Now is the Time to Plan

June 11th, 2014

The calendar now says that it is June. For many people, it is the start of summer. For others, maybe it is even the heart of summer, depending on where you live. Wherever you are it is likely that if you participate in a local faith community your congregational and ministry leaders may be patting themselves on their backs right now after concluding another year of programs and ministries as they enter the usually quieter time of summer and Vacation Bible School.

To my fellow ministry leaders, let me offer you some pause. What if we let June (and in the future, ideally the spring) be the busiest time of the year in terms of planning, questions and strategic thinking? Instead of slowing down for the summer, why not take advantage of the time at the beginning of summer before people go on vacations and out of town for long stretches?

What I am advocating for is to treat this time, the month of June, as a time to plan for autumn and the new year of ministry and programming that begins at the end of summer.

Maybe its just me, but I have found that July and August are often hopeless times for planning in congregations because so many people are gone out of town or otherwise engaged. Because of this, if things aren't planned for the ministry program year that usually begins in September in most congregations (often with a Sunday called "Rally Sunday" by some), ministry leaders are left scrambling at the last minute to put things together. Have you ever found yourself in such an uncomfortable situation?

If so, and if you have the means or time to make a push this month, here is my advice:

1) Gather your ministry leaders and debrief the past year

In order to look forward and move forward, it is important to not only give space to discern and dream about the future, but also to reflect on the past year's experiences, challenges, and learning. How did things go? Where did you especially sense God's presence or the Holy Spirit's nudging? It's amazing to me how little space we give in congregational leadership to reflect and de-brief. This is an invaluable practice.

2) Take some time as a leadership group to think and revisit your congregation's mission, vision, and values

Time spent reflecting and thinking about "why we do what we do" and "who are we" is time well spent. It helps ground and connect the ministry and programs with the larger identity and vision of the congregation. It's also time that can be spent critically thinking about a congregation's stated mission, vision, and values and whether they might need to be revisited because they may not quite match congregational culture and practice.

3) Sense the dreams, hopes, plans, and even changes for the year ahead

Not only is this space for imagination, this is also space to discern and listen for what God might be up to and where the Spirit might be leading. If there are dreams, hopes, and plans its important to imagine what they might lead to. If there are already changes that are going to be happening, it's important to imagine what these changes might lead to and many different potential results. Chances are you can't predict entirely or imagine all of what might happen, but it's a helpful practice to at least spend some time thinking about possibilities. It's a sign of vulnerability and life, as well as living into the tensions of what it means to be doing God's work in the world.

4) Cohesively as possible create and lay out the plans that tie the ministry areas together, and use a common calendar

Think some more about the previous points. How are the plans for the different ministry areas related? (such as Faith Formation, Children Youth and Family, Worship and Music, Service, Stewardship, etc.) How can they be tied together to work more cohesively? One such way is to make sure that all ministry areas are using a common calendar for the congregation. But more than that, how can each be incorporated and connected with each other? Is there a particular theme or focus for a month or the year ahead? For example, if using the lectionary, it might be beneficial to plan all areas of ministry around the lectionary appointed readings. If people learn things in different ways, the more a lesson can be approached from different perspectives and in different vehicles the better and deeper it likely will be for all involved. This is really the heart of the strategic planning process. It might mean some meetings on the front end, particularly among ministry teams (if your congregation uses a team or committee type model), but again these meetings are more likely to be able to happen when more people are still around and not on vacation.

5) Use the summer to message people within the congregation, to recruit, but also to elicit feedback

If the previous ideas can really be done by mid to late June, then the next month or two of the summer can be used to communicate about the plans for the fall and year ahead. Utilize social media to ask questions and invite feedback. Utilize church publications and newsletters to tell some of the story and narrative around what will be happening and why. Invite people to think about any planned changes, and give them space to ask questions and provide feedback. Change of any kind will always bring some anxiety. But if there is transparency and space to provide feedback, buy-in and perspectives, any change has a much better chance of being successful. It wouldn't hurt to also use some room, if possible, in worship to think about this in creative ways, as well as in whatever groups might meet or events that might happen during the summer. Also, if there are leaders needed to help make some of the ministries for the year ahead happen, this is the prime time to recruit people to help in different roles (and hopefully such recruiting is done when tied and focused on one's strengths and passions).

6) Use late summer/early September to make last minute adjustments as needed

Prior to the fall's program and ministry start (like that which might start on "Rally Sunday" or with the start of school, etc.), use this time to finalize any adjustments necessary to/from the plans made earlier in the summer. If something has happened, or further insight has emerged, this is the time to incorporate it into the plans. It's much easier to make these adjustments though when plans have been made earlier, as the adjustments do not mean that your congregation is starting from scratch with your proverbial backs against the wall and with a major time crunch.

These ideas aren't exhaustive, nor a "how to" model. However, if you are able to incorporate them into your planning process and aim to start earlier in the year to plan ahead, things will be off to a much smoother start when the new program/ministry year begins.

  • What do you think? What have been your experiences related to planning ahead between ministry teams and leaders in your faith communities? 
  • Have particular approaches worked well? Have you learned some things through your experiences about what not to do in your contexts?
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