This past week, our team of staff who plan our message series’ (what we call the “Message Oval”) set aside a day to draw up a rough sketch of the topics and themes of what I will be preaching about in the upcoming year. Yes, I did say year. We make it a point to plan way out to give us plenty of preparation and research for putting together the best possible message to reach and teach our congregation and community. One common question we get is: What types of things do you look for when putting together a good message series? Here are three key considerations that drive our message planning process.
Know Your Target Audience
We always preach to “Timonium Tim.” Tim is the quintessential unchurched person in our community, the guy (along with his family) who we want to share the good news with. This week, we took a good portion of our morning just reviewing the demographics of Timonium. Based on this demographic, we can form a pretty good profile of Tim and preach to where he is.
Where do we start when designing a message for Tim? We look at how Tim and his family spend their time, money, and attention and brainstorm what message topics will be relevant and challenging for their life.
Map Out the Year
One of the reasons we plan so far ahead is so that the whole year flows and fits from a liturgical and parish planning standpoint. We look over the entire Liturgical Year and map out dates we already know are there (Easter, Christmas, Holy Days), as well as parish programs/kickoffs and planned events (things like the Archbishop’s Annual Appeal, Stewardship Weekend, etc.). This isn’t nearly as difficult as it sounds, it just takes time. Not only are we not taken off guard by these dates, we use them to our advantage by crafting our message series around them not in spite of them. The themes and topics we’ve picked out usually find complimentary times of the year to address. Lenten series usually stress themes like repentance and spiritual discipline, or Advent as a time of grace, God’s gifts, etc.
We don’t write all the messages in one fell swoop. We write them throughout the course of the year, but it helps to have a good idea of where your message is going before you actually put pen to paper.
Look to the Lectionary
A message series has to fit the Sunday readings. Sounds obvious, but it takes some intentionality when it comes to an effective series. Rather than working against the Lectionary readings of the Liturgical Year, we think message series’ actually preach along the narrative arc of the gospels. This makes sense, because the Gospel is a continuous story or journey, not isolated events. A good series not only has a consistent message, or “bottom line” as we call it, but it also tells a good story.