topic, starting in Genesis and continuing throughout the history of the Bible through Revelation. If you are preaching exegetically and have already chosen your passage, you’ll still want to do this to provide supporting Scriptures about your topic. Make a list of the most impactful and relevant verses. Zero in on the longer passages that hit on this topic.

You may want to choose one of those longer texts and stay within it for the entire sermon or even the whole series. You may also want to provide a more well-rounded review of the biblical foundation of that topic. Either way, ground your sermon in the Bible.

It’s a great idea to pick one key verse that you’ll go back to during the series. This memorable Scripture is one that ties the entire series together.

Decide on a Length

The recommended length of a sermons series is between four and six weeks — no more than that. Many pastors like to keep their series framed in by the months on the calendar, which is really smart. January has its own series, and then as you move into February, your congregation knows the topic will change.

Some pastors feel they need more than four weeks for a topic. I understand the desire to go as in-depth as possible, but there are two things to remember. Any sermon series packaging can become stale over time, and you can begin to bore your audience. Plus, focusing on only one felt need for more than a month will leave you with less time in the year to cover other important topics.

When preaching through a book of the Bible, try to divide it up into separate series as you go. Perhaps the first half of an epistle study can cover the power of prayer. The next month, you’re still in the same book, but now the focus is on giving.

Decide on a Theme

Finally, choose a theme to run through the entire series. This is different than a topic. This is about the tone of the series. Run a common thread through the entire four to six weeks you’ll be preaching on it. It could be the key verse you’ve already picked. It can be a short sentence, a word or even a creative element.

Using that theme in every sermon ties the entire series together. It makes it more memorable for your audience. It also keeps the main idea in front of them at all times.

The purpose of a sermon series is not to make sermon prep easier for you as a preacher. It’s to make sermons more accessible for your audience. It’s presenting the truth in a sticky way. It ultimately helps your audience apply God’s Word to their lives. And that alone is worth all the effort you invest several months beforehand.

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