How to Effectively Plan Sermons

I’m currently developing a workflow for my sermon preparation and thought I would share my plan here. I’ve always had a pretty good informal system for sermon preparation but I am wanting to become more effective and consistent. This post is kind of a ‘note to self’ but perhaps others will get something out of it. I would love to hear your ideas as well.

Step #1 Gather Relevant Information [ongoing]

Before even developing a workflow for sermon preparation, it’s important to pray and think about the needs of the congregation and spend time listening to God. Are there specific themes or deficiencies in the body that need to be addressed? Is God giving you a message that has become a “fire burning in your heart” that you can no longer hold in? (See Jeremiah 20:9)

Keep an ongoing journal or a computer file of ideas for series, titles, illustrations, insights, etc.

What topics and books of the Bible have already been preached in recent months/years? It’s good to have some sort of spreadsheet that includes sermon text, topic, main idea and any illustrations used so that you don’t keep preaching the same thing over and over. The idea is to “declare the whole plan of God” (See Acts 20:27)

Are there other resources that could be useful here like a church-wide survey or a discussion with others in leadership?

Step #2 Draft a Yearly Sermon Calendar [2-3 days]

Once information has been gathered it’s time to plan out the year. Ideally, at least two days should be put aside for this intentional time of prayer and planning.

If there is a pastoral team or pastoral interns it might be good to involve them at this point. They may also have insights in gathering information.

Don’t forget to schedule around important church calendar dates (Easter, Christmas, church events, etc.)

Throughout the year, include a variety of Old and New Testament texts/series/books. I also like to alternate in-depth book studies with topical series.

Step #3 Plan Each Series [1 day]

A few weeks before launching a new series, take time to develop an outline, series title, and an overview of the series. I also like to take a stab at identifying the main idea of each sermon (though it will change after study) and jot down ideas for illustrations, examples, and other support material.

It’s also important to think what sort of communication, media, or marketing will be used for the series. If you have some people skilled in media presentations, it might be good to bring them into the loop and develop a title slide. Maybe someone can develop a flyer or an evite that can be sent out to guests and members to announce the series. Use of Facebook, websites, Twitter or even a press release could go a long way in getting the word out about the sermon series.

Step #4 Develop Each Sermon [10 hours]

Everyone develops their sermons differently. However, in an effort not to wait until Saturday evening to plan a sermon, I’ll give a couple of resources and principles for how I prepare a sermon. I have basically adapted the steps from two of my seminary professor’s books on exegesis and/or homiletics. I often refer to Douglas Stuart’s “Short Guide for Sermon Exegesis” which is chapter 3 of his book on Old Testament Exegesis. I also use Haddon Robinson’s book on Biblical Preaching. These are extremely helpful tools even though I don’t follow their plans exactly.

I like to break up my sermon prep time into one block of four hours and two blocks of three hours. Typically those times fall on Monday afternoon, Tuesday morning and Friday morning. I also spend about 30 minutes reviewing my notes on Sunday morning.

In order to guard this time, it might even be helpful to block out sermon prep hours on your calendar. Not everyone spends 10 hours preparing for sermons but if I don’t allot myself at least 10 hours then I won’t feel prepared on Sunday and other pastoral concerns will quickly chew up any time I might’ve had for sermon prep.

The most important part of this system is to get a head start on sermon prep. If you’ve already got a sense of where you are going by Monday or Tuesday, other thoughts, insights, or ideas for illustrations will come to you as you go about your business during the week. It also allows for the message to seep in and begin working on the messengers heart.

What tips or ideas do you have in developing sermons throughout the year? Do you see any holes in my preparation that could use some work? Let me know your thoughts!

Nathan is the pastor of City Life Church in Ridgewood, NY. He and his family are committed to making and multiplying disciples in the most diverse county in the US. Read more about Nathan here. Visit the City Life Church website here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • I really stink at sermon prep. If I “put time into it” I always over do it and then my presentation suffers. If I just think about it and get up and speak extemporaneously my presentation is much better but I have the tendency to be superficial.

    I have always needed balance, book time and but not too much. I am going to try your method and schedule as you have done just to have starter point.

    Another problem I have, especially when I am new, is what to preach about.

    But the best thing you said that may help me is just to make a simple spread sheet, that way I can see the whole year at a glance. I am going to have fields for titles, central point, and supporting points, and maybe a summary of illustrations. I think I am making it to hard already.

    • Hey Johnny, I don’t think it will be making it too hard. I think it might take some work to set it up in a spread sheet but as a resource it’s usefulness will only grow over time. Also, it sounds like you need a balance of how much time to put into a sermon. I don’t think winging it is being very faithful to Scripture but you also don’t have to script out every word. Most important is to spend time meditating on the text and praying for the Spirit to give you insight. That kind of time spent will never be wasted. God bless you as you study and prepare!

  • Nathan
    This is really helpful! I have a pretty informal system that I always try to be ahead of the game by 6-8 weeks so I have time to fill in illustration holes with current info, but that allows me to do the exegetical/outlining work ahead of time
    Thanks for sharing! I’ll definitely have to bring it into practice

    • Thanks for the comment Scott! I think it’s really helpful to stay ahead. It gives you time to process over a longer period of time. Good for you for taking the disciplined approach.