The circuit preaching plan has been a feature of Methodism from very early days, and was common to all branches of British Methodism. It originated as a hand-written list of preaching appointments. Compiled by the circuit Superintendent, in its simplest form it is a grid showing the times and frequency of services in all the places of worship throughout the circuit, and the ministers and local preachers responsible for each service. Each plan usually covers a three-month period. In the eighteenth century there were separate plans for itinerants and local preachers. The modern 'combined' plan became standard early in the nineteenth century.
Victorian plans usually consisted of a single sheet printed (sometimes on silk) on one side only, with numbers used to indicate the preachers. Over the years plans have become more elaborate and informative, but their essential purpose has remained unchanged. They are the only convenient source of information on the local preachers in each circuit. The Methodist Archives Centre has a large though random collection of plans from the past 200 years and the Marriott Collection (now at Drew University, but available on microfilm) is a complete collection of WM plans dating from 1825.
The Society of Cirplanologists, founded in 1955, and its journal Cirplan exist to preserve and study preaching plans. Originally focussing on pre-1932 plans, that date has more recently been changed to pre-1970 and now pre-2000.