Spring Planning: 4 Critical Tasks

April 2nd, 2013

The busyness of Christmas and other end-of-year tasks can make it hard to hit the ground running in a new year. I hear ya. I feel ya, too. Lent came early this year, and Easter started hopping your way as relentlessly as the Energizer bunny. While that is gracious plenty to think about, it’s not enough to lay the groundwork for a breakthrough year at your church. Before we get any further into the new year, consider these four critical tasks for an extraordinary 2013.

1.) Goal Setting with Staff

Your staff will not be successful if they cannot focus their effort, time and resources toward a handful of discrete and measurable goals. What is your definition of success for them? Have you communicated that? In writing? Assign all staff the task of developing five goals for the remainder of the year. Each goal should explicitly connect to your mission statement. Each goal should have some quantitative measure of success. For example, “Improve VBS” would not be measurable without some additional language attaching a tool for measuring improvement. For example: “Improve VBS: Measure success by using the same survey questions we did this year. Overall grading should increase 25% year over year.”

This will also make performance evaluations easier because staff will know whether they were successful or not. It won’t be mere opinion or anecdotal evidence. A retired CEO in my congregation told me that year end performance reviews should never hold any negative surprises if you are managing your staff effectively. If the goals are quantitative and negotiated in advance, your team will know what is coming before they ever sit down with you. They signed off on the goals and they know how things are going in their area.

Finally, for each goal, have the employee break it down into 5-10 critical tasks. Each task should have a completion date. This will help you to “look in” on their progress. Give them two weeks to prepare and submit the document. Review it and determine what you might like to add or change. Then sit down with them to finalize it. Have them sign it and then submit it to your board or staff relations committee. They will appreciate your organizational and HR skills, and they will develop trust in your ability to lead and evaluate staff.

2.) Lay Leadership Success

Great leaders are not identified, vetted, tested and trained overnight. Work with each team or committee lead to select a vice chair that you might consider for future leadership. Don’t promise or even mention that this puts them in line for the lead role. Just get them in the second chair and ask the chair to include them in all decision-making meetings or processes. This is your opportunity to get them in the loop and to evaluate them for future leadership. How they respond to this opportunity will tell you a lot about their leadership potential. Do they come to meetings? Do they engage and initiate action? Do they volunteer when the leader tries to delegate tasks? Do they follow through? These are all great clues to identify someone God may be raising up for leadership.

When doing leadership recruitment, remember that knowledge of a certain field like finance, HR, construction, etc., is MUCH less important than spiritual/emotional maturity. The leader must be spiritually mature, highly committed to the church and living according to your membership covenant, i.e., do they tithe, attend a small group, attend worship consistently, etc. Specialized knowledge can be brought to the table by a member of the committee. The leader just needs to know Jesus and have leadership skills like organization, initiative and delegation. Finally, they need to be someone you can work with effectively. You will also want to begin a draft list of folks who might be qualified for some leadership role in your next nominations cycle. Identifying them now will prompt you to begin watching them to see if they fit the bill for leadership in your church.

3.) Stewardship Planning

Recently I ate with a retired pastor that helps churches do stewardship campaigns. As I picked his brain for advice, he told me about the “October special” phone calls he gets in September and October each year. I asked him what he was talking about. He said, “Well, you know, October rolls around and then these pastors kind of wake up and say ‘Yikes, we gotta do a stewardship campaign!’” He said that’s when his phone starts ringing. I hope he didn’t notice the sheepish look on my face. I’ve been that pastor before!

Now I’ve learned to begin planning stewardship in the spring. Recruit a team leader. Choose a curriculum, program, or approach. Ask your team leader to recruit his team from a list of folks that has already been vetted by your financial secretary to see if they really give. Recruit a guest speaker if needed. Make a timeline. Having all of this finished before summer will make your fall program season so much easier! It will also allow you to get creative and begin thinking about how you might using multimedia, social media, interviews, etc., to spice up your campaign. If you are doing it last minute, it’s almost guaranteed to be a rerun of last year’s tired campaign. It takes time to pray it through carefully while also looking for creative ways to enhance this critical spiritual experience.

4.) Sermon Planning

In my church, the high-points of our year tend to center on sermon series, church-wide campaigns centered on sermon series, and the celebration of holy days like Easter and Christmas. We strategically plan the big sermon series campaigns to coincide with times of the year that people are most likely to visit a church. When school begins again in August and the new year in January are two great examples of times when you should consider doing a “fishing expedition” type sermon series. I got the term “fishing expedition” from Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. A fishing expedition sermon is designed to attract non-religious or nominally religious people to church by addressing a universal concern or issue that all people face. Examples might include sermon series on parenting, financial issues, marriage issues, mental health, or other health issues.

These types of series attract visitors to your church because they are perceived as highly relevant and “non-churchy.” Your task is to use these opportunities to address the topic in a helpful manner while also sharing the gospel and how the gospel provides answers to the issue at hand.

Why plan them now for 2014? To advertise these series effectively while limiting your costs takes time. Rush orders on mailers or banners raises your costs. Having time to plan effective use of advertising on Facebook or Twitter also takes time. When you plan in advance, you have time to create organic buzz, use social media platforms, access conventional advertising outlets while also giving your musicians and creative folks time to plan skits, props, special music, videos, etc. Whether it is for a traditional format or contemporary one, more time usually translates into a better worship experience.

I am convinced that these “behind the scenes” administrative tasks are critical for an effective year in ministry. Get a start now on these key catalysts for 2013 so that you’ll end the year amazed at how Christ is using your church to reach new people. In my experience, lack of performance isn’t a reflection on the Spirit but rather a function of how wisely we invest our time and effort as leaders of the church.

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