Does the following scenario describe you?
You have done your study. You have spent time in prayer. You have created your outline of the whole series. You know what you want to accomplish each week. You’ve identified the right analogies, found the perfect quotes, and designed a compelling PowerPoint template.
Throughout the series you spend additional time making sure that this Sunday’s message is just the way you want it. You create “next steps” for the back of the program. You send out discussion questions for the small groups. You write about it in your weekly newsletter, email, or blog.
Do you ever find yourself wondering if the people are “getting it?”
Several years ago, my home church was in the midst of a search for a senior pastor. I was helping with some of the preaching and decided to do a 3-week, very high level overview series of II Peter. One main point each week from each of the three chapters. The week before the series began I got up and said this one sentence:
“I want each of you to read II Peter at least four times each week for these three weeks.”
I had not imagined what an amazing impact that one, simple request would have! Since I wasn’t asking them to do something every day – and reading II Peter is only about a 10-minute commitment – there was a large segment of the congregation who agreed to the request and dove right in.
The benefits were immediate – and powerful! Here are just a few:
Benefit #1: People were more excited and engaged on Sunday mornings.
I could see it in their eyes. They had been reading the passage I was preaching on ahead of time. They came with their own thoughts, ideas, and questions. Sometimes they would even stop me before the service to make a comment or ask me about something that puzzled them. Not to mention the conversations that went on after the service.
As I preached, I saw more people with their Bibles open. More people taking notes. More people sitting up straight – fully engaged. (Not a single audible snore during the whole series!)
Benefit #2: The sermon became part of the conversation – instead of the WHOLE conversation.
Possibly my favorite moment during those three weeks came in the middle of a day in the middle of the week. Walking through the church office, I came upon two of our volunteers chatting about II Peter. When they invited me into the conversation I realized something flat-out awesome: They were talking about a section of II Peter I hadn’t preached on yet! They were both reading it on their own. When they got together, the conversation that followed was simply a natural outflow of what they were reading, studying, meditating on, and praying through.
I started hearing about these conversations all the time. “John and I were having coffee and discussing that section in Chapter Three…” “I was walking with Judy and we both had the same question…” “I can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this verse…” It was amazing!
So much pressure was removed from my shoulders because I wasn’t solely responsible for making sure they “got something out of it.” My 40 minutes each Sunday was just a slice of a much larger, much more delicious pie.
Benefit #3: People developed a new – or renewed – passion for God’s Word.
A few paragraphs back I told you about my favorite moment. But this was far and away my favorite benefit of the whole series. Every week – and several times during the week – someone would tell me how much they were enjoying reading the Bible. You don’t get better than that!
As they developed a habit of reading a whole book of the Bible (something I encourage people to do all the time) they found that it just made more sense to them. It was alive. They could sense Peter’s heartbeat for these First Century Christians. In so doing, they could sense God’s heartbeat for them!
This request has become a habit. In the years that followed we still encourage people to read whatever book we are preaching through at least four times each week. Admittedly, we have adapted the request for some of the longer books we have preached through. (e.g. Read Acts 20-30 minutes each day. Read Romans 1-2 times each week.)
But the principle remains: Whatever is being preached on Sunday is read on Monday. And Tuesday… And…
Question: Have you ever made this request – or something similar – at the start of a sermon series? What other ways have you found to get your congregation interacting more during a sermon series?
Photo Credit – Rosmary – Creative Commons