Do You Need to Change Your Ministry Calendar Worldview?
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Let's get this out of the way right from the jump; I have never been much of an organizer. I've never really been what you would call "a planner." I have lived much of my life believing calendars only existed to tell me what month or day of the week it was. I saw no actual functionality to calendars whatsoever. But then, I got into ministry, and everything changed. Or I guess the better way to say it is that ministry changed me.
More specifically, it was student ministry that changed my calendar worldview. When I first started in ministry full-time, I was a 22-year-old kid who was ready to change the world. At the same time, however, I didn't have a clue as to what I was doing. I was a fresh college graduate. The only schedule of events I knew was the semester class schedule I sometimes adhered to. Okay, that isn't entirely true; I also knew the calendar for all the Atlanta sports franchises. But beyond that, I never really saw the need to plan things out on a calendar. However, it didn't take very long in student ministry to quickly learn that my world (as a single guy in my twenties) and my calendar worldview were very different from that of the parents of the students I was leading.
Planning and calendaring in student ministry is incredibly important. This is because even though my world typically revolves around the student ministry events that I have planned, the lives of the families that I minister to do not. It's so very rare (and never
recommended) that we can simply throw events out there on a whim and expect those events to be highly attended. Students have way too much going on and so many different things fighting for their time and attention; school, homework, extracurriculars, sports, time with friends, etc. Combine that with the hustle and bustle of their family calendars, and all of a sudden, there just isn't much free time left for something unplanned or last minute.
As youth workers, we sometimes question ourselves or wonder why students aren't showing up in mass to our events. Maybe it's because we didn't give them enough time to plan for it or their parents enough room to schedule it into their daily "teenage shuttle service."
What if we, as student ministry leaders, put more time and effort into crafting and communicating our ministry calendars? What if we prioritized a well-thought-through rhythm of ministry? Chances are, we would see much more consistent attendance in our students (and much more support from the parents and volunteers). Rhythm, strategy, consistency, and communication are key.
- Develop a predictable rhythm of ministry.
- Pay attention to the natural rhythm of the family, your church, and your community.
- Be strategic in the placement of big events to achieve balance throughout the year.
- Communicate clearly and consistently to parents, students, volunteers, and staff.
The students, parents, and volunteers who make up your ministry want to be a part of the things you are planning. This requires strategy as well as clear and consistent communication. Parents and volunteers actually want to know in advance what is coming, when it's coming, and how much it's going to cost. This requires communication and a predictable
rhythm of ministry. For example, most of the families and volunteers in our ministry have come to expect a camp or retreat for both middle and high school students somewhere in the early part of the summer. So, nobody is surprised when the camp dates get placed on the ministry calendar at the start of the school year (right there in June or July, like always). Parents and volunteers also know our annual high school ski trip is happening somewhere in late January or early February. This type of longer-range planning, communication, rhythm of ministry, and consistency allows parents and students to plan and even save up in advance. Rhythm, strategy, consistency, and communication matter!
Start small if you need to. A full year-long calendar might seem daunting at the moment or feel like a bit of a guess. If we learned anything from COVID, it's that so much can change over just a few months. But maybe you start with a calendar for the next three months. Or maybe you can try to take on the next six months. Our student ministry's goal is to calendar a full semester out. Generally, we release three calendars per year. The first calendar covers August-December (Fall/Winter). The second calendar covers January-May (Winter/Spring). The third calendar covers May-August (Summer).
Here is one last tip: Make sure you do everything you can to stick to the calendar you create. You can gain a lot of relational capital and trust with parents and volunteers by getting a calendar done in advance, getting it to them promptly (a month before that calendar begins), and sticking to it. Of course, no matter how well you plan, there will eventually come a time when an event will change, or something will have to be canceled due to circumstances that are outside of your control. Still, you will ruffle fewer feathers during this time if you've already built up a good deal of trust with the parents and volunteers with your attention to rhythm, strategy, consistency, and communication. Yes, all this takes a bit of legwork and planning, but the return on investment is worth it.
Share your thoughts with others in our YM360 community:
- What are the big yearly events in your ministry (retreats/camps/DNOW/etc.), and where should they fall?
- Do any of these events conflict with major holidays/events/dates? (Ex: Scheduling an event over Mother's Day might get you a lot of upset momma bears…you're welcome for that tip.)
- Am I doing too many events? Am I doing enough events? Are my events balanced or heavy on one side of the calendar while light on the other side?
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