Working Smarter, Not Harder, On Sunday Nights

While many churches no longer have a worship service on Sunday nights (sinners...  just kidding), there are still several that do.  For those of us who pastor such churches, Sunday night sermons can be one of the more challenging aspects of pastoral ministry.

Obviously, you're going to put the bulk of your energy and study time during the week into your Sunday morning sermon, when the most people are there.  Then most of us have some kind of midweek prep, such as Wednesday night Bible study, etc. Throw in an occasional funeral or other miscellaneous service during the week, and there's just not a lot of time left (if any) to prepare a quality sermon for Sunday night worship.

I am always interested to hear how other pastors deal with this predicament.  Here's some approaches I've heard of:

1)  The pinch hitter approach.  If you're part of a multi-staff church, have another guy preach on Sunday nights.  Most of us don't have this luxury.  Even if there are other pastors on staff, the church usually expects the senior pastor to deliver the bulk of the sermons (and rightfully so).

2)  The microwave approach.  Dig out sermons from years gone by, warm them up, and preach them again.  Before you're too critical of this approach, one well-respected pastor I know points out that his people are better off hearing a well-prepared sermon from several years ago, than a sermon he hastily threw together this week.  It's a valid point.  The same pastor also claims that most people will never remember any sermon over five years old.  The drawback to this approach, of course, is the lack of a "fresh word" from the pastor's heart.

3)  The scramble approach.  As in scramble to come up with something to preach at the last minute.  Enough said.

4)  The multi-service approach.  Some churches are going to this approach, presenting their Sunday night service as an alternative to Sunday morning, rather than encouraging people to attend both.  Sometimes the style of music may be different than the morning service, but the sermon is the same.  This is good for people who can't be at the morning service, but may disenfranchise those who have grown accustomed to Sunday night having its own unique service.

At times, I have used both #1 and #2.  (I have also used #3 more than I would care to admit.)  But I do want to share with you another approach not on this list that I have used the last three Sunday nights, that seems to be working well.  (From my perspective at least.  You would have to ask my people to know for sure.)

I call this approach "discussion points."  The gist of this approach is that you use the same Biblical text on Sunday night that you preached from that morning.  The difference is that you go a little deeper on Sunday night.  Maybe you pull out a certain verse or phrase from the text, and really zero in on it.  Maybe you bring out an application you didn't have time to bring out that morning.  Maybe you explore some interesting "side roads" that were a little too "steep" for the Sunday morning crowd.

How I get started with this is to take my notes from my Sunday morning sermon (I typically preach from a manuscript which makes it easy), and begin to go through them and just put myself in the shoes of someone hearing the sermon for the first time, and jot down questions or "discussion points."  These questions/points form the outline for the Sunday night "sermon."  Some of the questions I answer myself, but others I pose to the congregation to facilitate some interaction and discussion.  (I teach on Sunday nights from a lectern on the floor.)  I also give the congregation a chance to ask any questions they may have about the morning sermon.  (As a bonus, if you want to encourage your younger set to be involved, encourage them to text you questions about the Sunday morning sermon in real time.  Let them know you'll answer them later that evening.)

The main benefit of this approach is that you're not having to deal with an entirely different passage on Sunday night.  Because you've already done your homework/exegesis for your Sunday morning sermon, the hard part is already done.

The challenge of this approach is to not merely repeat the same things you said Sunday morning.  If you don't bring a new insight/angle to the table, your people could feel like they're getting a re-run (understandably).  You also have to be humble/secure enough that you don't mind laying your sermon out there, and allowing it to be picked over.

I'm sure this approach isn't for everyone.  Who knows?  It may not even be for me.  (I've only tried it three weeks.)  But so far, so good.  Hopefully this approach can be a help to some of you.