How does calendar planning happen in your world? Or maybe the question should be, "Does calendar planning happen in your world?" Let me tell you, whether you are naturally a planner or you will only plan when you're forced to, calendar planning is a key to small-group ministry effectiveness.
Here's why it's important and also some keys to doing it well.
Why Calendar Planning Is Important
You may be a play-it-by-ear type when you're on your own. But when you're leading a ministry that involves a lot of people, you've got to take the needs of a lot of people into consideration. And that includes their schedules.
Another very important reason that calendar planning is necessary is that we are all competing for the attention of leaders within our churches. And if you want your ministry to catch and hold the attention of leaders, you've got to plan ahead.
Enough about why, here's how to put together an annual calendar.
How to Build an Annual Group-Life Calendar
Keep in mind that there are two kinds of events that will go into your annual calendar. Connecting events and strategies should be dropped in first. Right on their heels you'll want to put in training and encouragement opportunities for both leaders and coaches.
You've probably seen the illustration about priorities that uses a bottle, rocks, and sand. If you haven't, picture a bottle that you need to fill with several rocks and a pile of sand. If you put the sand and the smaller rocks in first, there will not be enough space left for the big rocks. But if you put the big rocks in first, there is plenty of room between them for the sand and smaller rocks to fill in. The lesson is this: plan for your "big rock" priorities first.
The first step to building a group-life calendar is to put in the biggest of the big connecting rocks. For most of us, that will mean plugging in the dates of a fall church-wide campaign—and all the pieces that go with it. Most of the time that will include things like host recruiting, host orientations, and coach recruiting and training. I've also found it to be helpful to plug in a mid-campaign leader's meeting for encouragement, and to guide leaders of new groups into their next curriculum. The best time for this is usually end of September or the first of October.
Another very big rock that needs to be placed is an event or strategy that will help unconnected people find a group in late January or early February. In most cases, the best strategy to connect people is a small-group connection. It's always a good idea to build in at least two weeks of promotion before the event. Also, you'll want to plug in a new leader's orientation no more than ten days after the connection.
The last big connecting rock is often an opportunity to connect people after Easter. Again, it makes sense to promote the event at least two weeks prior and to choose a curriculum that will interest unconnected people. It can also be a good idea to put in a connecting event for women following Mother's Day and for men following Father's Day.
With your connecting events in place, step back and look at the calendar. You've got a good structure in place.
Next, you'll want to drop in some encouragement and training for your small-group leaders. Although the idea of a monthly leadership community has been the model for some churches, I've rarely found that to be a workable idea. Instead, consider planning two annual training/encouragement opportunities that are centralized. Do everything else as decentralized events in the homes of coaches or leaders.
I've found two leader gatherings a year to be about all that can be pulled off. Early February is often a good time to schedule a Friday evening, Saturday morning event. It can be done at a retreat center or right on campus. Get your senior pastor involved in a time of vision and encouragement on Friday night, then use Saturday morning for a combination of huddle and skill training.
Another good time to drop in a leader training and encouragement event is at the mid-point in your fall church-wide campaign. This allows you to build into the lives of new hosts and experienced leaders. Use the first part of a 90-minute event to allow your pastor to cast vision, tell stories, and make heroes. Gather your leaders at tables with their coach (or by affinity) for encouragement for the middle segment. Dismiss to separate venues for appropriate skill training.
Once you've got the big rocks of connecting and leadership training in place, begin to promote an annual view of small-group ministry. Use the website. Hand it out at meetings. Have it with you everywhere you go.
The most important key to planning is to get started right away. The sooner you get your big rocks in place and publicized, the sooner you'll see the benefits of planning.
—Mark Howell is Community Life Pastor at Parkview Christian Church. Article excerpted with permission from www.MarkHowellLive.com.