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One of a preacher's greatest challenges is choosing what to preach and when.

So much rides on your decision. Attendance. Growth in Christ. Momentum. And most of all, God's purposes for your church.

Here are 7 lessons I've learned that help us pursue a perfect preaching calendar.

1. For everything, there is a season.

Certain times of the year are easier to attract the unchurched.

We want to leverage these opportunities by building our calendar around those times.

For Americans, the best times to appeal to the unchurched are two to three weeks after school starts, three to four weeks after the New Year, and Easter and the weeks following.

During these seasons, we do attractional series on topics like The God QuestionsThe Purpose Driven Life, family, marriage or money management.

2. Balance depth and breadth.

The author of Hebrews understood that some of his audience needed milk, while others were ready for meat (Heb. 5:12).

To balance the "milk" of high felt-need attractional series, we fill in the rest of the calendar with deeper series like book studies.

3. Numerical growth comes mostly from campaigns.

Children don't grow at a steady rate. They shoot up a half-inch one month, then grow little over the next few months and then hit another growth spurt.

Churches do the same.

At New Song, our growth comes primarily from campaigns.

Campaigns are intentional series that combine weekend preaching with mid-week small groups and personal daily readings—all on the same subject.

That's why my books The Bible Questions, The God QuestionsFuture History (Daniel) and Jonah were all designed as church campaigns.

In each of these campaigns, we've grown between 10 and 20 percent, with consolidation (and some attrition) following.

We've positioned most of our campaigns during the attractional seasons of September, January and Easter, though we found that Future Historyhit the spot by starting it in December. Daniel was a wise man, so his early chapters fit well into the Christmas season. By the time we hit the future portions of Daniel in January and February, our attendance popped 17 percent.

4. All growth comes from Jesus.

As our team sits down to strategize the preaching calendar, we recognize that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing (John 15:5). Prayer is as important in the sermon-scheduling process as it is in the sermon-writing and sermon-delivering process.

A key question we ask during planning is, "Lord, what do you want to teach your people during this time of the year?"

 5. Titles matter.

You can't judge a book by its cover, but most people decide to read a book based on its cover.

A bad title is a reason to stay home. A good title can spark curiosity, anticipation and momentum, and motivate your people to invite friends.

A good title promise benefits, raises intrigue and sticks in your mind.

Where can you find good titles?

Search Amazon's best-sellers list and surf the websites of some of the large churches you know. You'll find lots of great sermon titles. You'll probably also find that many of them have borrowed those titles from somebody else. You can, too.

There's nothing new under the sun.

 6. Your perfect preaching calendar is not entirely in your hands.

In 2001, I developed the perfect preaching calendar. Then 9/11 hit.

I was scheduled to speak on spiritual gifts. Like every preacher, I changed my subject that week. I spoke on destiny, then three weeks on Islam and concluded with a Christmas series called The Prince of Peace.

To have a perfect preaching calendar, you need a perfect preacher. The only one I know returned to heaven about 2,000 years ago.

So we pray, plan, and re-evaluate when a crisis hits. Don't expect perfection. That only leads to frustration.

 7. Advance planning is the key to excellence.

Choose your series nine to 12 months ahead of time. Work on it two to three months ahead of time.

  • By Christmas, we have our September campaign on the schedule.
  • In May, we'll make sure we have the materials chosen and ordered (or written).
  • In June, we recruit small group leaders.
  • In July, we prepare graphics.
  • In August, we begin small group enrollment.

Great series don't happen because of 6-10 days of preparation; they happen because of 6-10 months of preparation.

Ignatius Loyola said, "Work as if it all depends on you, and pray as if it all depends on God."

That's good advice! Fortunately, it doesn't all depend on you.

But God is depending on you to do your part in his partnership miracle of bringing words to life.

Now What?

You won't be able to sink a thousand hours into every sermon series.

However, investing a few hours a year in advance, a few more hours three months in advance, and a few more hours a few weeks in advance will elevate the effectiveness of your preaching.

I think God will be honored through your planning.

And I know from experience that you will feel better about it, too.

Hal Seed is the founding and lead pastor of New Song Community Church in Oceanside, California. He mentors pastors who want to lead healthy, growing churches with resources at pastormentor.com.

This article originally appeared at pastormentor.com.

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