Church Leadership
The 3-2-1 System for Better Annual Small Church Planning
Annual planning is harder in a small church, but that doesn't mean it's not possible. Or important.

Lack of planning is a big reason so many small church pastors feel worn out. And why so many healthy small churches feel stuck.

Some of the advantages of annual church planning include:

  • Better preparation for events
  • More time to think and pray about Sunday sermons
  • Better use of volunteer time
  • Less stress on everyone in leadership
  • More consistency
  • Great ideas can simmer
  • Bad ideas get exposed and tossed before being used
  • and many more

(This is the flip-side to my previous post, 5 Reasons Annual Planning Is Harder In a Small Church)

Start With Intermediate Planning

Most teaching on long-term church planning looks at 5-10 year goals. But most small churches barely have a plan for this coming Sunday.

Most small churches barely have a plan for this coming Sunday.

We know we should do better than that. But there's such a big gap between my current reality of "what am I preaching on this Sunday?" to their ideal of "what are your plans for the next decade?" that most small church pastors give up in frustration.

What if there were some intermediate steps to help us design a template for the year ahead, then start filling that template in? Well, there are.

(This is written for churches without an ecclesiastical calendar, a lectionary or other annual templates. If your church tradition uses such tools, some of what I'll be referring to may not apply to you. Use what you can and toss the rest.)

First, Put Annual Events On the Calendar

Christmas is coming again this year. It’ll be on December 25. I checked. The date of Easter changes from year-to-year, but it’s not hard to look it up in advance. The same goes for every other annual event. So why do they seem to sneak up on so many of us?

Start your annual planning by putting yearly events on the calendar in a conspicuous place or on a shared electronic planner. Then count back three months from each big event and mark "start planning for X event" in red. (For example, write "start planning for Christmas Eve" on September 24.)

It's as simple as starting with what you know for sure.

How to Add 150 Planning Hours to Your Year

Some pastors of big churches take a month off (usually in the summer) to plan, pray and organize. Some even write a year's worth of sermons.

I’d love to do that! But it’s not going to happen in any small church I know of. Especially for bivocational pastors.

But imagine if there was a way we could do a version of that every year. One month of forty hours a week means 160 hours to plan, pray, organize and write sermons, prepare new ministry strategies and more.

Well, there is a way that almost any pastor, even my bivocational friends, can pull this off. I know, because I do it. And if I can, you can.

I call it my 3-2-1 System. Every week, I take three uninterrupted hours to do nothing but think, plan, pray and write, in the following order:

3. On one day I take an hour to think and pray about events and ideas that are THREE months away (sermon series, big events, scheduling special speakers, and the like). These are often starter ideas, "what ifs" and crazy dreams.

2. On another day I take an hour to think, pray and plan events that are TWO months out. These are ideas that have gone beyond the "what if" stage and have been green-lighted. By now, we've started setting dates and times, promotional ideas, recruiting volunteers, decorations, artwork and so on.

1. On the final day, I take one hour to think, pray, plan and work on events ONE month out. This is when we work on details. We start promoting the event. I begin thinking about what skits, video clips, special songs or sermon illustrations I might use, and so on.

I’m not an efficiency expert. But doing this has added over 150 hours of planning that I didn’t think I had the time for.

Give the 3-2-1 System a Try

All it takes is the decision to do it and the discipline to follow through.

It's not easy, especially at first. But even bivocational pastors can do these three hours a week in evenings, early mornings or on lunch hours. All it takes is the decision to do it and the discipline to follow through.

And in the long run, everything gets better, easier and more effective.

What works for me may not be for you. But I encourage you to think about it. Pray over it. Try it. Tweak it. Give it a shot in some form or another.

Planning isn't always easy in small churches. But it can get better.

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