Any pastor—no matter how small his church—can have a research team.
No matter what size your congregation, there are people in your church who like to read and research. They are SHAPEd by God for this very thing. They’ll be thrilled to help you with your sermon preparation, if you just give them a list of your sermon topics.
I meet with my lay research team every few months, and I explain to them the direction I’m headed with my sermons, including any sermon series that I’ll preach. I then tell them what to look for—quotes, illustrations, articles, statistics.
Here are some tips for doing this in your own church:
Recruit a team coordinator
You should establish one person as your liaison with the research team. That way, everyone can feed their research to one person and then he/she can give the results to you. This keeps you from getting 15 different messages from 15 different people.
Ask your team coordinator to send you the group’s research through email, either as a note that combines everything or as an attached document. That way you can cut and paste the research right into your sermon notes. Depending upon your style, you may want these notes broken into categories. For instance, you might ask that all the quotes be sent in one document and all the statistics sent in another.
Or you may want each email to center on specific verses or themes. There may be some items that have to be passed on as hard copies, but whenever possible (and where copyright is permissible), try to receive this information in an electronic form.
You should explain two rules to your research team:
First, whatever they give you, they won’t get back. In other words, they need to give you a copy. You do not want the responsibility of returning an article or a book, etc. Plus, you may not use their research this time around; however, you may later, and you need to file it for that future use.
Second, tell your team how much you appreciate their efforts, but that you may not be able to use everything they give you. I ask my team not to get their feelings hurt if I don’t use what they’ve given me. I say, “I always get more material than I could possibly use, and I don’t want you thinking, ‘Gee, I did all this research, and he didn’t use it.’ Your research may have helped me as I formed the sermon—it may have sparked one of the ideas—but it didn’t make it into the sermon in a form you recognize.” I also explain that I may use some of their research at another time—in another sermon.
That is a brilliant idea!