Coming Up with The Big Idea For Your Sermon

Where do you start your message? At the beginning? At the end? Do you start your message with an illustration or a story?

Of all the places you could start, there is one place you should start.

Every message should start with your big idea.

But how do you discover that big idea? Where do you come up with the central theme? What does that big idea need to actually look like? Does it need to be well-refined or can it be raw and moldable?  

This episode of the Hello Church! podcast is where we will unpack why a big idea matters, what your sermon big idea should include, the process by which you discover your big idea, and using the big idea to influence your message and delivery of all central themes. 

If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time. The big idea will give you somewhere to aim your overall theme and ensure that your people leave having received specific instruction in one message rather than a collection of different ideas wrapped up into a 30-40 minute talk.

How to Come Up with A Sermon Big Idea

It is important that you don’t create your sermon’s big idea before you spend time studying the passage you are preaching on. To preach a strong expository message you want your message content to be derived from and support the big idea that is actually discovered in scripture.

Before you ever come up with your ideas for a big idea, you need to actually study the passage. Study the scripture itself, introduce additional commentaries into your study, and explore additional resources like series guides from Ministry Pass. After that process is complete, you can begin to propose big ideas and start ideating.

There is a book called, Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robbinson, where he breaks down the exploration of the big idea into two parts, with the first part being labeled the CIT: the central idea of the text. Before anything else, including application, you need to know exactly what the passage is about. The application will only be as strong as the understanding of the central idea of the text. Rather than looking at the reading of the scripture as the boring part and the application as the exciting part, we really need to ask, “What is this text trying to teach us?”

As you formulate your big idea, you want to answer that question. 

Write down in one sentence your answer to, “What is this text really trying to teach us,” and in your answer, use the language from the text. In this way, you are summarizing the big principle idea of the individual text you’re looking at.

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Examples of Message Big Ideas

It’s one thing to talk about this process, it is another to see it modeled. So that’s what we want to take a moment to do. 

As we take a few moments to share sample big ideas, it is worth noting that 1) we are abbreviating the process for the sake of the example, and 2) your process may look slightly different. 

However you proceed, there is no substitute for prayer, meditation, and studying the Word.

An Example of a Big Idea from 1 Kings

Let’s take a look at how this plays out using an example from 1 Kings 19. In this section, Elijah is on the run and God speaks to him, not through the wind or fire, but rather a gentle whisper. 

Read 1 Kings 19 from Bible Gateway

Here is an example CIT from this text:

In a moment of desperation God revealed Himself through a gentle whisper to Elijah, assuring the prophet that though the Lord doesn’t always operate in the realm of the spectacular, His work is not in vain.

If you examine the passage and then review the CIT you will see the big idea of the text and relate to it using terms of the text. 

An Example of an Application from 1 Kings

Once you have the big idea of the text, you can then turn your attention to making the CIT applicable. 

Going back to our 1 Kings example, let’s look at a possible big idea of the message or central idea of the sermon using our CIT as the basis of truth.

Though sometimes we are tempted to give up in the face of difficult circumstances, God has not left us alone.

That statement communicates to your audience exactly what your message will be about and that main point is derived directly from scripture and relates directly to the text itself.

You can now say, “Here is what the text is teaching,” and then say, “Here is how that applies to our lives today.” Your sermon is focused on that big idea and you can avoid being distracted by other good ideas that are unrelated to your big idea. Perhaps the other good ideas might make great additional messages in the sermon, but for this single message, you are focused on exploring the truth in the scripture through an application that is relevant to the passage.

An Example of A Sermon Series Big Idea with Individual Message Main Points

While the example above gives us a close look at one single message, it is also helpful to see how an entire series might have one big idea and each individual message have its own main point that relates back to the series big idea. 

Now let’s look at the sermon series, The Emotions of Jesus, the series big idea and individual big ideas from each week’s message.

Sermon Series Big Idea: 

The Gospels provide us with rich stories of Jesus’s life and ministry on earth—healings, parables, and relationships with disciples and outcasts and religious leaders. They also tell us about Jesus’s emotional life. Because He was fully human, He experienced human emotions, but without sin. This four-week study examines four passages that describe those emotions, to help us learn more about our Savior, think more deeply about the gift of our emotions, and continually model ourselves after Christ.

That is the big idea for this four-week sermon series. Now let’s look at the big idea for each individual message in the series.

Week 1Jesus feels compassion for lost people and teaches us to share that compassion.

Week 2: Jesus was angry at the abuse of people made in God’s image and at the misuse of God’s revelation to justify it.

Week 3: Jesus experienced grief and indignation at death, even while knowing the end of the story.

Week 4: Jesus experienced joy in setting captives free to live a new life.

Reading through each of these central message ideas it is very clear what your sermon is about. It’s not about stewardship, it’s not about the end times, it is not about other topics that are fine to preach on but are unrelated to this message. Through all four weeks, we stick clearly to the individual points of the sermon all related back to the main theme of the series.

Having a great big idea for each message will allow you to stay concise. Rather than being a shotgun blast of information, it is a sniper rifle of precision.

Great Questions Can Prompt A Great Big Idea

Everything has to start in the passage of scripture. There is no other place you can derive a biblically sound truth than the Word itself. 

One of the strongest questions you can ask yourself as a prompt for this process is, “What is this author trying to say?”

Are you reading a story? Ask yourself, “What is the point of the story?”

If you’re thinking about Samuel anointing David you could come to the conclusion that man looks at the outward appearance but God looks at the heart.

A healthy collection of questions is a safeguard against one of the greatest follies of studying God’s Word. 

Too often we will be in a Bible study, small group, coffee group, or other Bible reading setting, proceed to read the passage and as soon as we are done reading the scripture we immediately jump to application. Questions prevent you from reading a passage and saying, “okay, here is what it means for me.”

Again, ask, “What is the text actually teaching?”

Before you ever move forward on your message big idea — and any type of application — make certain you understand what the passage is saying and then you can move forward to what the passage is teaching.

Additional prompts to consider would include:

  • Who is the author?
  • Who is the original audience?
  • What was the setting where this was written?
  • What was the setting where this would have been read or received?

Think through the larger situation of the world where the words were written and whom they were being received by. Understanding these larger contextual pieces will help you translate from their world to the modern world without forsaking truth.

Summary of The Big Idea

Every week your message needs a big idea… a central idea… the main theme. 

The benefits of this practice include:

  • Your message will be rooted in scripture. It will not be ‘advice.’
  • Help listeners understand a key truth of God’s Word.
  • Make the message sticky by re-enforcing a single point.
  • Compels you to preach on one single point
  • Helps you plan future messages
  • Keeps every message sharp and focused (because you can use good ideas in future weeks, rather than cramming them into one week)

If this sort of planning is not something you’ve done in the past, it is easy to get started by simply utilizing a preaching calendar to start putting your ideas in order and getting something on paper to mold in the coming months.

As mentioned at the very beginning of this episode, everything starts with spending time studying the Word itself and utilizing other tools to help you discover the central theme of the text. The first 10-15% of your message will include:

  • The big idea
  • Select illustrations for your message
  • Commentary or insights from pastors, authors, and thought leaders
  • Message outline

It helps to have go-to material to help you through this initial phase of your preparation to not only start out with momentum but to make sure you’re starting with a true understanding of the passage. This is the thought behind the Series Guides we include in every sermon series because this part of the process is so critical.

We all use the same Bible as source material and many of us use the same study resources — in the end, they allow us to craft a message that is true which we can then deliver in our own voice in a manner relevant to the context we find ourselves in. 

Resources Mentioned

The Pastor’s Circle —

Biblical Preaching by Haddon Robinson —

Preaching Calendar Template Spreadsheet —

Ministry Pass (Free Trial) —

Sermon Calendar Planning Workshop

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