Your calling is to make disciples and one of the most influential tools you have is your weekly corporate teaching and preaching! Delivering a compelling message is one thing, but making disciples is another. The burden you feel for moving people from the non-believer to disciple is real and we believe that a preaching calendar is necessary to make sure your weekend services play their role in creating well-rounded disciples.
Functionally, the challenge of writing a weekly sermon is like that of a professional speaker or an author promoting their latest book. Practically, your challenge is completely different.
While speakers and authors may prepare one or two new talks per year, you will prepare dozens. As a matter of fact, over 60% of pastors we surveyed said they will preach 40 or more weekends per year and each message being produced in under 6 days.
How do you keep from repeating yourself?
How do you avoid using the same illustrations?
How do you keep cornerstone Gospel concepts fresh?
How do you make sure that your teaching is well-rounded?
A huge part of the answer to those questions is a preaching calendar.
Not only will a preaching calendar aid with accomplishing all the above, it can also make sure your teaching leads to real discipleship. In this article you will discover everything you need to know to create and use a dynamic preaching calendar at your church.
What Is A Preaching Calendar?
The quick answer to “what is a preaching calendar?” is a teaching plan to disciple your people. Yes, you should look at a preaching calendar as a path to discipleship through teaching and instruction and a part of your discipleship strategy. The primary benefit of a preaching calendar is that it provides a plan for how your weekend messages build disciples.
The primary benefit of a preaching calendar is that it provides a plan for how your weekend messages build disciples.
While the primary purpose of a preaching calendar is discipleship, your calendar can fulfill several other purposes too. If you’re on the fence when it comes to preaching from a calendar versus coming up with a new topic 6 days before you preach, consider this:
- A preaching calendar aligns your discipleship strategy with your teaching plan and keeps the two in sync for greater impact.
- A preaching calendar helps pastors stay accountable to their plan and on track to achieve church milestones.
- A preaching calendar gives adequate time for staff and volunteers to offer creative support to messages.
- A preaching calendar creates space and time for a pastor to learn a topic, research that topic, and then preach on that topic – while having months to pray over their message.
- A preaching calendar provides guidance to your staff, helping them understand how to take what happens in the big room and reinforce the same topics in their ministries.
Moving your weekend sermon planning to a preaching calendar model might feel intimidating and for that very reason we will continue to walk you through everything you need to know to apply this model at your church.
First, we want to address a couple objections that we consistently hear from some pastors on this topic.
Excel Calendar Worksheet
Plan a year’s worth of sermon series in advance with this simple, but powerful spreadsheet!
The Main Objections To Using A Preaching Calendar
If you know a pastor who is accustomed to going into his office on Monday without a preconceived idea for what to preach on, and then emerge on Friday with a message for the weekend, it might be a tough sell to ask them to start using a preaching calendar.
Despite the benefits listed above, we often see resistance from those who are used to week-to-week planning. Common themes are that preaching calendars restrict the Holy Spirit or they provide too rigid of a structure not allowing for the message to meet the needs of the congregation.
Before we get to why pastors should decide to use a preaching calendar, let’s discuss these two objections.
A Preaching Calendar Restricts The Movement Of The Holy Spirit
Throughout scripture you see instances of God moving, appearing as if the Holy Spirit was inspiring a last second decision. For instance, consider the story of Acts 16:6-10 (click here to read the passage).
Notice what happens in the passage. Paul had a plan in mind. He wanted to take the gospel deeper into Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). And yet, the Holy Spirit stopped the group at every point. Go one way; nope. Go another; nope. Finally, explicit confirmation.
We’re not sure how the Holy Spirit directed Paul at the beginning of the journey—was it a nudge or an audible voice?—but eventually the apostle saw a vision. The ramifications of this change were huge. Richard Longenecker writes about the event:
“Authentic turning points in history are few. But surely among them that of the Macedonian vision ranks high. Because of Paul’s obedience at this point, the gospel went westward; and ultimately Europe and the Western world were evangelized. Christian response to the call of God is never a trivial thing. Indeed, as in this instance, great issues and untold blessings may depend on it.”Richard Longenecker
Acts 16:6-10 is a good example of how the Holy Spirit can abruptly change our course, our decisions, and our “plans” for the benefit of the gospel. We must always be listening.
On the other hand, you have examples of long-term plans put into motion long before the moment of need arose. Consider David. Long before he ever put on the crown, God spoke to Samuel and led him to Jesse’s home – God’s plan was made decades in advance.
Of course, you can also look to the birth of Christ. The Christmas story fulfilled dozens of prophecies and the life Christ lived – including his death, burial, and resurrection – brought to pass even more!
As we read through scripture, we see that God’s planning and the movement of the Holy Spirit are not at odds with one another. On the contrary, they work in perfect agreement with one another and our teaching should show this agreement. God makes plans and the Holy Spirit works within them while interceding between us and God.
God’s planning and the movement of the Holy Spirit are not at odds with one another. On the contrary, they work in perfect agreement with one another and our teaching should show this same agreement of planning for the future and listening for the Holy Spirit’s leading.
A preaching calendar provides pastors with direction for how to pray and is an invitation for the Holy Spirit to intercede. As you approach a series of messages or a sermon series on marriage, you can seek the Holy Spirit in a more direct way – making very specific requests. God reserves the right to change any plans at a moments notice, yet, we seek to ready ourselves and move in the direction of obedience whether we explicitly hear from the Spirit or are left to find guidance exclusively through scripture.
A Preaching Calendar Provides Too Rigid Of A Structure To Address The Needs Of A Given Week
When you’ve spent years planning your sermons one way, a major change – such as introducing a preaching calendar – can feel like shackles on your entire process. This feeling speaks more to the fact that we are, by nature, creatures of habit and many of us thrive in routine.
As rigid as it may feel to plan your December series for next year in October of this year, consider two points.
Consider the words of Solomon:
As much as it may feel ignorant or assuming to say 14 months ahead of time what your church will need, scripture tells us that the needs won’t be new. Moreover, the needs will be like the needs that existed the Christmas before and will be like the needs of the following Christmas.
If we can say one thing about the ministry calendar, the calendar is cyclical. When asked, pastors can very accurately predict what each season of the year may look like. When the season arrives, even if the reality is different from what we predicted, the ministry has prepared us to adapt at the moment.
Why Pastors Should Make The Decision To Use A Preaching Calendar?
If you choose on Monday to preach on faithful giving the following Sunday, you have less than seven days to pray, fast, and read the Word in preparation for that message. Of course, your week isn’t limited only to preaching – you have other pastoral care, leadership development, and administrative tasks to complete.
Pastors should use a preaching calendar because it makes them better teachers.
Can you count on preaching your best message on faithful giving having only sought God during the spare moments of your week? No. Pastors need more out of their preparation than a few hours here and a few hours there in the week leading up to speaking. We must demand extended time in scripture, extended time in prayer, extended time in commentary, extended time in modeling behavior – to better discover the message that God has prepared to be delivered.
However, if you choose this month to preach on giving seven months from now, you have seven months to pray, fast, and read the Word in preparation for that message.
If it’s not abundantly clear yet, the number one reason why pastors should make the decision to use a preaching calendar is because it makes them better teachers. You have months to listen to other teachings, gather a strong illustration that will resonate, read recommended and relevant book titles, and practice modeling the behavior you will call your church to embody.
Yes, God can move at a moment’s notice – but he will also move through months of seeking him on a particular message – and your teaching will show it.
A Preaching Calendar Gives You Structure For Preparation
You’ve planned out your annual budget.
You’ve planned out your annual mission trips (sometimes years in advance).
A preaching calendar helps you plan out your teaching. It tells you what you need to prepare for and when.
Along with knowing how to prepare for the coming weeks, a preaching calendar also helps you incorporate the entirety of scripture into your discipleship plan – rather than placing an inadvertently strong focus on just the New Testament, or just the Epistles, or just the Gospels, or just the Wisdom literature.
A Preaching Calendar Allows You To Address Themes That May Not Need A Series
Perhaps you have many new Christians in your church (AWESOME) – so, you’ll want to dig into the Gospel and focus on the life of Jesus. At the same time, you have young marriages in your church or young people who are looking to get married, so you need to add a message of union.
A preaching calendar gives you the opportunity to stay focused on the big Gospel theme and then focus the application points of specific messages to address specific topics like marriage, dating, and relationships.
You don’t have to take a break from your discipleship strategy to preach on marriage – instead, you look for opportunities in your calendar to make marriage a focal point of application. Work it in when it makes sense – not because you have to meet a quota.
A Preaching Calendar Gives You More Time To Hear From Elders And Key Leaders
A pastor who is in tune with their congregation knows that they do not know everything happening in their community. They is aware that they have blind spots in ministry – whether because of the way they are naturally wired or because of logistics. Using a preaching calendar and planning out months in advance gives you time to consult with your elders, staff, and key leaders the needs of the church. They inform how your teaching can address larger issues that are present – needs that you may not have any idea even existed.
When wise counsel isn’t consulted, room opens for a belief to grow in a pastor’s heart that he is the only one who hears from God.
Get together with elders and deacons, students and young adults, married parents and empty nesters and ask them what they’re going through, what is on their mind, and what they’ve been thinking about in recent weeks. When you seek to hear from men and women who love God, love his church, and are seeking to become more like Christ, you will never regret the influence they have in your sermons.
Not knowing what the next several months of preaching will entail prevents pastors from consulting with wise counsel. When wise counsel isn’t consulted, room opens for a belief to grow in a pastor’s heart that he is the only one who hears from God. Obviously, that’s not who we want to be and that’s not what we want to become – but the danger is a reality.
A preaching calendar gives you time to hear from others in your congregation and use discernment and prayer to weigh what issues need to be addressed from the pulpit and what issues are best addressed through other means.
A Preaching Calendar Creates Balance In Your Teaching
A preaching calendar creates balance in your teaching. It allows you to look at topics, books, passages, and themes that aren’t in your regular wheelhouse. The process of creating a preaching calendar forces you to break out of your natural preaching subjects.
More Reasons to Use A Preaching Calendar
Perhaps some points above resonate – maybe you’re still trying to decide if the merits of a preaching calendar call for changing your current way of doing things.
Here are a few more reasons to consider a preaching calendar.
- You can anticipate if the needs of your congregation will require going deeper into scripture you recently preached. If so, you have time to come up with new and creative ways to communicate the text.
- Being planned out will give you and your team time to be creative and meditate upon what will work best! You’ll get better visuals for all of your series graphics and videos.
- You can plan to address dips in attendance, dips in giving, and dips in involvement. If you are anticipating a dip in children volunteers, plan your preaching calendar to help recruit weeks before it becomes an issue.
- Connect your sermon series together like Marvel does movies. Every movie is a standalone but they all compliment the Marvel universe. Every sermon series stands on its own, but each one compliments the mission, vision, and values of your church.
A Final Reason To Use A Preaching Calendar – Compelling Invitations
It becomes easier to invite others and promote every sermon series when you’ve known, months in advance, what you’ll be preaching. When you know months in advance what you’ll be preaching, it becomes easier to find a sermon or a series you want to promote. When you’ve been soaking in a particular topic, you are more likely to have the basics of a compelling narrative formed long before the moment you must preach. Use that narrative in your promotion.
For instance, on Easter Sunday, invite attendees to your next week’s message with something more than, “Please join us, we would love to see you again.” Perhaps the Sunday after Easter you start a sermon series about being known by God and having a purpose in his kingdom. Instead of, “Please join us,” how about something like…
“Have you ever felt like God has forgotten you? Have you ever felt like God is ignoring you? Next week we are starting a series of messages on the woman, Esther, and I’ll be sharing a story from my life when I felt that God had abandoned me. I hope you’ll be here with us – we will be sharing things that are going to be very meaningful especially if you feel like God has forgotten you.”
Having had time to study, pray, and prepare gives you more firepower to promote your next move and compel people to take an interest.
If you haven’t strongly considered using a preaching calendar, hopefully all the reasons listed above will challenge you moving forward. While exceptions exist, few arguments can be made for having less time to study a passage, less time to pray over a teaching, and less time to apply that teaching to one’s own life before preaching.
What You Risk When You Don’t Use A Preaching Calendar
Everyone needs space and time for God to do work in and through them. Christians have a responsibility to create room for the Holy Spirit to work and speak – rushing into anything without first seeking God’s direction is foolish at best.
For the pastor, waiting to start message planning the week that message will be taught rushes the preparation, the teaching, and the process of seeking God’s will. As a result, pastors will preach what they know out of familiarity.
You need time to learn, pray, reflect, and meditate on God’s Word so that you can be intentional with how you teach a topic – not simply teaching the points you already know.
- In addition, leaders run into other risks – and responsibilities they abdicate when not preaching from a planned calendar.Not planning leads to repeating the same subjects over and over again – and not realizing it.
- Not planning leads some pastors to lean too much on application and not enough on the Bible.
- Not planning leads other pastors to lean too heavy on the text and not offer enough application (you can never have too much Bible, but you do want to help your people understand what it means).
- Not planning leads to disorganized ideas that detract from your big idea rather than reinforce it.
- Not planning leads to a disconnected calendar – jumping around without any central storyline or plot for listeners to follow – and no real plan for how your teaching influences discipleship.
- Not planning leads to confusion and lack of direction for guest speakers.
If you are wondering how a preaching calendar could make a positive impact in your messages, we have a very simple exercise to help you make that determination.
Go back through the last 12 months of your messages and write the topic of each message, what scripture references you used, and then add up the number of messages you preached on each topic – following that up by how many messages you preached from each section of scripture.
“[The research phase of sermon preparation] begins with the big picture—picking the content of the entire sermon series. This happens anywhere from 3 to 6 months prior to the start of a particular series. I consult with our Lead Researcher, our Communication Director, and several other key church leaders to determine what to preach. We ask questions like: What parts of Scripture have we not preached recently? What is going on in our church that requires pastoral leadership? What has God been teaching me and our leaders? Once we determine the general shape of the series, the research proper begins.”J. D. Greear, pastor of The Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham
What you may discover is that you tend to lean in one particular direction. Perhaps that direction is teaching mostly from the Gospels or Epistles. Or another direction is omitting the Old Testament from the majority of your messages. Maybe your congregation is unfamiliar with some books or themes of the Bible because they only listen to your preaching.
This exercise will give you insight into your own inclinations and can serve as the basis for creating your first preaching calendar. Chances are, you will find that through a calendar you will have a wider range of topics, a greater breadth of scripture, and freedom to dig further into one section of the Bible for lack of pressure having to jump somewhere else the following week.
When Should You Start The Preaching Calendar Planning Process?
If you’ve used a preaching calendar in the past and you’re reading this article to improve upon that process, we would encourage you to start your calendar planning process at the time of year you’ve found to be most productive. If brand new to planning or you’re looking for a more effective time to plan, then we have a great suggestion!
It can feel like a daunting task and one that can easily be put off but we recommend having two things in place before you start planning your preaching calendar for the upcoming year.
Have A Vision For What Goals You Want To Accomplish Over The Next Five Years
Start your process with a big picture diagram. This might feel like it needs to be an official document – it doesn’t. As a matter of fact, it could be a series of Post-Its. You’ve probably been discussing this topic with your board or leadership team – just take those discussions and quantify them into a few key points or goals you want to see accomplished.
Don’t do this by yourself. Include your board, include your associate pastor, include your worship leader… include someone or a group of someones who can inform the process and give language to where your church is already headed.
Clearly State What Needs To Be Accomplished In The Next 12 Months So You Can Use Your Teaching To Navigate
Knowing your five year vision will help you move certain themes or topics outside of your 12-month calendar. Is your church celebrating an anniversary in 36 months? Are you planning on launching a second campus within two years? Is the budget 14 months from now going to include hiring a new discipleship pastor to launch small groups? All of these long-term vision items influence your teaching.
So where do you want your church to be at the end of your preaching calendar? When you begin with the end in mind, you can plot markers to help you move everyone from point to point.
The Ideal Time to Start Planning Your Next Year of Sermons
Creating a preaching calendar the right way involves a lot of moving parts and the task of planning a full year of messages in one or two sittings is a big undertaking. In order to get all the parts moving in the same direction, we recommend that you begin praying for the preaching calendar process in July. In August, start soliciting wisdom and feedback from congregation members. Come September, assemble your preaching calendar planning team with the plan to hold your calendar meeting in October.
Using this timeline above, you’re done with the bulk of your planning before Christmas and all that comes with the Holidays (for both ministry and personal life). When you go to meet with staff at the beginning of the year, you already have the plan to rollout and can hit the ground running.
How Far Out Should A Preaching Calendar Be Planned? How Many Months Should I Fill?
Choosing how many months to fill in for your preaching calendar will hinge upon many variables. Before we provide the best practice recommendation, you must consider two of the most important variables and how they apply to your church.
What Is the Discipleship Strategy At Your Church?
The strategy for creating a disciple will vary from church to church. While one church may use Sunday mornings as their primary evangelism outreach tool, another church may host several large community events to serve the same purpose. Likewise, one church may lean on small groups to encourage a greater focus on spiritual disciplines while another church will use small groups to facilitate greater fellowship, community, and service.
The question here is, what is the discipleship strategy at your church? What role in that strategy does the weekend service play? How many months will you need to move a congregation member from point A to point B?
Your weekly message is for moving people towards discipleship and fellowship with Christ. In order for that to happen you need to know how the weekly message is factored into that plan. A preaching calendar gives you a bird’s-eye view of the role each message takes in your pathway for discipleship and allows you to use your teaching to complement the larger strategy – not undermine, minimize, or ignore that strategy.
On Average, How Long Will You Have With Each Attendee or Member?
In his book, Preaching, Timothy Keller talks about the transient community surrounding his church. Because of this coming and going nature, he focuses on communicating the entire Gospel message over one year (he calls this covering “the waterfront”), knowing that he might not have any more time to share the Gospel before people leave.
Tim Keller’s church has a few years at best before the average attendee goes elsewhere (likely moving). What about a church that has even less time – for instance, a college town like Tempe, Arizona?
At the time of this writing, Arizona State University will host approximately 50,000 students for classes on its main Tempe campus. Of its total enrollment, 38% of students are from out-of-state. What does this mean? Churches near ASU will have less than 9 months to work with these students, moving them through a discipleship strategy – some students may return, many will not. Time is precious, and a timeline is important.
Staying within Arizona, if you drive out into the suburbs of the East Valley, you’ll find more established communities such as Chandler and Mesa where residents have lived for years, if not decades. A church in these areas could have members attend for five to ten years meaning there will be a different discipleship strategy to accommodate the longevity of these attendees.
Because the primary purpose of a preaching calendar is to serve as a teaching plan for discipleship, the question you need to wrestle with is, “What do I need to communicate to help my congregation members grow in Christ before they leave? What should I focus on with the time I have?”
So, how long do you have to make a disciple? Yes, there remains a good chance that a person leaving your church could plug into another one but we must act as if they would not – making the most of the time we have.
Plan Your Preaching Calendar Around the Seasons
All things considered, the best amount of time to plan ahead for your annual preaching calendar is 12 months, separating each set of months into seasons. It can feel intimidating to plan a message for 52 weeks, but when you sort the months into three to four seasons, it makes planning more manageable and allows you to tap into the natural flow of the yearly calendar.
As you look at the individual seasons, ask yourself two questions:
- What do I need to communicate to help my congregation grow in Christ?
- What message might they be more able to receive during this season?
Yes, these are very large, big picture questions, however, as you start to write themes and narrow in on what’s most important for the time, you will find each theme will have a more natural fit into certain seasons, while others themes or messages will need to be set aside for a future calendar.
A Very Basic Example of A Seasonal Preaching Calendar
So how might this look? Let’s build a sample timeline.
Let’s start by looking at January – perhaps a great theme for the start of the year is to understand who God is and the separation that comes from sin. At the beginning of the year people are very focused on who they want to become and helping them see more clearly who they are currently fits right in with the natural ebb and flow of the new year.
As you come out of January and enter into February, you will be entering a season of relationship (Valentine’s Day) as well as preparing for Easter. Taking 6-12 weeks to look at the life of Jesus on Earth through one of the Gospels could be a nice fit. You could also do a series on marriage or love.
Coming into Easter, you want to focus in on the redemptive work of Christ and then move into themes of Christian living and what a life of Christ is marked by… what is a disciple?
Progressing into the summer, you will have a lot of coming and going from members – how about leveraging the stories from the biggest movie releases to preach about the story God is writing in your church. Help your congregation members see their role in God’s story and use it as an opportunity prepare them to serve in the fall.
Speaking of the fall, what better way to launch into a new season of ministry than preaching through one of the epistles, maybe Ephesians? Look at the glorious Gospel and how it impacts every area of life.
As you round out the fall, approaching winter, you are preparing for Thanksgiving and the Holidays – perhaps topics such as building a Godly family would resonate and then into Christmas, perhaps using an Advent sermon series to tell the simple story of Christ.
The above is just an example – but hopefully through this example you get a feel for how easily certain themes and topics slide into the calendar seasons.
A Word for Youth Leaders and Children’s Pastors
You have a unique opportunity because you know, for the most part, how long you will have with a child or student. Not only that, you know what themes and events will define their life year in and year out.
Your discipleship strategy will be different from the adult messages because you can count on having a Freshman through his senior year. Yes, there will be exceptions, but the structure of school tells a children’s pastor, “You have up to 7th grade to help shape their knowledge of who Jesus is and what he did.” The youth pastor can use the structure to know, “I have four years to help them develop a strong identity in Christ before they move away for college.”
Leverage this structure and use each year as a building block in your teaching calendar.
A Topical Preaching Calendar Or Expository Preaching Calendar?
You have the freedom to organize your preaching calendar as you see fit – choosing a format or approach that suits your strengths and gifts. That said, at Ministry Pass we approach every sermon series and every message through an expository lens – even when teaching through a topical series.
An annual preaching calendar can be organized in different ways. You can teach through the books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Or you can preach by topics, doing a series on giving or on parenting. You know your congregation and what they need.
Each week’s sermon should follow a path of scripture and your teaching should walk through that scripture, verse by verse. This doesn’t mean your entire preaching calendar needs to be a book by book expository preaching. All it means is that throughout the preaching calendar the priority should always be reliance upon context of scripture.
Book by book teaching is one option and topical teaching is another. But consider a third option. Selecting a particular section of scripture for your entire series that allows you to focus on one specific topic. For instance, a series on Prayer. Let’s say you spend five to six weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer. You dig deep into Matthew but you limit the scope of study to just a part of the book.
This third option means you can preach on a specific section of scripture while still hitting individual topics.
Whether you prefer going through books of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation or you prefer to preach on topics like giving or parenting, you know what your congregation needs and how to best use each sermon to move them along your discipleship pathway.
Start Preparing For Your Preaching Calendar Planning Meeting
Creating a dynamic and effective preaching calendar is more than choosing topics, coming up with witty titles, or simply deciding what program to use for managing your dates. The most important thing for the success of your preaching calendar is prayer. Not just setting aside a day or days to prepare your coming calendar and then praying for that time – but continuing to pray through your calendar and ask God to reveal himself through the process.
That said, you’ll want to do a couple things before having a preaching calendar planning day for the first time. You may have already done some of this leg work, but now you’ll want to do it with the end goal of producing a single document to guide your teaching for the next 12-24 months.
Start By Incorporating Others Into Your Preaching Calendar Process
The most valuable asset you have in your church is the people – staff, leaders, elders, deacons and faithful congregation members. Choose several individuals to talk to about your preaching calendar for the coming year. Ask for their thoughts or insights into topics and themes that might be useful for your church.
This is the conversation phase. You don’t have to host a giant discussion to hear from these influencers. Have multiple small discussions – one-on-one or two-on-one informal meetings where everyone can be heard, the talk can be casual and everyone can be open and honest.
Throughout the entire process of planning your calendar and then throughout the year while preaching your calendar, you can always have follow-up meetings with these individuals to further discuss ideas as each sermon series begins to materialize.
Review Where You Have Been And What You Have Taught
As mentioned above, make a list of the last 12 months of preaching and use the results to evaluate the content for balance discipleship. Weigh evangelism against spiritual formation, and then against worship and service. Balance is a critical part to the success of your preaching calendar. John Wesley taught that balance is essential when it comes to all things – especially discipleship.
Remember, you are creating a teaching plan for discipleship and you are the one leading the charge for discipleship in your church.
As you examine for balanced discipleship, also examine for balance in sections of scripture.
- How much time did you spend preaching from the Old Testament?
- How much time did you spend preaching from the New testament?
- Do you need to spend more time talking about Jesus and the plan of salvation?
- Should you take more time to preach the old testament to improve your congregation’s understanding of church history?
While not all pastors focus heavily on the New Testament, many do lean towards New Testament teaching. Don’t ignore the Old Testament in your preaching calendar. Yes, it may be more difficult to help interpret for your members, but the key is to preach Jesus through it. They are familiar with Jesus – relate everything in the Old Testament back to Christ. This makes the Old Testament more approachable.
Look for balance in topics from the last year. What did you spend the majority of your time discussing?
- Consecration: helping people as they enter into a ministry or approach their jobs and neighbors as a ministry.
- Doctrine: starting with a particular doctrine, dig deep and extrapolate that particular belief.
- Ethics: looking at a particular moral or ethical topic or question.
- Evangelism: speaking primarily to people who have not committed their life to Christ.
- Pastoral – Leading, instructing, and discipling your people.
It is important to keep these categories in mind. You don’t need to preach them all equally, but you want to touch on them as is right for your church.
Establishing “You Are Here”
Reviewing your last 12 months of teaching helps to create a triangulation for where you are. Lean on the results to inform every step of filling in your upcoming teaching calendar. You can always change, swap, delete, rename, or reshape anything you put into your calendar – do what you want to do from an informed position. Get your “You Are Here” map marker located is the best way to start the process.
Running Your Preaching Calendar Planning Meeting
At Ministry Pass, we produce annual preaching calendars in four variations – it takes a lot of work, mostly done during a two-day planning meeting with our team. This is the same step we recommend you follow.
This one to two-day meeting is meant to accomplish several things.
- Share your findings for what the previous year looked like in terms of balance.
- Gain a sense of need and direction from the feedback you received from discussions with church members (from our previous step).
- Identify milestones or significant events in the church that need to influence the preaching in the upcoming year.
- Share topics ideas and sort them into separate themes.
- Assign the number of weeks needed to teach the identified themes.
- Begin to fill weeks on a calendar with the themes and the number of messages needed to cover that theme.
- Decide and commit to an 80% finished calendar.
- Start brainstorming titles for the themes – these will be your series titles.
If your meeting turns out to be like our meetings at Ministry Pass, more will come out of your time together than simply a preaching calendar.
Get The Right People In The Room
Set aside one to two days during October (after fall kick off and before Christmas) to huddle with your teaching team. If you’re the only teacher on staff, your ‘teaching team’ can include any combination of elders, deacons, key volunteers, former pastors in your congregation, or Godly men or women who can offer wisdom and insight. This group should be at least three but no more than five.
It is a good idea to consider diversity in the group you assemble. Here are a few diversity suggestions to incorporate into whom you select:
- Have the group be representative of the congregation as a whole.
- Include at least one member of the opposite gender.
- Make sure to have at least one member representative of a racial minority in your church. Try to have at least one contributor from two to three generations.
- Intentionally invite at least one person who is opposite to your personality. This will work well to stir up discussion and lead to a better end result.
(You can schedule this meeting for any time during the year – so if you’re reading this in January, just adapt the suggestions to suit your timeline. You don’t have to wait till the summer to begin thinking about your preaching calendar.)
Approach each person during August (or early September) and tell them that you’re working on a preaching calendar for the coming year. Tell them you want them to be a part of the process and you have set aside two days in October that you would like them to be present.
Once they agree, you should give them some ‘homework’ before arriving at the October meeting. Below you can access the worksheet that we ask each member of our team fill out before arriving at the Ministry Pass sermon calendar meeting. The main goal of this homework is to make sure that everyone in the room starts off in the right frame of mind and that the meeting, topics, and teachings have been covered in prayer prior to arrival.
Sermon Calendar Planning Meeting Worksheet
Start your calendar planning meeting with your team on the same page everyone’s best ideas and illustrations ready to share!
If anyone is unable to set aside time to complete the homework or unable to attend the meeting, graciously thank them for being up front and move on to the next person on your list, adding new names as necessary.
Touch base with the group you’ve assembled to outline expectations for the coming meeting before getting together. Share with them the purpose of the meeting (perhaps snag a few from our bullet list above) and ask them if they have any questions about their assignment. This is meant to help frame up the meeting so that you can make the most of your time together.
Logistical Details To Work Out Prior To Your Meeting
The day of your meeting has arrived. Whether you are planning to spend one or two days together, the steps below will still apply. There are a few logistical things you’ll want to have handled before your meeting so you don’t waste time.
Yes, you will need to have snacks on hand. Your meeting can be derailed if your attendees start to get hungry or antsy for lunch. Have a collection of granola bars, fruit, little candies, and water bottles in the room so that no one needs to leave, searching for nourishment.
Choose a local restaurant to deliver lunch. If you have a member of your team not participating in the meeting, you could have them go pick up lunch. Either way, let the team meeting members know where you are ordering lunch from and collect their orders before the meeting. You can even collect the orders a day in advance. When lunch arrives, you can either choose to break for lunch or you can choose to have a working lunch – depending on how much progress is made thus far.
You will need to have a few essential supplies on hand. If you have a conference room or meeting room with a big white board, you’ll want to make sure that you have a set of fresh markers to use. They don’t have to be new, but they do have to work well and write boldly so that everyone can see.
If you don’t have a white board, you’ll want to get access to an easel and buy a big presenter sticky note pad. As you fill in each sheet of paper, you can tear it off and stick it to the wall so it remains visible.
Have pencils or pens available along with a notepad so they can make notations as they go along and capture ideas throughout the meeting.
Lastly, you will want to consider bringing in someone who can take notes on the meeting. As great as your whiteboard drawings and notes will be, someone will need to make sense of them after the meeting. Inviting someone with a strong note taking ability into the meeting is a great idea to save yourself the work of having to curate the notes after the meeting. You can grant contribution privileges to this person or you can ask them to only take notes – either way, they will be a great asset to your team.
Working Through Your Meeting Agenda
When 8 am arrives (or 9 am for all you later risers) you’re ready to start working through your agenda. The purposes for the meeting listed above is your agenda. Obviously, change the agenda to suit your specific needs.
- Start your meeting in prayer.
- Share balance assessment for the previous year.
- Go around the room and ask each member to share from their worksheet.
- List feedback you received from conversations with church members.
- List major milestones and events for the coming year.
- Ask the room to start sharing specific topics they believe should be taught.
- As they share, start grouping each topic into various themes.
- Rank each theme on a scale of important/needed.
- For each theme, create a list of specific messages that could be taught.
- Assign a number of weeks needed to cover that theme.
- Place the individual themes into slots on the calendar.
- Decide and commit to an 80% finished calendar.
- Start brainstorming titles for the themes – these will be your series titles.
It is one thing to create a list like the above, and another thing to process and execute each section. Every step is important, however, we need to provide more context for some steps.
Why Milestones Are Important To Your Preaching Calendar
At first glance you might think, “Why should a milestone be a big deal to the preaching calendar?” Let’s look at a major milestone from a church in The Woodlands, Texas: Woodlands Church One Month to Live 10th Anniversary.
Kerry and Chris Shook from Woodlands Church co-authored the book, One Month to Live, in 2008 and it asked, what would you do differently if you knew you only had one month to live?
In the fall of 2018 the book turned 10 years old, and they turned the milestone into a series and challenge for their church. Over the course of several weeks they taught themes from the book and used each message as part of a larger challenge for their people to watch their lives transform by asking, “What would I do differently if I knew I only had one month to live?”
The idea of ‘one month to live’ is a fantastic series to preach any year at any time – but, it made most sense to preach during the 10-year anniversary of the books first release. A preaching calendar allows you the foresight to make decisions for both the right series to preach and the right time to preach that series.
Anniversaries, annual celebrations, signature offerings, new buildings, and other major milestone events gives you a unique platform to share a unique message from a unique perspective. Pay attention to the built-in sermon series just waiting to be taught in the coming calendar year.
Don’t Eliminate Any Topic Or Theme During Brainstorming
There will be a huge temptation to not write certain ideas on the board. Resist this temptation. During this time for adding topics and grouping them into themes, you need to take every idea into account. We are not in a decide and commit phase we are in the brainstorming phase. Rejecting brainstorming ideas from your group can create real limitations to your ability to move forward with stellar ideas.
Receive every idea with open arms and resist the temptation to criticize or critique the idea. If a team member has an idea that is out of left field, rather than reject or criticize, ask questions to help them extrapolate the idea.
“Okay, so that’s interesting. I would have never thought of that for a topic – can you share how you came up with that and why you believe it’s a good fit?”
Not only will you stay true to the brainstorming practice, but you will also empower the group to not hold back and be willing to share even their craziest idea – an idea that could turn into a very powerful sermon series.
Yes, You Can Rank Themes In Order Of Importance
Saying that the topic of ‘marriage’ has a ranking of #9 may feel weird at first – after all, aren’t Godly marriages HUGELY important? Yes – but what if your church is predominantly young singles with a few married couples? We’re not saying rank in terms of importance in the Gospel landscape – we’re saying rank in terms of timeliness and relevance to the flock God has entrusted to you.
Let’s say your church is way ahead of budget and giving is at an all-time high, do you want to dedicate 10 weeks to cover the theme of faithfully giving? Maybe. Thinking further, maybe it would be better to do a series on Thankfulness and have the topic of giving as a cornerstone within that series. Often, in seasons of plenty it can be easy to forget that all good things come from God – we cruise on autopilot and forget that any material blessing is truly that, a blessing.
Taking a second example, is your church full of a lot of empty nesters? Yes, they are all parents and a series on raising a Godly family is very important – but is it the right message for the coming year given the season of life your congregation finds themselves? Perhaps a better series would be leaving a legacy taught from the angle of continuing to find your identity in Christ. It’s not a sole focus on investing back into the family, but rather, a focus on leaving a legacy in worship, service, and relationships.
We are not ranking elements of the Gospel, we are ranking relevance for the time and place God has your ministry. So it’s okay to say that outreach ranks as a #4 if your church community is in greater need of understanding the authority of Scripture.
Create Tentative Message Titles
As you plot out a six-week series on prayer and then a three-week series on Christmas, you will have a natural tendency to want to come up with witty titles for your series. Let that tendency go. Do not waste your creative energy on titling a series or message that you will preach 9 months from now – focus on the big idea and getting the placement on the calendar right.
As you come up with ideas for specific messages, give them generic titles, otherwise known as working titles. A month or two from the series start you can get with your creative team to build artwork, message titles, and other strong creative elements. Right now, we are creating a framework… we’ll decorate later.
So what could some working titles look like? Let’s look at a series on church vision. Here are a few suggestions
- Week 1: You Are Here
- Week 2: Where We Are Called to Go
- Week 3: Obstacles We Must Overcome
- Week 4: Doing The Work
- Week 5: Celebrating What God Has Done
- Week 6: Our Future Inheritance
If you’re preaching this series in January, October is a great time to start wrapping more meat around the topics themselves and selecting key verses or books of the Bible for preaching. So while the above will be representative of what your series will look like leaving the meeting, you can expect that to be worked out in more detail in the coming months as you set aside time for prayer and study and also as the Spirit brings ideas at any given moment.
Decide And Commit To Your Calendar Being 80% Finished
Will Mancini, author of Church Unique and God Dreams, has a great way of moving a meeting forward even if everyone isn’t in 100% agreement. Manici will say, “Are 100% of us on board 80% with what we’ve done here?”
The idea is that we want to agree that the direction we are heading is positive even if we aren’t in 100% agreement on the stops we will make along the journey.
This is what you want for your meeting. You want a sense that the group, as a whole, is in agreement with the direction you’re headed – and that you have room to massage details in the future. By the end of the meeting you’re working with wet cement, essentially communicating, “We are building but we do have time and space to make adjustments to get the foundation right.”
Throughout the meeting take a survey of the room and make sure that 100% of the room is on board 80% with the overall direction. If you have this consensus, it makes for a much more powerful end result.
Start Brainstorming Sermon Series Titles For Your Themes
This goes along with the section above on message titles. You can create working titles for your sermon series – but if you come up with a few ideas that you like, make a record of them. If you’ve taught a series in the past that you want to resurrect, make a note of it! If you have found a sermon series idea from another church that makes sense for your church and your context, make a note of it!
During decide and commit you are not letting the cement dry, you’re simply spreading it out as the foundation. You can make changes. You can adjust. The overall goal is get your ideas out and give space for immediate reactions.
Feel free to title the each theme as a sermon series as long as you’re willing to go back to discuss and decide later.
Where To Host And How To Organize Your Preaching Calendar Template
You are probably already using a lot of tools to manage your sermons, illustrations, budget, graphics, and everything else. So how should you manage your preaching calendar?
We have a suggestion, but before we share our suggestion, we want to share how pastors across the country are managing their sermon calendar. There isn’t a clear winner but definitely clear favorites.
45% of pastors use a spreadsheet tool to manage their preaching calendar
- 37.9% use Microsoft Excel
- 7.1% use Google Sheets
32% of pastors use a word processing tool to manage their preaching calendar
- 26.1% use Microsoft Word
- 6.2% use Google Docs
7% of pastors use a note taking app to manage their preaching calendar
- 4.3% use Evernote
- 2.4% use Notes App
In our survey 16.1% of pastors answered “other” and then listed the following tools which they use for managing their preaching calendar:
- Paper Calendar
- Apple Numbers
- Apple Pages
- One Note
- Planning Center
- Google Calendar
- Big Desk Calendar
- White Board (hope no one erases that)
Our recommendation for managing your preaching calendar is to use a spreadsheet tool like Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets, or Apple Numbers. There are other spreadsheet applications out there, but nearly all pastors will have access to one of these three – Google Sheets (Web based) and Apple Numbers (Mac only) are free to use.
Whatever you choose, here are the features you will want in that tool so you can make the most of your calendar:
- Ability to share your document with others in either read-only mode or editor mode.
- Ability to keep the master document in one central location (so you don’t have multiple versions)
- Ability to view a previous version and to rollback edits to any of those previous versions.
- Ability to see your entire 12-month calendar in one standard sized screen (you don’t want to be scrolling back and forth to just see January and December).
- Ability to introduce color coordination to better label themes, topics, and scripture elements as repetitive, lacking, or an overabundance.
- Ability to cut, copy and paste data from one place to another with ease (you will probably be moving a lot of data around in the early stages of your planning).
- Ability to sync across devices (Google Sheets, Apple Numbers, and Microsoft Excel Office 365 offer cloud syncing. You can also use Dropbox or Google Drive to sync – and backup – non cloud based files).
Every year we create a free preaching calendar template in Microsoft Excel that you can use to start your annual preaching calendar. Whether you are a Ministry Pass member and are using it to fill in series recommended in our sermon calendars or you are not using any external research and resource tools like Ministry Pass, you can download this template and customize it to suit your needs.
Free Preaching Calendar
Get ahead in your preaching using this free Excel preaching calendar template for 2019.
What Information Should You Include In Your Preaching Calendar Template?
Your preaching calendar template is only going to be as good as the information that you plug into it. So what information should you include?
The Ministry Pass Excel spreadsheet preaching calendar template includes default fields that will provide you with a good starting point. However, we found that not 100% of pastors will use the same fields. In the same survey we sent pastors asking them where they host their preaching calendar, we also asked what information they include in that preaching calendar. Here is what they had to say:
- 94.3% of pastors include the date in their preaching calendar
- 94.3% of pastors include the sermon series title
- 79.6% of pastors include the key scriptures they will preach
- 77.7% of pastors include a section for the sermon title
- 60.2% of pastors include the name of the speaker for each week
- 51.7% of pastors include individual sermon big ideas
- 43.6% of pastors make a space for special notes related to the week
- 12.8% of pastors keep a tally of illustrations they will use for each message
A few other items that you may want to consider including could be:
- Message next steps or application
- Calendar events
- Church promotional items
- Local or national holidays
- Liturgical calendar
- Links to resources needed
- Links to resources used
- Comments thread
- Current mission trips
What you should take away from the information above is that no two calendars have to be the same. Adapt your preaching calendar template for your context, your needs, and your staff.
Sharing Your Preaching Calendar – Who Needs Access?
Just as you want to be discerning with what goes in your preaching calendar you should be discerning over whom to share your calendar. Not that it’s a secret but you want to share your calendar only with those who need to know. It is wet cement and you don’t want to commit to any series or sermon too early. Share your calendar with those who need it and help them understand that it could change at any given time.
Here are a few reasons you will want to share your calendar and with whom you will want to share.
Share With Peers And Trusted Advisors For Feedback
Just as you incorporate other voices into the preaching calendar process, you want to continue to incorporate other voices into the process as it takes shape throughout the year.
One approach to this is to email your trusted circle with a message like, “Hi there, We’re working through a preaching calendar for the coming year and I wanted to get your feedback or thoughts. We put this together over a couple days in October and it feels good – but am I missing anything? Or have you used anything in the past for a particular theme that would be good to consider for our series?”
Pastors often feel like they work in a silo – it’s normal to feel alone because of the weight you carry. BUT DON’T LIVE ALONE! Bring others into the process. Be confident in the role God has called you to, but be open to the advice and counsel of others.
You and your church will be better for it.
Share With Staff Members For Better Ministry Synchronization
About 50% of pastors wind up sharing their calendar with someone – and the great majority of those whom they share with are other staff members primarily for the purpose of staying on the same page.
A few of the more common people the preaching calendar is shared with include:
- Worship Pastor and Leader
- Associate Pastors
- Creative Team
- Youth Pastor
- Christian Educators
- Church Board
At Ministry Pass we love hearing of moments when pastors invite their staff into the preaching calendar process. Yes, having others involved is valuable and we covered that in detail above, but for pastors to bring their staff into the loop of what’s happening and why is an encouragement to the staff.
Think of sharing your sermon calendar with your staff as a way of helping them better support what you’re doing during the weekly service. Share with them why you chose a particular theme or why you titled a particular series in a particular way.
Live in community with other pastors but also work in community with other staffers – allow them in on what you’re doing and they will be more on board with how to support you.
Using Your Preaching Calendar To Create Momentum In Your Church
One bi-product of a preaching calendar that we have not yet covered is the fact that it can create momentum in your church! When your church experiences breakthrough in growth that growth is contagious. People want to be a part the life-transformation they are witnessing and they want to discover their part.
The Role Of The Preaching Calendar
When you create a preaching calendar that is focused on meeting the needs of your people, relevant to the surrounding community, and addresses issues of culture in a timely manner, you are delivered a week in and week out experience that cannot be created anywhere else: A personalized teaching that brings clarity and truth to the most difficult and perplexing issues we encounter day to day.
The more the surrounding community catches word that your church is meeting the needs of others, the more visitors you can expect – just like Paul at the hall of Tyrannus, they want to come and experience what everyone else is talking about.
As these people hear the message of truth, they come to join the body of Christ. As they seek to understand their role, they show signs of spiritual maturity. As they grow in spiritual maturity, they are overwhelmed with gratitude and begin to give financially out of a generous and thankful heart.
The themes you choose to teach through and the amount of time you allow yourself to prepare to teach these themes can be the fire starter for the entire evangelism and discipleship cycle – and can create momentum, the likes of which we find all throughout Acts as well as the Gospels and other New Testament accounts.
A Vivid Example Of Using Your Preaching Calendar To Create And Facilitate Momentum
A great example of how a sermon series can create momentum in terms of spiritual maturity is the preparation for a building move. There is something unique and exhilarating about moving into a new facility – especially if the building is going to serve as a first permanent home for your church after years of moving locations.
In the midst of all the excitement don’t ignore the building is going to cost money, and will need more volunteers.
When you are planning your preaching calendar, intentionally use the months leading up to the move to teach and instruct your church in ways that will prepare the body to handle the financial and actual needs that will come with the new facility.
If we revisit the objections above, essentially the thought that if we plan too far ahead we put God in a box, we can see that, a 12-month preaching calendar isn’t putting God in a box, but rather, prepares people to be ready to respond at the prompting of God.
Yes, God can speak to you in November about a series you will preach the following August as easily as he can speak to you the Thursday before you preach.
After I’ve Preached Through My Calendar, Can I Reuse It?
As you move through your entire preaching calendar, you’ll most likely start looking at the following year with three or four months left in your current calendar. You don’t have to start from scratch. In reality, you’ve probably already filled in some dates for the coming year based upon either work you did during your previous meeting or through promptings of the Holy Spirit over time.
You still have your five-year plan. Continue to use that plan to guide your calendar prep. Go back through the evaluation process and decide if any of the themes covered in the past year need to be revisited in the coming year. You can look at your first year through the theme as laying a foundation and the second year through that theme as building upon what you’ve already done.
There may be a pressure to jazz things up for your next calendar – don’t give into that pressure. Be faithful to the text. Preach from the Bible, plan in advance, give yourself time to think, invest, and don’t try to outdo yourself. Think of how you can continue to serve your congregation every week through your teaching and allow that attitude to guide your planning.
Final Thoughts On Using A Preaching Calendar In Your Church
If you are faithful to the process and ideals shared above, you will discover that a preaching calendar can be a powerful way to allow the Holy Spirit to move in your life in advance of his work. God always reserves the right to change your plans at a moment’s notice and in the meantime, we must be good stewards of the time and resources at our disposal – never waiting around, twiddling our thumbs, but obeying the commands God has already spoken through His Word.
As much as a preaching calendar is a plan to disciple your people, it should also be a plan for your own discipleship. As your calendar includes balance in themes and topics, so your own spiritual life will find balance as you prepare to deliver each sermon.
Just as you are more prepared to launch each series and preach every sermon, your staff will be more able to support your teaching through greater creativity in illustration, music, and other elements that make your weekend services special.
When you commit to building out a preaching calendar, you are essentially committing to asking God to reveal His will and to reveal His plans to you so you can, in turn, be faithful to your calling. You will know what to say when the moment comes because God has been speaking to you all year long.
Excel Calendar Worksheet
Plan a year’s worth of sermon series in advance with this simple, but powerful spreadsheet!