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Adventures in Sermon Planning, or, The Importance of Mixed Messages November 10, 2012

Posted by worshipconvergence in Christianity, Church, Leadership, ministry.
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(cue voice-over) Last time on Hypocrites and Heretics…

The bane of modern church trends: series preaching. Some people seem to love it, they are probably the same people who love soap operas on TV. Six or seven weeks about relationships, four about missions, seven about attitude, three or four about serving, four about following your dreams, and you’re half way through the year having covered only five topics. Here’s the problem – if you want guests to feel at home, if you want to keep those whose attention span runs out quickly, series preaching only hits a small percentage of people.

A number of years ago, I was intrigued by a TV series called Alias. I stopped watching after one season because every episode ended with a cliffhanger and the following episode started with either a recap of the previous episode or even the last 10 minutes of that episode as the first 10 minutes of the new episode. Too soap opera-esque. Last week…this week…next week. I managed to last about 10 years as a fan of WWF/WWE wrestling, but when characters launched in to the exact same persona and feuding with the same people for the 5th time, I turned it off. Soap opera. I sit through modern church services and get the same feeling.

Stand alone episodes allow newcomers to turn on the show, evaluate without the writers trying to force them into coming back to finish the story, and without the viewer having to know a back story, and they can possibly enjoy what they see and come back of their own free will. Occasionally the show will use a multi-week story arc, but they try to make it easy for guest viewers to feel at home. Coming in during the middle of, or at the end of, a series adds to the feeling of being and outsider. Supposedly, the modern church M.O. – make everyone feel at home, serve coffee, conveniently-stationed friendly hospitality volunteers, etc. Yet sermon series are anything but outsider friendly.

If your vision includes bringing in new people; being an Acts 2 church, which spreads the Word to grow the Body; printing invitations; advertising on radio, in papers, and online; series preaching counteracts those efforts. Mix it up, stand alone sermons (messages) go farther than series, even if you record every sermon to distribute online. Pastors are always telling congregations, “Its not about you!” Yet those same pastors insist on delivering series after series because its more worshipful to them and they feel like they are giving so much more information than they could give in a single sermon. Think of it this way: if the average sermon length in your church is 28 minutes, and you take guests into consideration and give them a recap, you probably spend 7-8 minutes giving the recap, meaning the actual sermon is only 20-21 minutes because you had to backtrack. In a stand alone sermon, you’d actually have the full 28 minutes to deliver a sermon that could speak to people and allow guests to come back of their own free will. During a 4 week series, you’ll lose the equivalent of one week’s sermon time giving recaps and overviews.

The purpose of the sermon is to edify, or strengthen the the people’s resolve to live by the Word in today’s society. That is the continuous battle, and it requires mixed messages to fight the Good Fight. But maybe we’ll talk about that more…

(cue voice-over) Next time on Hypocrites and Heretics.

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