In the 13 years that I have been the pastor at Jordan Community Bible Church, we have had more than a few mission teams. We love the teams that come. They have become our friends and family. However, with every team, we have had to come to an agreement about planning. Most of the teams need to know specific plans about a year out. We don’t usually make plans like that.
The nature of small towns and small churches tends toward less planning and more toward winging. We don’t tend to plan things months out, much less a year out. This organic nature is part of what makes small churches and small towns feel like they do. Flexibility, spontaneity, and informality are all descriptions of life without rigid plans.
In our small church, we don’t make a church calendar showing every event. Most events are only planned a month out. We have some activities that are planned just a week out. In fact, it’s not uncommon for us to make plans Sunday morning for a church field trip that evening.
Now, I must admit that while I enjoy the atmosphere that “winging it” creates, I like to have some plans in place. I need to know what is going on and what is next. My son learned this from me and will often ask my wife what the plans are for the day. My wife will respond, “We don’t plan our days like that.” My son and I like to have a general idea about what to expect.
Finding the balance between planning and “winging it” is not easy. Plans can seem bureaucratic. Plans make many small churches feel smothered and restricted. However, as the saying goes, “Failure to plan is planning to fail.”
So here are some tips and thoughts about planning.
How planning has helped.
- Promotes Variety. Without planning, we tend to fall into a routine of the comfortable. We will sing the same songs, preach on the same topics, and follow the same habits every week. It is comfortable and we don’t realize that “winging it” has actually become a routine. Planning can keep you out of a rut.
- Allows preparedness. More than once, we have decided at the last minute to go shoot shotguns, but find out we don’t have enough ammo or clay pigeons. With just a little planning, we could have made sure we had the needed supplies. Being properly prepared means the church can put on a higher quality service, event, or activity.
- Stimulates anticipation. When the church can look forward to an event, excitement can grow. What will God do? Maybe a friend will make a decision for Christ. We have four planned events each year that we can promote, build up, and anticipate.
- Establishes protection. One area of planning is policies and procedures. Put these in place to protect the church, make sure nothing is missed, and that things are done consistently. Being unstable and irregular is a major liability in today’s world.
How planning has hindered.
- Frustration. I’m sure we have all tried to plan an event and run into the “there is no good day” problem. In small towns based on agriculture, the reality is that much depends on the weather! I have several stories of planning an event for months and when the day comes, snow or rain prevents many from attending. The frustration that comes from planning can make you want to just quit.
- Suppression. Plans can feel like restraints for many people. Honestly, there are times when I feel anxiety knowing that I have something planned. As much as I like to be prepared, I don’t like the feeling of being committed. We often run into this very problem in our town. People refuse to commit, but when the day comes we often have plenty of help.
- Overwhelming. Does a church of 50 members need a policy about what soap is allowed in the ladies room? Probably not. I have reviewed a few policy and procedure manuals from big churches. Let’s just say that I was a bit surprised at what I felt was bureaucracy. My wife does our media, so I don’t need to complete a “Media Need Form” and have it turned into the media team at least 2 weeks before the service in which said media will be presented. We don’t need that many levels of red tape and paperwork.
Thoughts to consider.
- Making plans does not mean that plans are permanent. Plans can be made and changed. Keep flexibility.
- View plans as guides, not as guards. Plans that imprison you are guards, plans that help are guides.
- Leave some details unplanned. I have found that a great deal can be left to winging it.
- Planning is simply being intentional. Are you wandering or are you leading in a direction?
- You already do some planning, you just don’t call it planning. You have in your mind a general idea about how things are going to happen….that’s planning.
- The key is finding out what God wants to do and plan accordingly.
When I was still in Bible College, I was the visiting preacher at a little church. After the service, a lady told me, “It is unholy and presumptuous to preach from notes.” This lady believed that I should just open the Bible as the Lord leads at that moment and preach. She said that having notes meant that I was presuming what God wanted to say. While not many would verbalize it, the implication is true in many churches.
To borrow an idea from a friend, “If God is all-knowing, then He can tell me today what He wants to say next week.”
“Commit your works to the Lord, And your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3 (NASB)