Organizing your church isn't fancy and it requires very little technology. This particular tool has been around for thousands of years and it’s helped countless of people, families, and organizations.
I’m talking about a calendar.
Hunters used calendars to know when wild game would migrate south. Farmers used them to know when to plant their corn. The ancient Jews used them to mark the date of Pentecost or celebrate the beginning of the Year of Jubilee. Without calendars, we wouldn’t know when football season starts, when to set our clocks forward an hour or when to blow up millions of dollars of fireworks on the 4th.
Without calendars, we wouldn’t know when football season starts, when to set our clocks forward an hour or when to blow up millions of dollars of fireworks on the 4th of July.
A simple calendar is one of the most powerful organizational tools you can use to align your church. And the most important calendar you need is an annual calendar.
An annual calendar isn’t a calendar for this year…it’s a calendar for every year. It’s an at-a-glance overview of your entire year. And it’s one of the most important things you can create for your church.
- What happens in your church in January… EVERY January?
- What do you do in the summer… EVERY summer?
- How do you kick off the fall… EVERY fall?
- What do you do during the Christmas season… EVERY Christmas season?
- Success is best measured over time. Doing something one time might not give you a true indicator of success for your organization. First year churches and organizations shouldn't put too much stock into first year numbers, because they aren't real. You've got to measure things over a longer time period.
- Life has a natural rhythm. Whether it's the back to school season, the Christmas holidays, or the early emergence of spring, life has a season just like the weather. You're wise to understand the seasons of your industry and plan accordingly. Great leaders don't just react to the current season, but intentionally build a calendar knowing how to connect the dots. People in your organization or community understand the rhythm of life…stop trying to fight it.
- There is power in tradition. When it comes to organizations, traditionalism is bad, but tradition is good. When you do some of the same things year after year, you build a story. “Ladies and gentlemen…start your engines” – that's a tradition. So are Christmas Eve Family Candlelight services and the staff Olympics. Annual picnics, big events, and company retreats can go a long way towards building a culture. Don't be so quick to discount the meaning of tradition, and all traditions are not sacred cows. Not only should you appreciate traditions, you should leverage them. In the quest to be innovative and relevant, don’t cast aside something valuable.
- Repetition leads to improvement. When you do something once, you don't really know if it worked. For example, after a near disastrous Easter outreach event, our entire team would have supported the idea of wiping it from the church calendar forevermore. But after a few evaluation meetings, we decided a few adjustments would make it more effective. I committed to host the large-scale event one more time before making the final decision. The following year, attendance was lower but the event was smoother. We worked out the kinks and the event lasted a total of five years. Had we pulled the plug after the initial flop, we would have not been able to gauge the true effectiveness.
- Patterns will keep things from sneaking up on you. When people say, “that just snuck up on me,” they generally mean, “I am disorganized and wasn't paying attention.” So stop reacting to whatever is current and start planning in bulk. Plan the year in advance and know when it's time to start working on something. When you plan an annual calendar, you'll know what's going on in June and July. And after a few seasons, advance planning will become second nature.
- A calendar will keep you from competing with yourself. Churches are among the worst culprits when it comes to internal competition. It's routine for people to be encouraged to get in a small group, sign up for a mission trip, bring in school supplies, set up online giving, and volunteer in their kid's class….all on one Sunday. What is your church emphasizing in the month of October? Are there strategic times for groups emphasis, where other ministries can chill out on the public communication? When you get your entire team in the room and work on the big-picture calendar, you'll stop stepping on each other's toes and stop confusing your people with multiple action steps.
If you're a Church Fuel One member, you'll find an amazing template in the Annual Plan Course. You'll also get coaching you can share with your team, plus resources on how to align every ministry in your church with your annual calendar. And this is just one of the courses you get as a member.
Here's how you can create your own annual calendar.
Step 1: Do your homework.
Start by creating a simple spreadsheet. You can use Excel, Google, or even a legal pad and a pencil. Put the months of the year in rows across the top. Then list categories down the left side. Examples of categories might be Preaching, Children’s Ministry, Students, Discipleship, Staff or Special Events.
Then go ahead and fill in what you know. If your church always does a homecoming service in November, type it in the appropriate cell. If a Junior High retreat happens each Spring, write it down. Vacation Bible School, Small Group Sunday, the Volunteer fair…write down everything that happens on an annual basis. Now there will surely be events that happen just one time in the life of your church and that’s okay. Your mission here is to write down the things that happen every year.
You’re going to move, edit, add and delete in the next step. You’re going to involve other people, too. But for now, your job is to get everything out of your head and on your screen.
Step 2: Spend a half-day with all of your staff or key ministry leaders.
The best way to lock down your annual calendar is to get the majority of the principle leaders in one room and work on it together. You can create this on your own, but I’ve found that systems created alone are typically followed alone. The more you involve people in the process, the more excited they will be about the result.
Creating an annual church calendar is a great way to create conversations and build buy-in among all of your leaders. Frankly, you need to have some discussions about what to do when. If the month of June gets loaded up with too many activities, you need to lead the charge to simplify and rearrange. Your church is not a collection of ministries held together by a common thread. It’s the body of Christ, not parts of a mannequin in a cardboard box. Every ministry affects every other ministry.
This is why your annual calendar discussion needs representatives from each ministry. You can even involve volunteer leaders in this meeting. Putting all the key players in the room gives you the widest possible perspective.
Argue, debate, and discuss based on the calendar. You’re not debating the merits of each ministry or program; You’re looking factually at the events and activities central to the life of your church. Like a puzzle, your goal is to make everything fit together for one great purpose.
It may take a while, but imagine the synergy that will come from all of your key leaders having a general framework about what to do. Imagine walking away from this meeting with a big picture understanding of a year in the life of your church.
With a little intentionality and some focus from your team, you could have a big picture annual calendar completed in just a few hours. This type of one-page document will give you the framework to plan the rest of the year. It will help you allocate resources, including time and communication, to what really matters in your church.
So What's Next?
Feel like your church should be growing, but it's not? From someone who used to be a pastor and church planter, I know it can be frustrating.
Ultimately, church growth is up to God. But are we doing everything we can to ensure our church is healthy? How do we overcome the barriers we feel are in front of us?
We know you care deeply about leading a healthy growing church because it means leading more people to Jesus. As a result we created a free guide to breaking barriers that will bring clarity and help begin to alleviate your frustrations.
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