If people attend weekend services less frequently now and in the future, will our concept of the “sermon series” need to evolve?
This is a question I’ve discussed with a few different church leaders in the last few weeks. I have this vague sense that the way we approach the sermon series — namely that it is so “weekend-focused” — may become another aspect of the new traditional church in the next few years. Maybe it already is.
Here’s what I don’t mean:
- I don’t mean that the idea of teaching comprehensively on a topic is wrong or that it won’t require multiple weeks of focus and energy. Just the opposite, actually.
- I don’t mean to suggest that people will no longer respond to teaching that addresses their felt needs. They will, even more exclusively, in all probability.
This is what I am sensing:
Our idea of the sermon series is usually linear and staccato — like your favorite network TV drama that comes on once a week.
Each week builds on the last. You get lost if you miss an episode. You don’t think about it until it comes on again next week by default of your routines.
We’re increasingly living in a Netflix and on-demand world. You can jump in anytime. You can catch up on what you missed. If you’re fascinated, you can grab a bag of popcorn and immerse yourself. If you think about it during the week, it’s at your fingertips. If you have a question about something you saw, you jump online and find an analysis or discussion.
Most church series are more like the first, except without the excellent cliff-hangers that make you anticipate the next episode or the helpful recaps at the beginning for a new watcher.
The current sermon series idea hasn’t been around forever.
Paradigms shift. Will it have to stop working for us to try a new approach? (Ask anyone trying to lead change in an old traditional church how difficult that can be.) Are people responding in attendance to your series pushes like they were a few years ago? If the answer is no, there could be a number of reasons. It’s worth digging into.
We’re missing opportunities with apps, social media, video, podcasts, blogs, and more to truly resource and immerse our congregations in study of God’s Word and how it applies to their lives.
We’re also missing opportunities to equip them with resources to share with the people only they can reach using their unique spheres of influence online. Every church won’t use all of the available technology or channels. But you could find one or two that fit your people and your vision and go for it full-steam ahead.
What if you had a video editor cut the highlights from last week’s message down into a 2 min. version that’s more social media sharing-friendly? (Pete Wilson at Cross Point Church in Nashville has some great examples of this on his blog.) What if you had an app that linked to your study materials for people who want to go deeper?
You might also use these tools to help people catch up when they miss a service. What if you recapped last week’s message in the bulletin each Sunday?
We may not be choosing the right series topics anymore.
Are we understanding our communities’ felt needs as well as we think we are? By default, if you’ve been updating the same series ideas each year for any length of time, they will miss subtle changes of culture that need to be nuanced. For example, are you talking about marriage and assuming everyone in the room defines it the same way? Talking about family from the perspective of a traditional unit (two parents, no split homes)? Talking about tithing without talking about debt and consumer comparison?
I’ll leave off with a few questions:
- How are you looking ahead and evaluating the methods you will choose to share the message of the Gospel with those inside your church and outside it?
- How are you building a team with the skills to engage people beyond weekend services? Do you have writers on your staff or volunteer teams? How about someone to creatively lead and direct volunteers with web savvy or video production skills?
- How are you planning your messages? Even if primary content continues to come from senior pastors, they’re going to need to lead teams to translate those concepts and build on them in ways that extend behind pulpit delivery in the future.
Just a few thoughts. I’m curious to hear from pastors who are using this model year after year. What are you sensing? What might be changing?