Can you believe it? It’s that time of year already! So many churches are already looking ahead and planning out their 2023 preaching calendar. As pastors, we understand how vital the sermon is to the overall growth and health of the church.
In fact, at the end of 2016, Pew Research completed a study that determined the top reasons why people chose a particular church. Coming in at number one, chosen by 83%, was the quality of sermons. If sermons are that important, we need to ensure that we are giving it our best and choosing relevant sermon series ideas in 2023.
Here are seven tips to help you plan your preaching calendar for 2023:
- Plan the Whole Year Out, But do it in Pencil.
While it’s essential to get ahead and plan, 2020 showed us that we must hold all of our planning with open hands. Proverbs 16:9 confirms this point for us: The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
The events of 2020 caused pastors to pivot to address the pandemic, racism, and the Fall election. Like many things in 2020, our sermon calendars were thrown out the window to be relevant to what was happening. In the wake of the pandemic and the events of 2020, a shift has happened now in 2021 and 2022. Many churches have jumped on board and pivoted to add sermons or a series discussing mental health.
So, as you plan the calendar, it is wise to have the complete perspective of 2023 in mind but the flexibility in our schedules to address the real-world issues that may come.
- Identify the Needs of Your People.
When planning which topics or themes are relevant, we should look no further than what our people are searching for amid these turbulent times. At the center of our job as pastors should be shepherding and leading 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.
In December, YouVersion Bible App will allow us to see what Bible topics and passages were the most searched for, read, and highlighted in a year. You can see past years here: 2021 and 2020. Not only can we see this in December, but thanks to YouVersion for Churches, did you know that you can register as a church and that the people who attend your church can select your church? After they do this, you can get a summary of what your people are reading, searching for, sharing, and highlighting! How amazing is that? And, it’s FREE!
Not only can this help with sermon planning, but it can also give you a real-time update on the needs or interests of your congregation.
One 4-6-week sermon series our church has done (borrowed initially from “Church of the Highlands”) in the past is called “You Asked for It.” We develop a series of about 20-25 questions that we feel our people are asking us. We then survey our congregation and have them vote on which questions they would like us to preach. Not only are we ensuring that we give relevant sermons, but it also allows us 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. Nearly every year, questions about sexual brokenness are found at the bottom. This shows me that some of the questions that are least asked may be things we don’t want to discuss but 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 hearts. Matthew 12:34 declares: For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.
As we dive into our personal devotions and Scripture readings, pay careful attention to those passages or topics that God stirs in your heart. Usually, in a calendar year, I’ll have 2-3 significant ideas that God continues to put firmly into my heart. So leave room in the calendar for these moments, whether 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 Core 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 yearly in a message. It could even be an entire series of messages on each core value. For vision to stick, it must continue to be reinforced over and over and over again. Nothing will help get to your vision more than reinforcing the values that it will take to get to the vision. Andy Stanley says, “Vision doesn’t stick without constant care and attention.”
The wise King Solomon once said in Proverbs 29:18: “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” So a great way to help your vision stick is to preach through your values and teach how these values help accomplish your church’s vision.
If preaching your core values seems redundant or undesirable for you, I would challenge you to develop greater core values for your church. Preaching the core values of your church should never get old!
- Utilize the Strengths of Your Preaching Team.
God has wired each person differently. I genuinely believe that none of us can be experts in everything, but we are and likely should be experts in a few things. Romans 12:6 reminds us: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.”
If you are blessed to have a preaching team, play to the strengths of your preaching team. Each person on your preaching team has different gifts. If you have someone on your team who is gifted or trained in certain areas, let that pastor preach on what they are gifted at. For instance, my sweet spot is discipleship. Another person on our team is gifted in counseling. Yet another is gifted in leadership. When we each play to our strengths, the congregation experiences the win.
Preaching our strengths should not only come in topics but also regarding style.
Each sermon ought to 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 stories and illustrations using the Bible as your anchor text. Whatever it may be, play to your strengths.
- Plan At Least One All-In Church Series or Challenge 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 for the entire week (not just on Sundays) is crucial. So many of our churches have become split into an in-person, digital, and hybrid model. Finding resources that tie us together during the week and on the weekend is paramount. It is not only the church of the future; it’s the church of right now.
For the last five years, even before the pandemic, I have had hundreds of conversations with other pastors who intentionally put one or two all-in church series in their calendars yearly. These all-in series bring unity to the church and increase weekly engagement in small groups and online. Not only this but for church leadership, having an all-in series that’s already been written or prepared allows the leadership of the church to use materials where you do not have to start from scratch. I have found it wise to put a couple of times in the year that gives the staff some breathing room.
Our team at Red Letter Living has had the privilege to work with more than 800 churches for an all-in-church challenge. So, if you are looking for a resource that can tie into your preaching calendar, we’d love to work with you on one of our 40-day challenges: Red Letter Challenge, Being Challenge, or Forgiving Challenge. And did you hear the news? Serving Challenge will be coming out in the Fall of 2023. So, jump in and join the waitlist to launch in October 2023. And, if you are wondering when is the most strategic time to launch a 40-day challenge or all-in series, find out here.
- Stretch Yourself by Preaching Something New.
Earlier I mentioned playing to your strengths and preaching on topics that you excel in. It is also wise to stretch yourself yearly with a series or two of messages on things you’ve never preached. We are continual learners, and God gives us new insight as we dive into fresh waters. The entirety of Scripture is essential, 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 seven quick tips to help you plan your sermon series ideas for the 2023 preaching calendar. Are there any other tips that you would add? What sermon series are you planning to preach this year?