How to Create a Church Planning Calendar

How to Create a Church Planning Calendar

Ministry Planning for Senior Pastors, Leaders, and Creative Teams

Cory Edwards | September 20, 2021 | Church Marketing Church Plant Consulting Ministry Branding

When it comes to planning the year, how do you start? Here’s our essential guide to developing a church planning calendar that works.

Why Do You Need to Develop a Ministry Planning Calendar?

A church planning calendar will give you a healthy team that communicates well and plans for your ministry’s year in an ideal world. Understandably, you’d want all of that without restricting the move of the Holy Spirit.

But looking at years past might remind you it isn’t an easy feat. You’re right! 

You’re leading a team mixed with rigid planners and go-with-the-flow types. Heads butt, tempers flare, and you might wonder if it’s worth the effort.

It is.

You need a plan! Without one, you’ll start to see burn out in your team, volunteers, and even yourself as you do everything on the fly.

Beginning the year with a calendar is the first step to combat burnout and the fallout that comes with it.

It might require a new way of thinking for your team. Still, a winning calendar is possible if you’re willing to put in the work to adopt these healthy ministry practices.

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide.

The 3 Essential Mindset Shifts for Effective Church Calendar Planning

  • Mindset Shift # 1: Plan your church’s calendar like you’d budget your family’s finances.
  • Mindset Shift #2: Plan your ministry calendar so you can lead people well when the plan has to change.
  • Mindset Shift #3: Use empathy when you work on your ministry’s calendar.

5 Steps to Set Up Your Communications Department for Effective Church Calendar Planning

  • Step 1: Realize you have clients (called ministry departments!) and treat them as such.
  • Step 2: Get the right tools for the job.
  • Step 3: Schedule regular strategy meetings with your “clients.”
  • Step 4: Create a space that makes church calendar planning easy.
  • Step 5: Get buy-in from the Senior Pastor for your new systems.

6 Steps to Create a Winning Church Communications Calendar

  • Step 1: Start with “Felt Needs”
  • Step 2: Start Planning Your 3-5 Church-Wide Events 6 Months in Advance
  • Step 3: Plan Departmental Events Using a Three-Tier System
  • Step 4: Pandemic-Proof Your Church Calendar
  • Step 5: Get Rid of Competing Brands Inside Your Church
  • Step 6: Consider Augmenting Your Creative Team


See below for a full replay of our church planning webinar.

>>Free Download: Get the downloadable 2022 church planning wall calendar»
>>Free Resource: Plan timelines more accurately with the Event Planner Tool»

Watch a free replay of our calendar-planning webinar with Kirk and Jason above.

The 3 Essential Mindset Shifts for Effective Church Calendar Planning


Mindset Shift # 1: Plan your church’s calendar like you’d budget your family’s finances.

Here’s what we like to say at ArtSpeak: You can plan ahead, or you can burn out people. 

You can plan ahead, or you can burn out people.

We’ve seen it over and over: Pastors burn out their creative teams. Creative teams burn out their pastors. Churches burn out their volunteers, and church staffs burn out their family members.

And yes, you can even burn yourself out because you’re a person, too. Burnout comes from always chasing the urgent.

But a lot of people on a church staff push back on calendar planning! Maybe you’ve heard (or spoken) one of these sentences before:

  • We want to stay agile
  • Let’s wait and hear what the Holy Spirit has to say

And yes, every ministry should be able to respond in the moment to the Spirit’s voice, a pressing need, or an unexpected opportunity. Believe it or not, planning ahead actually allows you to be more agile.

Case in point…

Say your family budgets $100 for eating out every month. It’s the 29th day of the month, and most of that money’s gone. 

But surprise! Out-of-town friends visit unexpectedly. They ask if you could meet them for dinner.

Just because you’ve already spent your $100 budget doesn’t mean you have to say “no.” It just means you have to:

  1. Communicate the change in plan to those it effects (in this case, your family)
  2. Make sure everyone understands why you’re changing the plan
  3. Reallocate resources from another budget category

Do this, and you and your spouse can go out to dinner in peace. Not only do you know you have enough money, but you also know that you’ve communicated and reallocated the resources in a way everyone understands.

If you didn’t plan your budget, you could still go out to eat, but you wouldn’t be able to relax completely.

And it’s the same thing if you don’t plan your church’s calendar effectively.

If your ministry makes last-minute decisions all of the time, you will never be able to reallocate resources effectively. Yes, you’ll burn up money (last-minute costs kill creative team budgets), but you’ll burn out the resource called “people:” staff members, volunteers, and all of their families.

Mindset Shift #2: Plan your ministry calendar so you can lead people well when the plan has to change.

Maybe in November of last year, you planned a February sermon series on relationships called Happily Ever Laughter. You knew Valentine’s Day would be on people’s minds, so you thought ahead.

The creative team made the sermon graphics, the worship leader planned the songs, and the social media team scheduled the content.

But something happened. 

  • There was a local tragedy, and it would be plain wrong to do the Happily Ever Laughter sermon series.
  • Or, someone releases a study that says churches who follow up Easter Sunday with a relationship series get more return visitors.

Just because you have a plan doesn’t mean you have to continue with it. But since you have a plan in place, it’s easier to lead people well through a change in plans.

  • Find out where things are. What’s completed or ordered? What’s too late to change, and how can it be leveraged for a later date?
  • Ask, “What can we do?” Explain the change and what you’d like to do. Find out what the team can accomplish with what time and resource “budget” remains.

Planning ahead increases agility and allows you to lead more effectively.

It also allows you to lead using what we believe is the secret to all effective communication: Empathy.

Mindset Shift #3: Use empathy when you work on your ministry’s calendar.

My wife and I (Jason) had an opportunity to speak about marital communication at a couples retreat not too long ago.

We decided to take John Maxwell’s principles from the book Everyone Communications, Few Connect, and apply it to marriage. As I looked at those principles, I thought, “This is everything we talk about at ArtSpeak when we help churches communicate!” 

And then it hit me: If you boil down all effective communication to one word, that word is empathy.

Everyone wants others to show them empathy. But (I know it’s unfair) we don’t get to force others to empathize with us! Instead, we all need to practice empathy for those we lead and serve.

As a pastor or executive team, planning is an act of empathy. If you can truly empathize with your team and how a last-minute change affects them, you’ll be a more effective leader.

As a creative team member, empathize with your pastor through proactive communication. What do you think the pastor is feeling? What are they probably thinking?

When you do this, you’ll get ahead by:

  • Curating ideas and resources for the other department heads
  • Researching those ideas and resources, so you only present the best
  • Presenting ideas and resources with an open hand, having plenty of time to go back to the drawing board

You have more control than you think you do … but only if you plan. Don’t wait for every department to come in with their last-minute changes. 

Pro-Active Empathetic Communication in the Real World

For example, your youth pastor had a retreat on January 9 last year, January 13 the year before that, and so on. 

Do you think they’re going to walk into your office on January 3 this year (the same as every year)? And do you think they’ll say, “Dude, I need a t-shirt and a lanyard and a video and some graphics. I’m doing a retreat!”

Probably.

Don’t wait for them to come to you. Go to the department head, set up a November meeting (or whenever it makes sense for your schedule), and make a plan.

It’s your empathetic, proactive communication that can make your entire church and your life better.

If you’ve had trouble doing this, it might be time to structure your creative department the way an agency would. 

Here’s how to do it.
Church Planning Calendar

How to Set Up Your Communications Department for Effective Church Calendar Planning

 

Step 1: Realize you have clients and treat them as such.

ArtSpeak is a creative agency, and we’re grateful for those people that make our existence possible…

Our clients!

Clients mean work. Work means job security. 

Of course, ArtSpeak’s clients are mostly ministries — something I’m incredibly passionate about. I like being part of what they’re doing. 

But clients also help my wife and me pay for our life. I have kids. They like to eat, live in a warm house, play sports, and take lessons. Clients make all of that possible.

And when you work for a ministry, your “clients” make your life possible, too. Those clients — your pastor, executive team, and department heads — are in-house! You don’t have to go out and find them.

Having been on both sides of the equation ourselves, we’ve seen many problems churches can repair by moving creative departments toward an agency-client model. 

Every agency has important clients. Your pastor and your executive team — that’s a big client. Pay attention to what they need first. Be sure not to do that to the exclusion of all other clients.

Then, agencies have secondary clients. For a church, that would be your youth, children’s, men’s, women’s, and outreach ministries. The bigger your ministry, the more “clients” you have.

Step 2: Get the right tools for the job.

Every creative agency, much like every church communications team, starts with tools for “doing the work.” It’s an Adobe suite, some kind of word processor, and website creation tools for many of us.

But to manage an agency, we use tools that help us keep track of projects, communicate with clients, and stay organized.

Here are the primary tools we use:

PROJECT MANAGEMENT SOFTWARE

While there are many tools for project management, our team uses Asana. We use Asana both to keep track of projects by client and to communicate with those clients.

SLACK

Your pastor doesn’t need to see every detail, ideation, or Giphy exchange your team creates while working on his sermon graphic. We communicate with each other in Slack using channels created for clients. And then channels created for other internal purposes.

Shared Drive

Use Google Drive with File Stream because everyone on your team should have access to the files you’re working on at all times. Especially with the craziness of ministry life, you shouldn’t organize your files by employee. Instead, share them all, and categorize them by client.


Time Tracking

At ArtSpeak, we use FreshBooks. The reason for using time-tracking software is simple: You need to have a pretty good idea of how long it takes to complete a given project. That way, you can share that information with everyone else. The information it provides will help you create your planning calendar.

Step 3: Schedule regular strategy meetings with your “clients.”

 

At ArtSpeak, regular strategy meetings are a feature of our retainer relationships. Most clients have a once-monthly meeting with us. 

Most clients have a once-monthly meeting with us. 

Some clients — those with heavy needs and to whom we’ve committed several hours a month — will meet with us weekly. 

Pastors, do you and your executive team make it easy for the communications team to get direction and feedback from you? If you expect a lot of production from your communications team, try to make a once-weekly meeting happen.

The purpose of those strategy meetings is simply this: Dream about what’s next.

Dream about what’s next.

Take, for example, the youth pastor mentioned previously. (You know, the one who tells you about the yearly retreat just a few days before it happens every year?)

In your November monthly strategy meeting, using empathetic, proactive communication, you can say, “Hey, every year you have a retreat in January. Let’s talk about what’s happening this year — and let’s dream about what it can be.”

Maybe this year, that youth pastor is moving the retreat online. They’re going to need videos, a social campaign, and a landing page. 

Without this meeting, they wouldn’t have gotten full use of their in-house agency. You wouldn’t have had the chance to shine as the consultant you are. Not only that, you’ll get to:

  • Build a stronger relationship with that “client”
  • Speak into the feel, structure, and maybe even the name of the event

Step 4: Create a space that makes calendar planning easy.

When I (Jason) was the creative director for a church, there was a massive eighteen-month, dry-erase planning calendar in our church’s executive suite. Now, I’m old-school … I love dry-erase boards. They’re my happy place.

I found another dry-erase calendar sitting unused in another room. I put it in the creative department and mirrored the executive calendar, then created a little environment around it with a high-top table, barstool chairs, and cool lighting.

Then, each department head would come into the creative department’s little “world” to dream and plan. 

We’d look at the calendar together. Suppose someone wanted to plan an event that would conflict with another executive-team-approved event. In that case, we’d know immediately the date wouldn’t work.

When we settled on an event date, we would start to talk about what they would want. As we came up with a list of deliverables, I could tell them how many weeks each deliverable would take to create. 

When we did that, we would have a clear date for a kick-off meeting.

Standing in front of a calendar with a clear understanding of how much time each deliverable requires, we eliminated many inter-departmental arguments.

Instead, I had a chance to help that leader become a better planner, a better steward of his budget (no more rush orders!), and a more effective communicator.

Download our 2022/2023 18-month church-planning wall calendar here.

Step 5: Get buy-in from the senior pastor for your new systems (this is really step one)

Creative teams, let your pastor help you create and communicate any new rules and systems you have to implement. Show them how it can save your church from burning people out and burning through money unnecessarily.

In my context as a creative director on a church staff, I created a memorandum of understanding that included all of this information plus the tiered event system (see below for more information on that). If everyone’s in on it, especially the senior pastor and the executive team, you’ll be able to communicate with confidence.

These systems may not create utopia, but they’ll go a long way toward building relationships inside your church staff and volunteer base.

6 Steps to Creating a Church Communications Calendar

 

Step 1: To Identify Your 3-5 Big Events and Sermon Series Topics, Start with Felt Needs

It seems like every church has between three and five events that are an all-hands-on-deck blowout. These, along with each sermon series, will drive your church’s calendar and create pockets for other departments to plan their events around.

But don’t just plan these events and sermon series around what you’ve always done or what you’d like to do. Plan around “felt needs” — the needs actually felt by people in your community. 

Here’s what I mean.

Christmas and Easter events are usually gimmes for most churches, and every church should plan around them. Just remember that if you’re not “the family tradition” yet, these aren’t your best opportunities to reach the unreached with the message of Jesus.

Two times of the year are underserved by the church and can create momentum for your church: New Year’s and Back-to-School.

1. New Year’s Resolutions

Whether or not you personally like New Year’s resolutions, people in your community are probably making them in January. Everyone wants to make this year better than last year.

If you’re in ministry, you have something to say about how to make life better. Use this opportunity to help people think about those things.

2. Back-To-School Calendar Reset

In August and September, people’s schedules tend to be wide open. Their summer commitments are winding down, and they’re getting ready to establish brand new patterns.

Wouldn’t it be cool if your church was part of their new pattern? This can be something big, so start preparing for it in February.

3. Choose Names that Speak to Felt Needs

I remember a planning and dreaming session with a pastor around his sermon series that led to a great title. It ended up really connecting to the felt needs in his community.

He knew he wanted to preach about the Book of Psalms. He also knew he wanted to connect with people who weren’t yet Christians.

But he was going to title his sermon series, Summer in the Psalms. 

Now, as a seminary-trained former pastor, I love the book of Psalms! I’d spend my summer in the Psalms, but he wasn’t trying to reach people like me.

So I asked him to tell me about what he planned to preach on. The content was going to be fantastic. It was all about living life to the fullest, living more honestly, and living authentically.

I said, “Why don’t we just call the series Live?” 

He loved it, and it allowed that church to get truths from the Psalms to people who would have never known they were looking for it.

Step 2: Start Planning Your Church-Wide Events 6 Months Out

Creative team leaders, I can already hear you yelling at your screen: “My pastor will never do that!”

Don’t wait for your pastor. Instead, plan ahead:

  • Collect ideas you think will work. 
  • Curate them so the executive team doesn’t have to sift through resources on Google. 
  • Do the research, find out what others are doing, and make decisions as easy as possible for them.

Step 3: Plan Departmental Events Using a Three-Tier System

Now that you have your church’s significant events planned out, the other departments can schedule their events in a way that makes sense with the rest of the church calendar.

Here, I recommend that creative teams and executive teams collaborate on a three-tiered event system to your team’s time and budget resources wisely. You’ll also use the resource of attention more wisely, because…

If everything’s loud, nothing is heard.

Here’s how it can work, though you should customize this to your context and your team’s ability to get things done.

Tier 1 Events – Example

A Tier 1 event gets complete creative department support. Tier 1 events will probably get the top billing on your church’s communications outlets (weekly announcements, social posts, and public calendar space).

But here are the rules:

  • A department can only have two Tier 1 events
  • No Tier 1 event can take place within two weeks of another department’s Tier 1 event
  • Tier 1 events require at least three month’s lead time

Tier 2 & 3 Events – Example

Likewise, every department can have: 

  • Four Tier 2 events
  • Eight Tier 3 events

These events need less time to plan because fewer resources are going into them. And, since these are lower-tier events, they’ll only be allowed targeted communication efforts — you won’t feature them on your social media or weekly announcements.

Again, these are only guidelines. Churches will have to revise these guidelines continually. But this is one way to organize your church’s calendar to declutter announcements and take some of the decision-making off of the executive team’s plate.

Step 4: Pandemic-Proof Your Church Calendar

As you plan, be sure you’ve thought about how everything you do can have an online option. Of course, there are exceptions, but think through these areas of your ministry:

  • Giving
  • Worship
  • Discipleship
  • Volunteering and Outreach
  • Fellowship
  • One-on-one Ministry

This may mean that you need more planning time now than you did before the coronavirus changed the world. That’s okay. You have the tools, and you can do this!

Step 5: Get Rid of Competing Brands Inside Your Church

Now that you have everything planned according to importance, you have to communicate it clearly and uniformly. Unfortunately, many churches have competing brands inside their church.

You might not think that, but if you pull out the brochures from all of the ministry areas inside your church, you may see there’s no cohesion at all!

It’s better to have a “branded house” with sub-brands inside rather than “a house of brands.” A house of brands sets up little competitors inside its walls. You don’t want that.

You want to speak with one clear and unified voice.

If you need a branding refresh, along with effective subbrands, we know a good company to work with! (Hint! It’s us!)

Step 6: Augment Your Team by Outsourcing to a Creative Agency

Creative departments are under more stress than ever to produce. Many churches are now producing multiple weekly broadcasts, figuring out how to connect all of their small groups online, and engaging an entire online “campus.”

Consider bringing a creative agency onboard to augment your team’s abilities. They’ll help you plan more effectively and provide some of the structure that will keep your team planning rather than making last-minute changes.

Free Resources to Help You Plan This Year’s Church Communications Calendar

Pastors and creatives, we’re here to help you make this work.

Get the downloadable church-planning wall calendar based on the whiteboard we mentioned above!

Do you need to do some dreaming, vision-casting, and ideating? We’re here for you. 

Fill out the form below, and one of our strategists will contact you for a free thirty-minute consultation.