Project management is an essential skill for church leaders.

Not convinced this is the case?

Take this short quiz to find out:

  • Do you regularly miss deadlines?
  • Are your plans consistently over budget?
  • Are your events, programs, or ministries poorly attended?
  • Is your church staff or volunteers experiencing significant stress?
  • Do you or your team burn the midnight oil every week?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then there’s a good chance you need to brush up on your project-management skills (or learn them for the first time).

In this post, I want to help you successfully start and complete any project in your church. I’m going to share with you four essential project-management skills, and different project-management tools your church can consider.

Let’s get started!

#1. Get specific

The first step to completing any project is to know exactly what you want to accomplish. In other words, you need to know what you’re aiming for.

Think about it like this.

In basic firearm safety, the first thing you must do is identify what you’re shooting. The same holds true for church project management. You must identify what you want to accomplish.

At this point, there are two crucial questions you need to answer:

1. What do you want to accomplish?

2. When does it need to be completed?

In answering the first question, do you want to start a small group ministry to disciple new church members? Are you interested in launching a college ministry to reach college students with the gospel? Need to start a capital campaign to fund a new building project?

Don’t worry about all of the details—yet.

What you need to nail down is what you want to achieve.

Know what you want to accomplish?

Great!

Now you need to know when you have to complete your objective.

Some of the projects you need to complete will have a hard start and stop. Said another way, the date is inflexible. For other projects in your church, the time can be flexible.

Regardless of the project, you must pick a date it must be completed. Without a specific timeline, your project is nothing more than a dream. So, give your vision some feet and make it walk by giving it a due date.

#2. Delegate responsibility

Here’s the reality of most projects:

They’re unruly like a wild stallion.

When managing a project, expect something to go wrong.

What is more, if you don’t have someone assigned to manage the project, then get ready for it to derail completely.

What’s the moral of the story?

Delegate the responsibility of managing your project.

In your church, this can be to a staff member or volunteer. Regardless of who you choose to manage a project, be sure to give him or her the authority needed to accomplish the goal.

When you assign someone this responsibility, then he or she will be able to corral the project to make sure everything stays on track.

A project manager should:

  • Create a plan
  • Oversee the project
  • Regularly communicate with everyone involved
  • Monitor the progress
  • Overcome problems

Creating a plan and monitoring the progress involve more detail. So, let’s take a more in-depth look at these two tasks.

#3. Create a plan

After you’ve picked a project manager, he or she will need to create a plan to accomplish your goal by the deadline.

Generally speaking, here are five items the project manager must cover in his or her  management plan:

1. Tasks

2. Delegation

3. Timeline

4. Budget

5. Milestones

The first step your project manager must take is to identify every task that needs to be completed. From beginning to end, he or she will need to know what must be accomplished to complete the project.

In general, your project manager will have a good idea of what needs to be done. If not, encourage him or her to reach out to someone else for input, and, if necessary, to add different tasks and rearrange the timeline as things come up.

For each task that needs to be completed, your project manager should assign someone to complete that task. The tasks can be assigned to the project manager or someone else on your staff or team.

When your project manager assigns a task, they’ll also need to provide a due date for it to be accomplished. Depending on the assignment, encourage your project manager to connect with whomever they assigned the task to, to make sure he or she has the bandwidth to get it done.

Another big item you need to plan for is your budget. To complete your project, how much money will you need? For larger projects, it’s best to set a range. You'll also need to create a contingency plan if something doesn’t work out as initially planned. For smaller projects, be sure to know how much money you’ll need, and make sure your church’s leadership is informed.

Finally, your project manager should set milestones. To complete your project, what major milestones and deadlines need to be met to ensure the project stays on track? By setting these benchmarks, your project manager will know if the project will be completed on time or if any changes need to be made.

#4. Monitor the progress

One thing you’ll want to emphasize to your project managers is that it’s key for them to consistently monitor the progress of the project. By keeping their thumb on the pulse of the plan, your project manager will be able to guide the project to completion.

To monitor progress, your project manager must regularly communicate in two ways:

1. By keeping in touch with team members

2. By updating key stakeholders

Your project manager should regularly communicate with all team members.

At Church Fuel, we find it helpful to meet as a team once per week to check in on our projects and goals. A weekly meeting is one way you can help your team work together in accomplishing a goal.

What is more, it’s ideal for communicating one-on-one with staff members and volunteers involved in the project throughout the week. When checking in on your team members, ask how things are progressing and if there’s anything you can do to help.

Another group of people your project manager should regularly connect with are the project’s key stakeholders. For your church, this can be your senior pastoral leadership, your church’s leadership (elders, deacons), or volunteer leaders assigned to the project. From the good, bad, and the ugly, your project manager needs to share any pertinent information that will inform decision-makers and let people know of any potential roadblocks.

Whomever you tap to manage your project, ask them to provide weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly updates on the project they are managing. How often you request updates will depend on the scope of the project and the timelines involved.

At this point, you’re probably feeling a bit overwhelmed.

You’re not alone.

But here’s the good news:

Project management isn’t something you’re born with.

Project management is a skill you can learn.

Know what else?

There are a ton of online tools you can use to better manage your projects.

Below, I’m going to share a few options.

Before I do, I want to make sure you hear this loud and clear:

Project-management tools are only tools.

Like the tools in your garage or kitchen, you need to know how to use them to get the results you want. Without mastering the basic project-management tips I mentioned above, it won’t matter what project-management tool you use.

Alright, with that being said, here are a few tools we recommend.

Project-management solutions for churches

There are numerous project-management tools you can use.

Among these tools, you’ll find a variety of pros and cons.

But here are some of the standard features to look for. You’ll need the ability to:

  • Add projects
  • Assign tasks and due dates
  • Share files
  • Communicate with your team

In short, whatever project-management tool you choose, you’ll be able to fulfill the tips we shared above in one central location. This means there'll be no more email chains, sticky notes, or group text messages.

Not sure what tool to choose?

If you’re just getting started with project management, here’s what we suggest:

Don’t spend hours researching and testing the different options.

Pick a project-management tool to use and hold your team accountable to using it too. Instead of bouncing between different tools, focus on using one for several months to know if it’s going to meet your needs or to figure out what features you like best.

For the sake of this post, I’m not going to be able to cover the ins and outs of every project-management tool. However, I’ll point you in the right direction to get started.

After working with hundreds of church leaders, we’ve found that these three project-management tools are the most popular:

1. Basecamp

2. Asana

3. Trello

All three of these options work well for small churches, they’re cloud-based, and they can scale to meet the needs of larger churches too.

When it comes to pricing, Trello offers more free capabilities compared to Asana and Basecamp. So this is naturally a big win for many churches.

Regardless of what option you choose, there’s a learning curve involved. Plan on spending time figuring out how to maximize whatever tool you choose to use.

At Church Fuel, our CEO, Michael Lukaszewski, swears by Basecamp. The types of projects we manage may look different than your church. But after experimenting with different tools, we’ve found this one meets all of our needs.

Over to you

There you have it: The top project-management tips for churches, and a few suggested project-management solutions to get you started.

As a friendly reminder: The tool you use to manage your projects isn’t as much as a concern as following the project-management tips above.

Focus on nailing these best practices, and you’ll be well on your way to successfully managing any project your church undertakes.