Why it is critically important and how to get started easily.
One of the most vexing problems for local pastors is creating a planning calendar. For some pastors it seems like the biggest drudge in the world of church. As soon as they finish one sermon or season, there is another waiting to be addressed. The march of the liturgical year is relentless. How do you ever get caught up? How can you manage to get ahead? Where do you find the time to be creative?
Many pastors struggle just to keep up with the weekly tasks of ministry and rarely have plans that extend beyond one to three weeks. Such short-term planning begets some very nasty results:
- feeling like you are always running behind and just catching up at the last minute
- people around you are frustrated and grumpy,
- committee and board meetings last way too long
- Church councils spend time trying to handle specific event details
- leaders miss deadlines and seem not to care
- leaders develop resentments that people aren’t pulling their weight
Any of that sound familiar? It may simply be the result of poor short range planning.
That will suck the magic and joy out of ministry and leave the church unable to move forward with any creativity or energy. If the pastor is living under that dark cloud, how can he/she preach the Good News with any sense of excitement and energy?
The remedy is simpler than you might think – three easy steps.
I. Always plan at least 12 months ahead.
I know that sounds impossible. You may not even be the pastor in twelve months, why bother to plan so far in advance? There are five reasons to plan at least twelve months in advance:
- The Liturgical Year: The church year is already laid out for you so it is easy to see the highlights and plan for them.
- Better leadership: Key leaders want to understand when and what they need to do and plan their lives accordingly. When the commitments of time and energy are clear well in advance, people are much more willing to lead.
- Better Participation: People make plans months in advance. When you get the church events on their calendars early, they are much more likely to attend, participate, and contribute time and energy.
- Quality control: Evaluating events before putting them on the calendar for next year allows for critical examination in a non-threatening environment.
- Improved Ministry: With better leadership, participation, and improved quality, people will have more joy and energy, and the whole ministry will improve.
II. Evaluate and Upgrade Regularly
Once you decide to plan your calendar a year ahead, the Keystone that drives that process is the regular evaluation. After every major event or season, bring the group(s) responsible together and evaluate it: What went well? What went poorly? How can we improve? Did we accomplish our goals? Was the ministry worthwhile?
Those events that received positive reviews can be added to next year’s calendar. Everything that goes on the calendar includes not just the date, but also the time, place, person(s) in charge, and group responsible, and who has the evaluation from last year.
As an example, on the first council/board meetings in January, start by evaluating Advent/Christmas events: Hanging the Greens, Advent craft nights, Family worships, Special Christmas Concerts, Christmas Eve services, Christmas Sundays. Look at all of it and evaluate it critically. Did any events conflict with others? Then decide which events to keep, alter, drop, or create new, and place them on the calendar for next year. Remember to note: time, place, person in charge, and group responsible.
Only then do you move ahead and look at the events coming in the next weeks and months and approaching seasons. You will find that your plans for the upcoming events will benefit from the evaluations of the events that just happened.
Do this at every meeting and you will be maintaining a 12 to 18 month calendar all the time and improving with each new event.
III. Wind the clock.
Those beautiful old Grandfather Clocks that chime the quarter hours, gong the hours and tick away almost silently in the corners are usually run by gravity. If you don’t wind them weekly, they will stop. Likewise, someone has to wind the church up every week.
The best planning time will probably be the first day of your work week. First thing in the office morning, start looking at your personal calendar, the church calendar, the liturgical calendar, the preaching schedule, etc. Look at each upcoming event concentrating on events that are six to eight weeks away and ask yourself if you are happy with the leader and the group preparing that event. If you have any doubts about how that event is developing you might need to make a phone call, or send an email, and remind someone about some special aspect you want to emphasize? Sometimes conflicts develop that needed to be addressed before they become a problem? By looking at these events six to eight weeks in advance you have the best chance to create successful events that the whole church can be proud of and celebrate.
Winding the clock also includes making sure that you are not only were planning the event, but you are publicizing the event in all the appropriate places: Bulletins, newsletters, email blasts, fliers, community newspapers, bulletin boards, etc.
Winding the clock also means having weekly staff meetings, no matter how small the staff. This way every staff person will be aware of all the events coming up, even the ones that had nothing to do with them at all. Integrating the full ministry means everyone has to adapt a bit to everyone else. But also, if anyone stops them on campus and asks what is happening, they will know exactly where and whom to send those people to participate in that ministry.
Once your church gets in the habit of planning 12 to 18 months ahead of time, you will find everything runs much more smoothly. Leaders are happier, the congregation is happier, and the pastor will have much more time to work on sermon preparation, vision and mission.
Creating a Year Long Planning Calendar
How does the church begin planning a year in advance? There are two very good ways to do this task and either will work. Personally, I like #2 better because you can begin it immediately.
- Have an all-day planning meeting. Bring the key leaders together, everyone brings their calendars and together you plan the whole year. This is usually a Saturday event, built around a luncheon. You begin where you are and plan the upcoming months: If it is in the early part of the year plan through December. If it is after July 1st, plan 18 months in advance. This is a long process and people may find it daunting, but it will get everyone on the same page.
- Plan a year out starting now. This is less intensive. After you complete an event or a season, you look at the calendar and put those events on for next year. This is best done by the committee or group in charge of the event. Then the dates are given to the next church council/board meeting. A year from now you will have a full year’s plans laid out. Thereafter, just keep pushing your planning envelope out one year by creating new plans as soon as the old ones are evaluated.
Regardless of which method you choose, make sure that for every event you place on the calendar there are: Time, place, person(s) in charge, and group responsible.
At all subsequent meetings, make sure the full calendar of upcoming church events is printed for all to see, listing the time, place, person(s) in charge, and group responsible.