better sermon series planning

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If you were to ask someone who attends the church that I’m a part of why they first started attending, you’d more than likely hear something like this: “A friend invited me to that series that had U2 music, because I love U2,” or “My first weekend was during that series about the wilderness,” or “I first attended because I saw your ad about the marriage series.”

Notice people don’t often say, “I came because I heard your bible studies are the best,” or “your church seems to have the cleverest phrases on your roadside sign.”

When sermon series planning is done right, it creates a compelling invite opportunity to hit at the heart of what people in your community are searching for. If you aren’t seeing a bump in attendance and engagement each time you begin a new weekend series, here are four questions for you and your church staff team to wrestle with:

1. What questions are the people in our community asking?

We’re all human. Sure, some of us have needs that are unique, but for the most part, we all struggle with some common things. Yet too many times our sermon series are trying to answer questions people aren’t even asking. What are the people in your community struggling with, asking questions about, or in need of? Make a list of those things as you approach your series planning. To start…

  • Help with parenting
  • Help in my marriage
  • How to improve my relationships
  • What is my purpose in life?

If you’re struggling with ideas, ask the people in your church. Once a year gather some of your top stakeholders and ask them three questions:

  1. What are the people you interact with saying they need?
  2. What are the people you interact with in need of, but not talking about?
  3. What are some ways we could creatively package those needs in a series that would be compelling?

2. What are the natural rhythms of people’s lives in our community?

Surprisingly, our schedules aren’t all that different. This is especially true for families with kids. If there are a large number of younger families in your community, you can predict when they might be vacationing, busy, or re-engaged with the church just by tracking the local sports schedules and school calendar.

You can then strategically plan your sermon series for when you’re most likely to have their attention. Schedule a parenting or marriage series in the fall when the kids are back in school and families are more likely to accept an invitation to church. Plan a financial series in February when parents get their post-Christmas credit card bill. Put your vision series on the calendar during the summer when it’s more likely you have more insiders attending than new guests.

3. What are the critical topics that need to be addressed?

Now that you know what questions people are asking and when they’re most likely to show up to hear about them, you need to decide what topics you will address over the course of the year. Some topics you will only address once. Some topics, like relationships, you may want to cover twice, but in different ways.

There will also be some other topics you might add because you know they need to be addressed. These may not be questions people are explicitly asking, but you know that they are felt needs lying just beneath the surface of their lives. Add these topics to your list.

4. How can we create a compelling invite for new guests?

About 80% of your first-time guests will come because they were invited by someone. This holds true with all kinds of churches that we work with, all across the country. People attend because of personal invites. For this reason, creativity in the church matters.

Creating compelling invite tools for your current attendees to invite friends and family will drive weekend attendance. More than that, it will ultimately lead to more people hearing about Jesus.

One of those tools is packaging your sermon series in a way that the people of your church are excited to invite someone. Packaging isn’t just about what you call the series, but also how you talk about it, the look and feel of your invite tools, and the topic itself.

Here are some examples from the church I’m a part of:

  • Topic – Anxiety, Stress, Depression
    • Series – Monsters Under The Bed
      • Packaging – Dark, Haunting, Intriguing
  • Topic – Marriage
    • Series – I Want A New Marriage
      • Packaging – Cold, Distance, Relational
  • Topic – Purpose
    • Series – Me, My-selfie, and I
      • Packaging – Fun, Lighthearted, Unique

There aren’t easy, universal answers to these four questions. This process will take some time. You’ll need to do the hard work of truly connecting with your community. With that in mind, I would suggest you create a yearly rhythm of working through these questions before you calendar your next set of series topics. Once you do, I believe these four questions will lead you to more effective sermon series planning and ultimately to more people hearing about Jesus.

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Sean Bublitz

For more than 12 years Sean has served in various roles in weekend services, arts and senior leadership at Community Christian Church (Naperville, IL) and Granger Community Church (Granger, IN). He has a passion for creativity, problem solving, and quelling the status quo. He and his wife Jill live in Granger, Indiana with their 5 kids.

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