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Group Sermon Preparation (part 1)

The power of a collaborative effort

Preaching Today: According to your book The Big Idea, the teaching staff at Community Christian Church practices group sermon preparation on a weekly basis. What led your team to this practice?

Dave Ferguson: We stumbled into this a long time ago, and we love it. The point person on our teaching team is Tim Sutherland. When we started Community Christian Church, Tim was actually on staff at another church in Ohio. We had become good friends, so I called him every week to talk through the message I was working on. When he started his own counseling practice in Chicago, he eventually came on staff at CCC. When we went multi-site, it forced our hand to embrace a team approach to sermon preparation. Because some of our sites receive teaching via video and some have a "live" person teaching, we needed multiple teachers. When we wondered how we were going to do it, what Tim and I had done over the phone in a long-distance friendship became a model for what we did on a weekly basis. 

I see two different kinds of teaching teams out there. Some teaching teams are like a baseball team with a five-man pitching rotation. You have your ace, the pitcher who's second in the rotation, the third, and so on and so forth. Everybody takes the mound, but one at a time. You're rooting for the pitcher on the mound, but the other four pitchers are sitting on the bench, waiting their turn. That's not the kind of teaching team we are. Our teaching team is more like a basketball team. A basketball team has five players on the court at all times. Everybody needs to know how to handle the ball, pass the ball, dribble the ball, and shoot the ball to score. You'll have some people on a basketball team whose gifts may be in scoring, passing, or dribbling the ball, but you need everybody. Without one of those players on the court, you're at a huge disadvantage. Our teaching team is more like a basketball team in that every week, everybody is counted upon to contribute to "win the game."

We get a better message in less time because of the power of collaboration and synergy.

We've found that this approach to sermon preparation is remarkably efficient. We get a better message in less time because of the power of collaboration and synergy. I used to spend 20–24 hours a week creating a message. Now I spend 10–15 hours a week. It frees up a whole day for leadership development or artist development.

One of the great things about this preparation process is that you never give a bad message. Some sermons are better than others, but because you have so many people involved in the process, it's practically impossible to lay an egg. On a scale of 1–10, your sermon might be a 7 one week. But you're never going to end up with a 3 or a 4, because too many people are working together on it.

Who are the key people involved in your group sermon preparation?

Jon Ferguson [Community Pastor], Tim Sutherland [Teaching Team Leader], Earl Ferguson [Campus Pastor], and I [Lead Pastor] compose the primary infrastructure of our teaching team at CCC. Adding nuance to each meeting is our New Thing network. The New Thing network is part of CCC's vision to be a catalyst for reproducing churches that are relentlessly dedicated to helping people find their way back to God. We have around 13 affiliate churches across the country, and they are all invited to come to our teaching team meetings via teleconferencing or videoconferencing. They all get a chance to listen in and contribute. A lot of voices have been added to our weekly conversations!

Describe what a typical group meeting looks like.

We meet every Tuesday afternoon from 1:15–3:00 to discuss a message that will be given in 7–8 weeks. We call it the 105 fastest minutes of the week. We gather in a room—some face-to-face, some virtually—and Tim Sutherland sets the stage by focusing us on the task at hand. For the first 15 minutes, he reminds us of the big idea for the message—our bull's-eye for the upcoming sermon. We then identify the burning issues the message needs to address and the desired outcomes we'd like to see. We like for the group to think in terms of head, heart, and hands. How do we want people to think differently? How do we want people to feel differently? What do we want people to do differently? We want people to leave having been changed. We want them to live differently and not just recite what they just heard. We also ask, "Where is Jesus in the message?" We always want to make sure that the sermon is Christocentric.

After we've determined issues related to head, heart, and hands and have made sure the sermon is Christocentric, we enter into a time of creative brainstorming. Because we know the big ideas for many of the upcoming sermons, we put giant Post-it notes up on the wall and throw out all the different thoughts we've had, whether they be stories or other things we've run across throughout the week. This brainstorming session takes about 45 minutes.

We then spend the next half hour structuring the sermon. We determine how many movements the sermon will have. We weave in the best thoughts that we've written down on the giant Post-It notes.

After we finish structuring the sermon, we spend the last 15 minutes gaining consensus. We've all given our best thoughts, but we need to make sure we're all committed to the finished product. Once consensus is found, three or four people from CCC and the New Thing network are asked to write up the sermon.

This is part one in a two-part series. In part two, Dave Ferguson continues to paint a picture of what group sermon preparation looks like and responds to concerns some might have with the discipline.

Dave Ferguson is the lead pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois. Dave provides visionary leadership for NewThing and he is the president and board chair for Exponential. Dave is also an adjunct professor at Wheaton Graduate School and the author of many Christian leadership books including The Big Idea (Zondervan, 2007).

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