If you've been in youth ministry longer than about a month, you've probably had the experience of an 11th hour plan change. Some changes in plans are relatively minor: maybe some transportation falls through for an event you're attending, or the weather affects an activity you had planned. Others can be major: Maybe a speaker doesn't show up for a Disciple Now, or you were forced to cut or scale back an activity because of budgetary concerns. Maybe you had a key leader drop out or resign. Whatever the case, adapting a plan to a new set of variables is something most youth ministers will encounter . . . and encounter often.
The question is how you navigate through the logistics of changing plans on the fly?
Believe it or not, it's much more of a practiced skill than you might think. And the more prepared a leader is to handle bumps in the road, the more succesful he or she will be in navigating a change of plans.
Here are some important elements to remember as you deal with making a change of plans:
Have A Fallback Plan
If you have a fallback plan in place, you're going to have most of the battle won. If you're doing an outdoor event, have a "plan b" in place in case of bad weather. If you have a speaker coming on Wednesday night, have a fall-back talk you could do in a bind. Obviously, some events or activities will be harder to plan contingencies for. But having even a loose idea of what could go wrong and what you could do in response makes you considerably better prepared for a change.
In some situations, this is pretty simple. If the power is out in your building, you don't need to know much more than that. But the larger the event, the larger the group, the more volunteers, in short, the more moving parts, the more information you will need to collect to make a decision. Info is king. However, resist the urge to become paralyzed by it. (See below.)
Make The Best Decision You Can
It's important to know the facts before you act. But here's the deal: You may not be able to gather all the info. And waiting for it might mean that you miss a window of opportunity. Gather as much info as you can, and don't hesitate to make a decision.
Consult Key Leaders
As much as possible, consult any key leaders you have on your team. Maybe you are a one-man/woman show. But if you are fortunate enough to have a team, seek the council of one (or two) of your more level-headed team members. If you are trying to make a decision on the fly, too many voices can affect your productivity. Remember the adage, "consensus building isn't leadership." But, having trusted, experienced leaders to lean on is never a bad idea.
Brief Your Team First
If possible, before you announce a change of plans, even if it is last minute, inform your team first. This includes adult volunteers, chaperones, your staff. And it definitely includes senior staff at your church.
Have Communication Lines In Place
If it's the 11th hour and you are just beginning to wonder how you are going to inform parents and students of any changes, you're sunk. Having a procedure in place to communicate last minute details is key. Delegate the responsibility of getting the info out to key leaders, volunteers, even parents who are on standby for just this type of occurrence.
Communicating the plan change clearly is key. A good model to follow is to: state the former plans, state the cause for change, and state the new plans. Then, restate the new plans. Provide contact info for you or your key leaders. A last minute change of plans doesn't have to derail your event or activity. In fact, it can be a great team building exercise . . . if you execute it properly.
Change will happen. It's inevitable. Knowing how to adapt to it may mean the difference in a meaningful experience for your students and a missed opportunity.