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The first step to more powerful sermons is the annual church calendar. For I don’t know how long, I struggled with scheduling church events. No calendar system really seemed to be good at keeping everything we as a church needed it to do. I wanted something that anyone could add to, but could also see what everyone else was doing, as well. iPhone image on 2014-05-08 at 08-07-40

What we came up with a couple of years ago is an old fashioned wall calendar. Every year at our beginning-of-the-year teaching team retreat, we map out the important dates (holidays, what we know is big times for kids, students, etc.) and start with a fresh calendar.

If you look at the picture, you can see that there are different colors of masking tape with stuff written on them. Each color corresponds to a different ministry in the church (kids, small groups, outreach, entire campus, etc.). When we sit down at the beginning of the year, we color code those events so we can see what important dates are coming and when we need to lay off of scheduling anything else.

We work really hard to be sure we don’t tire out the staff. You have to take care of them! They are important people! For example, around Easter we schedule absolutely nothing else. We know that our staff and volunteers are going to need max effort for ministry and family. So we schedule around that.

Our second step for more powerful sermons and sermon series is a sermon series calendar.

I know what you’re thinking: “Duh!” And you’re right. It does seem like common sense, but it took me a while to get this down. As you can see, we have our series that we’ve sought God for and really believe God is leading us to do mapped out according to what we saw on the church calendar.

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The series that we consider “felt needs” and most impactful certainly line up on the church calendar where most people will be present at church. We want to pack our best punch and use the year calendar in our favor. We want to make impact in people’s lives and help them transform into who God wants them to be … we can usually tell which series will do this best. We plan those series out accordingly.

As you can tell, sometimes we get the series titles in this step and sometimes it’s more general ideas. That’s okay; we’ll get down to a little more micro stuff in our next step. Seeing this all on one piece of paper really helps when fitting series and ideas together.

Now, you’re going to be tempted to start planning sermon title, etc in this step; don’t do that. Just lay out your series for the year. There’ll be plenty of time to construct the series more fully and the sermons more distinctly later.

Now we’re getting to the nitty gritty of this whole thing. In this step, you start to outline the individual teachings from the series. We’ve changed things up this year and are trying to stick to a three-week (four at times) sermon series. We’ve recognized that our culture doesn’t seem to hang on to series more than three to four weeks. 

iPhone image on 2014-05-13 at 08-28-35As you can see, when the teaching team and I sit down to plan out a sermon series, we start with a basic outline of three things…

Head – How do we usually think about this concept? What’s the first human instinct when it comes to this topic?

Heart – What does God say about this? Where in the Bible does He speak to it?

Hand – What do we want people to do with the info when they leave?

Those three things are all we outline during this step. Sometimes, this gets detailed with some bullet points; other times it’s just a line or two or a few verses.

We’ll flesh out the sermon in the next step. Right now, we just want to form and develop the entire series, not get to specifics. We’ll get specific with the next part.

Once we have the first three parts of this, the next part is much less strenuous and complicated. Of course, we’ll bring over the thoughts and ideas from the sermon series outline. We’ll plug in the Scriptures and ideas, but we’ll also get much more detailed. 

As you can see, the arrows indicate transitions. Yes, I go as far as to script out transitions into and out of Scripture and key ideas. We often lose people in the “turn” or transition of a sermon. Many times, this part of the plan doesn’t get all the way done.

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As the team and I meet, we fill in much of this, but things like illustrations and personal stories often come later as I’m outlining a sermon in Evernote. This four-step outline, though, really helps us all have input and gather ideas and key points we may otherwise miss.

I’ve found this process to be really helpful to our team or whoever’s speaking. It helps everyone learn what it takes to create a sermon, and it helps us all hear new ideas and thoughts.

Artie Davis is the Pastor of Cornerstone Church, Director of @TheSticks, and author of Craveable.

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Talk about it...

Keith B

commented on Jul 3, 2015

It's a lot easier to just pick a book of the Bible and go verse by verse. As you're nearing the end of the book, pick the next. A nice side benefit is that your people will know the Word of God, You will also have an easier time preaching difficult passages...as you can honestly say you didn't specifically pick that passage for that Sunday. And it's amazing how many times the person that really needs to hear the passage happens to come the week that you preach it.

Julian Whettam

commented on Jul 3, 2015

Very helpful points. I'm a bit concerned, though, about the idea that head = human thoughts and instincts, and heart = what God has to say. That concept is certainly not Biblical, and I'm not sure it's that helpful, either: it tends to communicate the idea that thinking is not from God but emotions are (not true!), thus encouraging people to go with their emotions without thinking things through. Surely both head and heart are given by God, and both can be used in an entirely human way, without reference to God, or in submission to him; and we can experience him speaking to us in either realm, whether from the Bible or directly from the Holy Spirit.

Kevin Mcdonald

commented on Jul 5, 2015

I like the head, heart, hands way of thinking about how to get my sermon to speak to the congregation. I plan to incorporate that thought into my sermon preparation. However, (and I hate to be this guy) but the calendar seems to drive this article more than Scripture. I agree that a calendar can make preaching as a whole more effective, but this article either gets the cart before the horse."The first step to more powerful sermons is the annual church calendar." is not a statement I can get behind. But the organization and intentionality of your sermon preparation, for example- not losing people between points of the sermon is well-taken.

Kevin Mcdonald

commented on Jul 5, 2015

Sorry for the poor grammar. Can't edit.

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