It’s Thursday afternoon, and no one knows what announcements the campus host needs to make on Sunday. You’re two weeks out from Christmas, and your team is scrambling to pull everything together.

Your staff typically works late nights leading up to a big deadline, and you’re eating heartburn chews like candy to deal with the stress.

Is this how ministry works? Is all this chaos necessary to reach the lost and make disciples?

Without a doubt, ministry is hard work. There will be some long days and late nights. However, I’m convinced that way too often we do this to ourselves.

Jesus’ ministry only lasted a few years, yet He moved with purpose and peace…not chaos. While achieving our Savior’s level of calm may be hard to imagine, there are steps we can take to be effective without burning ourselves out.

So, how do you break free of the "last-minute" cycle?

No. 1: Create breathing room

The next few tips won’t work unless you find a slower time of the year to implement them. If you try to train your staff to plan while they’re worried they won’t be ready for a churchwide event, you’re wasting time and money.

In that instance, they won’t be able to focus or implement what they’ve learned. This may require waiting a few months until you hit a slower season. You may even have to cancel a few events to make room.

Another option is adding staff (or volunteers or temporary help) to take on some of the workload while your team develops new habits.

No. 2: Provide training

For some, planning a project, setting realistic deadlines, and coordinating team members comes naturally.

However, for most people, this is a skill set they need to develop. That includes receiving training and ongoing coaching to develop the habit of constantly thinking several steps ahead.

Your staff already loves your church and is dedicated to the vision — they may simply need the "know-how" to improve how they get stuff done.

No. 3: Evaluate and improve processes

As you look for ways to make your planning efforts more efficient, you’ll probably consider looking for a new tool that will fix all your communication and planning challenges. Please don’t do this to yourself!

A great tool layered on top of a broken process will still equal a mess. This is another reason why you need breathing room — to invest the time to determine if the methods you’ve used to get you here are going to get you where you want to go. If not, fix the processes first.

No. 4: Invest in better tools (or make sure everyone knows how to use what you have)

Blaming a tool is easy. After all, it can’t talk back. Before you determine that your project management tool or ChMS isn’t worth using, consider whether you’re using it as intended.

Has your team completed training on how to use that tool? Is everyone using it as instructed? If not, start by contacting your software vendor and asking for a refresher course.

On the other hand, sometimes the tool is part of the problem. Your church may have outgrown it or perhaps that vendor isn’t keeping pace with the latest technology.

In this case, evaluate your processes before looking for a new tool. There are lots of excellent options available, but none of them can fix a broken process. Deal with process issues first, document what you need, then evaluate each tool against that list.

No. 5: Implement a few changes at a time

It’s tempting to do a massive overhaul, but that can create more problems. Change a process or two, evaluate whether the new process is working, adjust as needed and reevaluate, then move on to the next change.

Conduct a training session, follow-up to hold your team accountable for implementing what they learned, then conduct the next session.

In this situation, slower is better. The changes will stick, your team will absorb the new information better, and everyone will be able to adjust to the new way of doing things.

No. 6: Evaluate the church calendar

This one can be rough because no one likes to see their favorite event or program go away. However, if you’ve packed the calendar so full that you can’t do anything with excellence then it’s time to take a hatchet to the schedule.

  • Why do we have this program/event?
  • Who does it reach?
  • How many people participated the last few years?
  • Is that number increasing or decreasing?
  • Who would miss this if we stopped doing it?
  • Is this truly making disciples or is it the pet project of someone with influence (ouch, I know)?
  • Are there other areas of ministry struggling because this other event is taking up too much time/effort/resources?

Getting out of the chaotic cycle of last-minute planning and late nights will involve time, effort, and the willingness to make difficult decisions.

However, the result will mean higher quality events with staff and volunteers ministering from a full tank. That’s well worth the effort involved to make that happen.