Ben Franklin once said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!”
Although I’m one who loves a well thought out plan, I have a lot of growing to do when it comes to having a solid grasp on this. So, I’ve been reading, listening to podcasts, and trying to soak up any wisdom I can from those who do this sort of thing well. One recurring theme I’ve encountered is that of planning rhythms.
Speaking of recurring themes, that’s pretty much what a rhythm is, right? More eloquently, Merriam-Webster offers this definition of rhythm: “movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements.” Now I find myself asking things like, “What are we doing on a regular basis that adds value or quality to our church communications and subsequently to the lives of those we serve, and what do we do that detracts from those things? What structures—formal or informal—support our planning processes?” Here are a few discoveries I’ve found to be helpful.
Lean into the long-established rhythm of the liturgical calendar.
Much has been written on the Church Year about its theological richness and beauty (and I absolutely love that kind of discussion), but right now let’s talk about how practical it is. First, the church calendar provides structure and reminds us when things happen in the life of the church at large. That big picture translates to life in our local congregations and we can then connect what’s happening in our community. This applies to the more obvious seasons and holidays, such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter, as well as to the festivals and commemorations that tend to pass in a quieter fashion.
I recall a staff meeting where we discussed how to celebrate and acknowledge God’s gift of Baptism in a more corporate way. Looking at the liturgical calendar, one of my colleagues suggested we put together a picture slideshow of all the baptisms from the past year to share on the Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. Having established this plan, we then began thinking about the pieces of the puzzle needed to make this happen. Perhaps most obviously, we would need pictures, which prompted the need for someone to be responsible for taking and organizing the images. This process of establishing an end goal or envisioning a finished project and working backward to determine all the necessary elements can be used in many different ways.
If you’re new to a position, asking questions is essential. I’d argue that this is just as valuable the more seasoned we become in a particular role. Familiarity can be a great friend, but it can also be the source of blind spots. Blind spots then can lead to unrecognized, even unhelpful, rhythms that might be hurting other parts of our planning efforts. Which leads me to . . .
Have you ever been in the midst of a project or event, missing key information or supplies, and uttered the words, “I kind of remember this happening last year”? Okay, glad to know I’m not the only one. This can also be a look at the last several years of your congregation’s calendar or digging into your bulletin archive to see patterns, not only of when events occur, but also of who has typically taken the lead in organizing things. When you know what your default rhythms are, you can then determine if they’re serving your congregation well or if you need to find a better way to achieve a desired outcome.
Think through factors that might help or hurt your planning efforts.
For instance, our congregation has a Consecration Sunday each fall, with several weeks of communication leading up to that date. The chairman of this effort is a teacher whose schedule amps up about the time we’ve traditionally started working on letters, video announcements, and other fun things like that. This year we’re taking a new approach—planning and creating during summer break. Not only is it better stewardship (couldn’t resist the pun) of this leader’s time, but it’s also allowing more room to process, evaluate, and be creative, because we’re not right up against the deadline.
Plan to plan!
Make an appointment with yourself, with a colleague, or as a staff to look ahead on the calendar. Whether this lasts ten minutes or a couple of hours, you’ll begin to see beyond only what needs to happen in the now and improve future planning.
Break down what needs to be done into manageable bites.
Once you know what needs to be done, take those steps and put them on your calendar. When we began planning for VBS in cold, wintry months, we put tasks like printing schedules, station signs, and other such items on the calendar for a couple of months out. Not only did this alleviate some of the last-minute preparation pressure, but it was also a lifesaver when we encountered unforeseen technical difficulties right before VBS began.
Simultaneously execute and plan.
Another lesson that I’ve been learning is that it is possible to be in execution mode for one project and planning mode for another. Yes, there are some events and seasons that require every last bit of focus and effort. When I’m honest with myself though, if I’ve planned well for something I’m carrying out in a given time frame, I have the capacity to look ahead and plan for something further down the pipe.
Schedule time to explore new planning ideas and processes.
Inspired by Franklin’s words, I like to think that I’m learning to plan and planning to learn. This is where the blogs, books, podcasts, and conversations with others come into play.
At the end of the day, I can come up with numerous roadblocks to planning ahead and fall into unhealthy rhythms. Yet, with structure, accountability, creativity, and a growing list of positive planning experiences, I’m learning how healthy rhythms can be developed and enjoying the process along the way.
What planning rhythms do you tend to follow? How do you evaluate and make changes to current patterns? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!
Hear more from Katy about how she uses planning rhythms in her work as a church communicator.
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