“Saturday Night Specials” Versus When Pastors Really Prepare

Preachers talk smack and use slang too. For example, “sugar stick” is a sermon a preacher preaches over and over again in multiple places. If you are preaching in a new place, have a message you invested significant time and work into preparing, and it’s still fresh on your heart, it is appropriate to pull out the sugar stick. Of course, pastoral search teams must realize that the sermon they are hearing when a pastor sends one to the committee is likely the sugar stick sermon. “Fresh bread” is another example and refers to a new sermon, freshly baked. Thus, someone may say, “I want some fresh bread, not one of your sugar sticks.”

“Saturday night special” is preacher slang for a sermon that is half-baked on Saturday night, the day before the sermon is delivered. Most pastors have been forced into a “Saturday night special” at some point in their ministry. Tragedy may strike the congregation and there is no time to prepare during the week. Or a major event in culture may prompt the pastor to scrap the sermon and start from scratch on Saturday night. But living from “Saturday night special” to “Saturday night special” isn’t a wise way to live or a wise way to feed the people of God.

But how often does the “Saturday night special” occur really? And how far in advance do most pastors typically plan?

“Saturday night specials” are rare.

According to this LifeWay Research study on pastors and sermon preparation, “Saturday night specials” do not occur very often. According to the research, more than 70% of pastors have their topics or passages selected more than a week in advance. Those sermons are not fully developed, but the general direction has been established. It is encouraging that the “Saturday night special” is more smack talk than reality.

But significant planning in advance is also rare.

Most pastors are not planning their sermons that far in advance. 57% chose their topics/passages less than a month in advance. Less than ¼ of all pastors plan their sermons out more than six months in advance. Some would articulate this as good news because, in their view, the pastor is able to plan based on needs in the congregation. Others would articulate this as bad news because it shows, in their view, that pastors are too reactive and not proactively building out a plan.

Who is most likely not to plan sermons in advance?

The group of pastors most likely not to plan and prepare their sermons in advance are pastors of smaller churches. This statistic reminds us of the weight our small church pastors carry. They don’t have staff teams who carry the burden of the church alongside them. Because of the volume of counseling, decisions, and tangible needs they meet each week, sermon planning is pushed to later.