When I plan my preaching calendar, I start by analyzing my audience. I start where Jesus started—the needs of people.
You won’t learn that from a commentary set. Commentaries can help you analyze your text but not your congregation. You need to be able to answer three specific questions about your congregation:
- Where is my congregation right now?
- Where does my congregation need to go in the future?
- How can we help them get there?
So, how do you answer these questions about your congregation? Make these four activities a regular practice in your ministry, and you’ll develop a more relevant sermon schedule:
I get many of my sermon ideas from talking to people on the patio after worship services. I listen to people talk about their temptations, their habits, their sins, and their needs. As I listen, I’m constantly asking myself, “Do I need to do a message on this?” I also find that the letters and emails I receive give me great ideas about topics I can include in my sermons.
Surveys allow you to ask more people more questions. You can start with some of these:
- What question would you like to ask God?
- What are the greatest stresses in your life?
- What’s the biggest issue in your marriage?
- Complete this sentence. What do you say to someone when they __________? (People often don’t know what to say to others who are struggling.)
Try giving your congregation a list of possible sermon ideas and let them mark the ones that speak to their needs. You can also get ideas from surveys in local media. A few years ago, I learned from a local newspaper that the top problems people in our area faced were related to family issues, so I then preached a series on family.
Imagine, think, and pray.
You have a complex mix of needs, roles, and responsibilities among the people you’re serving each week. Ask God to show you what they need to hear.
Think through a profile of your congregation, and ask yourself about their responsibilities. A CEO and a mother of a preschooler have different responsibilities. But what are their deepest needs and their most common problems? What are their greatest fears and worries?
Think also about the most common sins. Make a list of the top five. If you’re not preaching about the sins on that list, you’re not being faithful. For example, if you’re seeing a lot of people in your church struggling with materialism, you’re likely not preaching enough on it.
Look at what’s happening in our culture.
Ask yourself, “What are the big moral issues in the news?” Take a look at magazine covers. They often feature moral or spiritual issues. Journalists and newscasters may not address them from a biblical perspective, but they do a lot of research and know people are interested in those topics.
You’ll also see spiritual issues trending on Twitter and discussed on television. Those can all be a potential preaching series. When I’m told people aren’t interested in doctrine these days, I think about all the doctrinal issues I see discussed in mainstream media outlets.
There’s no secret about how to preach the Gospel in ways that connect with your congregation today. You simply have to get to know them and understand what’s going on in their lives.
These four practices will help you do just that.