It has been a long time practice of mine to schedule, organize, and publish a yearly student ministry calendar. This planning takes place in the late spring early summer of the year and launches at the start of the new school year. Typically, I plan for September through the end of July. This past year, I did what I've done for years. But for the first time (maybe the very first time) I am facing significant calendar changes.
Good planning is crucial to your student ministry. Even more crucial is communicating your plans so that you can maximize people, budgets, time, and dates. Early in my career I made it a habit to plan out the entire student ministry calendar and have it ready for parents at the start of the new school year. This advanced planning allowed me to lay out the year, compare it with the church calendar, lay claim to some important dates and church space, and provided parents the heads up time to schedule vacations, trips, and activities around what I was hoping to do with the student ministry.
While not fool-proof, having the calendar ready in advance helped to navigate a number of would be calendar conflicts and set us up for a good year of ministry. Sure there were the eventual conflicts, cancelations, postponements, and rescheduling. That's going to happen. Ministry is alive and breathing and there will be conflicts. But if you can reduce those conflicts, well, ministry becomes a little easier.
There were cheers and applause, congratulations and thank you's as the parents expressed their appreciation for such a well thought out calendar. Everyone seem delighted by the effort, and I, well, I loved knowing that my year was set. That is until we crossed into the new calendar year.
At a staff meeting in early January, we pulled out the church calendar and looked at January through April. Within a matter of minutes, I saw my well thought out calendar go from a work of art to a mess of conflicts and potential cancelations. While it could have been worse, I have at least one full month of student meeting that were going to need to be completely rescheduled. Completely rescheduled!!
My first thought...this wasn't fair! I spent hours, days, WEEKS working on my calendar, why should I have to be the one who has to change everything? Hey, I'm human. But fortunately, my years of experience spoke up, and I began to see not the conflict, but an opportunity.
There will always be times in our ministries where our plans will collide with the rest of the church. Since most of us work in smaller churched where space and people are shared, we will always run into conflicts over dates, times, rooms, and even people. But here are three quick reminders to help us as we work through the pitfalls of calendar planning.
1. Plan in Advance!
Whether you plan out your student ministry calendar 3 months, 6 months or even 12 months in advance, you need to be planning in advance. Long range planning is what many business and organizations do. It helps them to see where they are going, what's coming up next, and allows you to forecast and plan your budget and resources.The further out you are able to plan, the better you are.
I like to look at the entire year. It helps me think about activities, themes, teaching series, and the types of trips we will take. I find that I have the time to make sure what we're looking to do aligns with our purpose and direction. I am able to ask questions, bring in ideas from other church leaders, parents and students. I can set aside budget money, or look for new sources of support to cover costs. (This proved super helpful this past year in that I was able to go before our Stewardship Team and share some plans we were making for the new year, while identifying some new costs and expenses. That meeting led to a significant increase in funds to help cover those new costs. I'll share more in an upcoming blog post.)
Your plans don't have to be concrete. They can be flexible and tentative, but do your best to be as accurate and complete as possible. And that leads us to our next thought.
2. Be Flexible!
No one will ever be able to create a ministry calendar and not have any changes. It's impossible! There will always be conflict. People are creatures of change, thus our plans change all the time. In student ministry, we're dealing with a lot of different people and a lot of different calendars. From families within the church and community, to the church calendar, to school calendars, to athletic calendars, to even your own, personal calendar (which you need to keep track of, by the way) there are a lot of potential conflicts. So learn to be flexible!
Yes, it is super helpful to give parents a yearly ministry calendar, but the reality is, that calendar is going to change! So make it a tentative calendar, subject to change as the year moves on. Let people know that there will be changes, cancelations, postponements, and reschedules. And ask that they be as flexible as you will be when this conflicts arise.
3. Communicate the Change!
This is probably one of the more important thoughts, communicate the change! It's easy for us to sit in our offices look at the calendar and reschedule your events. What's harder is communicating the change so that everyone is on the same page!
When conflicts arise, remember to communicate the changes. Notify parents and students of the conflict, give a short reason for the change and update them with the necessary information. The trick, however, is in HOW you communicate. Hopefully you have a communication plan in place that helps you disseminate information. So whether it's through email, a newsletter, a text message, or by making 50 phones calls, make sure you are communicating the change.
It would be great if we never ran into a calendar conflict. But the reality is, conflict and change is inevitable. So go with the change. Be as organized and on top of things as possible, but when conflict and change come, just go with it.
For me, I am replacing most of my March and April. And instead of complaining about the conflicts, I'm looking for ways that the conflict might bless or add to our overall ministry strategy. In some cases, the conflicts are because of congregational activities that the students might not otherwise participate in. So instead of separating our student ministry out of the event, we're looking to become part of the event with the hopes of building a stronger bond between the student ministry and the congregation! And that, I believe, is a great thing!