Eleven plus hours on a plane is a long time! Along with the deluge of thoughts, experiences, and conversations from my time in the Horn of Africa, I was overwhelmed with the reality that a new year was quickly approaching.
I was leaving a context that did not have a complete Bible translation; a context that did not have a complete New Testament translation. I was leaving a context where God is at work, void of resources, and returning to a church revitalization context with a new appreciation for resources and a fresh desire to see God’s work.
While cruising at 37,000ft, I thought, “How can we (lead pastors, teaching pastors, and ministry leaders) have a solid plan for ministry as the new year approaches?” The idea of a new slate of 365 chances to have a meaningful impact, the roughly 150+ opportunities to teach strategically, and the opportunity to take full advantage of key holidays and engage our communities obediently certainly creates mental turbulence.
However, ministry planning doesn’t have to be that way. The way in which we can approach developing a ministry plan for the new year is fourfold.
I know. The words “prayer” and “pray” are devalued and cliché today. We litter our lives with the words, but our life and ministries reveal the glaring void of the power of Christ. Dr. Dan Crawford, Senior Professor Emeritus of Evangelism and Missions at SWBTS, and a personal friend says it this way: “We’ve mastered prayer when all else fails. How about this? Let’s master prayer before all else fails.” Take some time to get away and pray before the first decision or plan for the new year is made regarding our Lord’s bride. You’ll be glad you did. As you pray, you’ll better process, with clarity, both the upcoming year and the year that’s winding down.
We’ve mastered prayer when all else fails. How about this? Let’s master prayer before all else fails.
–Dr. Dan Crawford
To make a plan you need to know where you are going. More importantly, you must know where you’ve been. Each year I evaluate everything. Sermons, groups, community engagement, outreach, discipleship, first experiences, overall vision, etc. . . . are open and fair game for evaluation. The tool I use is called a SWOT evaluation. It’s an approach whereby the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats of areas of ministry can be analyzed. For example, start with a general evaluation of your church family. Analyze the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats the church faces. After a thorough and fair evaluation, celebrate strengths, but focus-specific ministry plans for the new year on how to improve weaknesses and take advantage of new opportunities.
Without a way to process where you’ve been, knowing where to go can be a daunting task. Once you take time to intentionally evaluate where you’ve been, a framework for determining a purposeful plan for the new year develops quickly. After you’ve taken time to process where you are and where you want to go, start planning.
When establishing a ministry plan for the new year, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats tend to be the key areas for strategic planning. However, don’t neglect to plan around the strengths. Think through key touch points of the church’s ministry.
For example, once you’ve processed where your people are and where you want to lead them, take time to plan your preaching/teaching schedule for the year. Look at your preaching schedule as a process through which you provide a path for your people to grow in truth, spiritual disciplines, doctrine, and obedience. This is a key opportunity to think through strategic sermon series and book studies.
As you plan your preaching, be sure to focus on key holidays. While Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter tend to be the holidays we think people will pack the place out for a service, Mother’s Day and holidays that honor service members are opportunities that are growing in impact over the traditional holidays. Mother’s Day, Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day are key occasions when community impact can be maximized, especially in a church revitalization context. As you think through holidays, be sure to pay close attention to the demographics of your community as you plan.
In addition, as you plan ministry to equip your people, be sure you strategically plan opportunities for them to put into action what they are being taught. For example, think through ways you can provide opportunities for your church to engage the community throughout the year. Take time to sit down with community leaders and seek ways the church can assist needs in the community. You may be surprised at what you find.
The process of putting a solid ministry plan in place can overwhelm. Remember, pray, process and then plan. When the thought creeps in, “Is planning worth it?,” know that it is. As it has been said, “He who fails to plan plans to fail.” Once a plan is established, pursue it.
Often people grimace at the thought of a plan, especially in ministry. Remember, the Lord has entrusted a flock to you for you to shepherd. To shepherd well, a plan is essential. For those who think, “What about being led by the Holy Spirit?” It’s healthy to remember Proverbs 16:9, “A man may plan his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” You plan and trust the Lord with the plan. If He needs to deter the plan, He’ll direct your steps.
As shepherds, we are called to do everything we do as unto the Lord (1 Cor 10:31). We are called to die to self while knowing that as we do, the Lord is producing life in others (2 Cor 4:12). Pray, Process, Plan, and Pursue. It will cost you time and effort, but it is well worth the cost and time for you and your people.
Pastor First Baptist Kemp, TX. Husband to Michele, Father to our son, and PhD student in Church Vitalization and Historical Theology at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Outdoorsman.