the shape of leadership

Recycling Your Sermons

When and how to use old messages in new ways

Chris Colvin on September 5, 2019

Think about how many times you preach each year. Have you ever counted it up? Each week has a Sunday, after all. And every Sunday has a church service. That’s at least 52 sermons a year. Multiply that by two or three if your church has Sunday evening or midweek services.

Not every pastor preaches every weekend. But even those who are most generous with handing off the main speaking to a guest or staff member will preach about 40 to 45 times a year. That pace can be very taxing.

To put it into perspective, think of other arenas where planning and preparation are crucial. An American TV show will have about 25 episodes a year, at least half the number of church services in that same span. Pro football teams play 16 regular season games, another Sunday activity that doesn’t match the number of sermons preached.

Why does any of this matter? When you take a look at the sheer volume of research and preparation that go into preaching 52, 104, or even 156 times a year, it can be daunting. You will be tempted to reach back into your saved files, pull out an old sermon, dust it off and preach it again.

However, in an age where the expectation, both from your church and yourself, is a unique, relevant, entertaining, enlightening and brand-new sermon every single week, recycling sermons is often looked down upon. But it shouldn’t be. Let me explain.

Why Recycle?

What are the benefits of recycling old sermons? The first one is pretty obvious — to cut down on the amount of sermon prep you have on your plate. True, reusing a sermon you’ve already written means less time preparing. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it over and even add some fresh research to it. So while saving time may be a good reason, it shouldn’t be the only one.

Another reason to recycle old sermons is that some people haven’t heard it yet. For recent converts and newcomers, this will be an entirely new and unique message. When you think about it, this can be a great opportunity to point out what the Lord has done and celebrate it. A brief line like, “Many of you will remember when we talked about this a couple of years ago, but God has brought so many new people here that I thought I would repeat it for their benefit.”

For those in attendance who have already heard it and may remember it well, a good message still bears repeating. Repetition is one of the keys to effective teaching. Revisiting information helps people retain it. And while many congregants may remember the basic outline, they have probably forgotten much more than they care to admit.

Why not lean on what worked in the past to help people follow Christ into the future?

The benefits likely outweigh the drawbacks, so don’t be intimidated into keeping that sermon in your filing cabinet. Besides, if it was a good word then, it’s a good word now and well worth sharing.

How to Recycle

Now that you’ve decided it’s OK to recycle an old sermon, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First, be honest. Don’t cover up the fact that you’re reusing old material, especially when people ask about it. That doesn’t mean you always have to broadcast it in your sermon. If you start off by saying, “Some of you will no doubt remember when we looked at this back in 2015,” that can be a cue for people to check out. They’ve heard it, after all.

When you mention that you’re revisiting a previous sermon, explain the reason. Maybe you’re sharing it again because not everyone has heard it. Perhaps you’ve studied the text again and found fresh insights. Or maybe you’ve changed your mind about a few things since then. It’s always refreshing when a minister can admit he or she has matured along with the congregation.

The best way to go about recycling an old sermon is to repackage it. Changing the illustrations, applications, graphics or title can make it seem fresh. You might decide on a new creative approach that captures your audience’s attention. In fact, it may be so well repackaged that no one even notices it’s an older sermon.

Think about a series on spiritual warfare that used military imagery before. Let’s say you called it “Forward March: How to Fight a Good Fight.” Now you want to repackage it, but you’ve decided to use different imagery. This time, it’s geared toward a younger audience and uses video games as the creative element. Maybe you can call it “Level Up: Winning the Battle Over the Enemy.” With such a different approach, the same material will feel fresh and new.

Another way to recycle a sermon is by rewriting it using a different text but the same main points. This will take a bit more time, but probably less time overall than writing a new sermon from scratch. Here’s one way you could do it. Say you’ve preached on the fatherly love of God in the Parable of the Lost Son. You plan to reuse that theme and even the same main points, but you want to present it in a fresh way.

Why not use the story of David and Mephibosheth, talking about how a king was able to share the fatherly love of God with someone who had lost his father? With some tweaking, the sermon outline may be exactly the same, while the surrounding story is new.

It may feel weird preaching the same sermon again to the same people. There may be some who will point it out to you or even criticize you. But others may show you the notes they took last time, share new insights gleaned, and express appreciation for the great reminder of a favorite message.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). So why not lean on what worked in the past to help people follow Christ into the future?

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