Uh-oh! A new year is coming soon! Many churches have pushed their annual planning back as far as they possibly can due to the craziness that has been 2020. But in just a couple of weeks, 2021 will be upon us. If you are running behind, here’s 7 quick tips that may be helpful as you plan your 2021 Preaching Calendar.
Plan the whole year out, but do it in pencil.
This was the year collectively where pastors made more plans than ever. And yet, because of circumstances happening in our world, many plans could not be executed properly. Some plans that were talked about, prayed through, and strategized upon on Monday were already forgotten by Tuesday. This year was dominated by pandemic, racial, and political news and the church wisely shifted our previously made plans in order to bring God’s perspective into real world issues.
We learned the truth of Proverbs 16:9 this year: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
It is wise to have the full perspective of 2021 in mind, but the flexibility in our schedules to address real world issues.
Identify the Needs of Your People
When it comes to planning which topics or themes are relevant, we should look no further than what our people are searching for in the midst of these turbulent times. At the heart of what we are doing as pastors we are called to shepherd and lead our people. Acts 20:28 tells us: Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Interestingly, YouVersion and Bible Gateway allow us to see what Bible topics and passages that people are searching for. YouVersion declares in 2020 that a record number of people turned to Scripture for passages addressing fear, healing, and justice. Bible Gateway reported similar search trends. The site also saw queries related to racism, justice, and oppression spike to 100 times the average in the week following George Floyd’s death, and verses related to government authority up at least 50 times the average on Election Day.
One sermon series our church has done (originally borrowed from “Church of the Highlands”) the past few years is simply called “You Asked for It.” We come up with a series of about 20-25 questions that we feel like our people are asking us. We then survey our congregation and have them vote on which questions they would like us to preach on. Not only are we ensuring that we give relative sermons, but it also gives us an opportunity to have our people engage with us. We typically have done this sermon series in some of our higher attendance seasons, following Easter or to begin the Fall “Back to School” season.
Interestingly, this data also gives us which questions are the least requested. Amazingly, nearly every year questions about sexual brokenness are found at the bottom. This goes to show me that some of the questions that are least requested may be things we don’t want to discuss, but we need to discuss.
Share what God is Placing on Your Heart
What a privilege it is to be the mouthpiece of God in this world. When we preach God’s Word, we have His assurances that it will never return empty. Effective preaching comes out of the overflow of our heart. Matthew 12:34 declares: For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
As we dive into our own personal devotions and Scripture readings, pay careful attention to those passages or topics that God stirs in your heart. For me, usually in the course of a calendar year, I’ll have 2-3 major ideas that God just continues to put strongly into my heart. Leave room in the calendar for these moments, whether it is a single standalone sermon, or a complete series. When we speak from our heart, knowing that God’s Spirit is already at work within His Word going out, it creates opportunities for God to move mightily.
Preach the Values of your Church
Likely your church has core values that are important to accomplishing your mission and vision. It is wise to revisit these core values every year in a message or even a series of messages on each core value. For vision to stick it must continue to be reinforced over and over and over again. Andy Stanley says, “Vision doesn’t stick without constant care and attention.”
And the wise King Solomon would once say in Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” A great way to help your vision stick is to preach through your values and teach how those help accomplish your church’s vision.
Utilize the Strengths of Your Preaching Team
God has wired each person differently. I truly believe that none of us can be experts in all things, but each of us is and likely should be experts in a few things. Play to the strengths of your preaching team.
Romans 12:6 reminds us: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”
I mean this from the standpoint of not only topics, but also style. What is most important in preaching is the proclamation of the Gospel. Each sermon should be based on God’s Word. But how you bring in God’s Word could vary. You may be more on the expository (verse-by-verse) side or you may thrive by telling story and illustration using the Bible as your anchor text. Whatever it may be, play to your strengths. If you have the advantage of a preaching team, use variety in how you bring God’s Word into the lives of your church.
Plan All-In Church Series or Challenges 1-2 Times Per Year
I’m amazed at the energy that an all-in church series can bring. Using materials or resources that can tie the whole church in not just on Sunday’s but during the week as well, likely may never be more important. Overnight, many of our churches became split into an in-person, digital, and hybrid model. Finding resources that tie us together during the week as well as on the weekend will be paramount.
Over the course of the last 3 years, prior even to the pandemic, there have been countless conversations I’ve been in with other pastors that intentionally put 1 or 2 all-in church series in their calendar every year. Not only can this bring unity to the whole church in a distanced time, increases engagement during the week in biblical habits and small groups, but it also allows a couple of nice months of breathing room to use materials where you do not have to start from scratch.
Our team at RLC has had the privilege to work with hundreds of churches and if you are on the lookout for a resource that can tie into your preaching calendar, we’d love to work with you with either of our 40-day studies: our original work Red Letter Challenge or our newest work Being Challenge. The most strategic times in the calendar year for an all-in series are New Year, 40 Days Prior to Easter, 40 Days After Easter, and the Fall.
Stretch Yourself by Preaching Something New
Earlier I mentioned playing to your strengths and preaching/teaching on topics that you excel in. It is also wise to stretch yourself every year with a series or two of messages on things that you’ve never preached on. We are continual learners and God gives us new insight as we dive into new waters. The entirety of Scripture is important as Paul reminds Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Those are 7 quick tips to help you plan your 2021 preaching calendar. Are there any other tips that you would add? What sermon series are you planning to preach this year?