Not a Planner? Me Neither. But You Still Need a Plan.
By: Aaron Thompson
I’m not a planner by nature. I never have been. When I was in high school, my mom used to joke that I thought plan was a four-letter word. I still struggle with organization today. My desk remains in a perpetual mess, and I forget things like it’s my job.
But none of that gives me a pass for failing to plan well.
Too many people are involved in youth ministry to make things up as you go. You have to keep students informed, volunteers working together with a clear sense of purpose, and parents trusting what you’re up to. And you have a church that needs to buy into what you’re doing.
There are three levels of planning all youth workers need:
1) The Meta Plan
This is also called a vision or a five-year plan. But what I’m talking about is more than a couple sentences about a preferred future on a document in a drawer somewhere. A Meta Plan should function at multiple levels. It should address your hopes for your ministry program, for individual students in your program, for your staff, for the community you work in, and for the resources you’ll need.
This level of plan takes a while to fully form. Even after two years in my current role, I was still working on this plan. A meta-plan will probably comprise several documents, including curriculum plans, facility and resource needs, clear discipleship goals for students, and a structure for adult staff.
Questions for crafting a meta-plan:
- If a student attends your ministry for six or seven years, what topics do you want to make sure you’ve covered? Which should be covered multiple times?
- What key life and faith skills, experiences, and knowledge do you want all graduates from your ministry to have? What key relationships will help foster these skills and experiences?
- What needs in your community is your ministry best equipped to meet?
- What kind of, and how many, adult leaders will you need to execute this ministry?
- What events and experiences will help form your students? How will students experience these in a way that continues to challenge them and deepen their faith?
- What money and facility resources will you need to execute this plan? (And how will you talk the trustees, elders, or board members into giving you these resources?)
Once you have your Meta Plan sketched out (even if you haven’t figured out every piece just yet) you are ready to look at the year ahead.
2) The Annual Plan
This might seem obvious, but unfortunately it isn’t. Many youth ministries (and entire churches) fail to consider the year ahead as a whole. Often ministries only operate within a four-to-six-week planning and strategy window. That’s unacceptable.
Most churches and ministries have at least a rudimentary Meta Plan (they want to see growth in numbers, new converts, impact in the community, deepening spirituality). And they have a plan for the next move they’ll make toward that end. But the steps between “right now” and “some day” are foggy at best.
“Too many people are involved in youth ministry to make things up as you go.”
At times this gets spiritualized, as if the only way to permit the Spirit to lead us is by ignoring everything after next Sunday. But this is just an excuse. I’ve never seen a plan thwart the Spirit’s work (though I’ve seen the Spirit disrupt a lot of plans).
Every youth ministry should have a thorough plan for at least the next 12 months. This level of planning allows us to see how the pieces of our ministries (teaching, worship, service, retreats, events, outreach, small groups, classes) fit together as a whole in pursuit of the Meta Plan.
Questions for crafting an Annual Plan:
- What did we see God do last year, and where might he be taking us this year?
- What new resources or challenges (or both) do we have this year?
- In order to further develop our people, what do we need to teach this year? What are the best time, place, and format for that teaching? Who will do the teaching?
- What annual events should we plan again this year? What events should come off the calendar? What new things should we consider trying?
- If you do everything on this calendar, will your leaders ever get to see their friends or families?
When you plan a whole year at once, you experience these benefits:
- You will know your teaching schedule in advance so you can pray about it, make tweaks to the plan, and work ahead.
- You will know in advance where you’ll need extra help so you can hit deadlines well in advance. There’s nothing as comforting as knowing the details of a summer trip are sorted out two months in advance.
- You will be able to clearly communicate not just the what, but also the why. When people see the big picture, it’s easier to see the logic. Your parents, senior pastor, and volunteers can see what will happen, why it matters, and where they fit in.
- You have something to change, critique, or repeat. Without a plan, you won’t be able to track what worked and what failed. Plans lead to greater adaptability and accountability.
3) The To-do List
If you do the Meta Plan and Annual Plan well, this last part will be easy. But it’s still crucial.
Develop the discipline of creating a weekly or bi-weekly to-do list. Many great apps and strategies exist to help you do this. With an Annual Plan in hand, this is as simple as asking, “In order to accomplish the things on this plan, what do I need to do in the next two weeks?”
“I’ve never seen a plan thwart the Spirit’s work.”
Everyone has a system that works best for them, but I find that these to-do lists are much less frightening when I give each task a specific day. Then I don’t look at the scary two-week list—I just tackle each daily list of four to six tasks.
When my daily list is done, I experience the joy of choice: either I start on the next day’s work, tackle a non-essential task (like further study or a creative what-if project), or I just call it a day and rest, knowing that everything is in order.
However you feel about to-do lists, without one you’ll find this unpleasant fruit:
- Your stress levels will be higher. There is always something you could be doing in youth ministry. You could make a call, send a text, go to a game, study some more. And without a plan, you’ll be paralyzed by the vast number of expectations that come with your job.
- You won’t be efficient. The time you’ll save by not having to wonder what to do next will make a huge difference. And this will also save you from wasting time putting out fires that started because you forgot to do or say something important.
- You’ll be tempted to get lazy. Most of us in youth ministry don’t have anyone looking over our shoulder day to day. Our hours are flexible, and we’re not expected to be at the desk at all times. And in the absence of a clear set of goals, that can lead to a lot of procrastination, distraction, and laziness. Think of the to-do list as a personal accountability tool.
Questions for crafting the to-do list:
- What’s coming up in the next three months for our ministry? Based on that, what do I need to get to this week?
- What do I need to communicate this week, and to whom? When’s the latest they should hear this information? Why don’t I send it a day earlier than that?
- What simple tasks can I add in each day that will give me momentum to get things done (and ensure that I’m taking care of the mundane details every week)?
- How many hours do I need to be in the office? In the community? Meeting with people? Working from home? What can I get done in the time I have? (IMPORTANT: If something can’t be done in the time you have, find a way to leave it off or bump something else. To-do lists must be realistic or you’ll hate them and stop creating them.)
- What’s my balance like this week? How much time am I spending with students, families, and leaders? How much time am I behind my desk? How much time am I running ministry? Is this the balance I want?
Creating these three plans might seem like a lot. It is.
And most of us in youth ministry aren’t planning types by nature. But each of these planning levels is necessary for doing faithful ministry, important for communicating effectively to key people, and vital for personal sustainability.
About the Author
The LeaderTreks Blog is proud to share the hard-earned wisdom of student ministry leaders from many different backgrounds and professions. From time to time, we will feature guest blog posts from writers other than our regular contributors. We include these posts to provide additional perspectives and insight that we’re sure will help develop you and your ministry […]