It’s the week…

…before Easter

…before the school supply outreach

…before the small group launch

…before Christmas.

The week before typically involves stress, late nights, missed family dinners, and way too many meetings.

If you’re practically living at the church the week before an event, you’re not alone. When I talk with church leaders about their event-planning efforts, I usually hear that they start planning X number of weeks out but wish they would have started much sooner.

Why don’t they start sooner? They’re too busy working on the final details for another event or project to get started on planning something a few months away.

Many churches are on a perpetual cycle of rushing to plan an event, hosting the event, then rushing to start planning the next one that’s only a few weeks out. It’s an easy yet dangerous cycle that no one ever intends to move into.

The bigger issue is that once you’re on that cycle, it’s hard to get off. However, the effort required to get off that cycle is less long-term than staying in a constant state of stress and last-minute chaos.

Here’s how to break free of the last-minute planning cycle:

Step No. 1: Recognize it’s time for a change

No one intended for this to happen. You didn’t wake up one day and decide that constant stress and late nights sounded like a great idea. However, that’s what ended up happening, and you’re ready to make a change.

Before you can make any significant progress, you have to decide as a church leadership team that the current situation isn’t working. If the weeks leading up to an event always involve late nights, lots of stress, and a desperate search for volunteers, those are signs that the method you’re currently using isn’t optimal.

Step No. 2: Evaluate the current situation

If you don’t already have this, have a staff member create a calendar with every service and event on it for the next 12 months.

  • Is there something going on at the church every day?
  • How many events do you host each month?
  • Do you have two or more big events happening within an eight-week period?

If so, it might be time to make some changes. In fact, it might be time to stop doing a few things.

Step No. 3: Decide what to stop doing

Author of "Love Does and Everybody Always," Bob Goff stops doing something every Thursday. Maybe that’s a bit extreme for your church, but the idea is to stop doing certain things to make room to do something even better.

There might be programs or events on your church calendar that worked beautifully in the past. However, maybe those aren’t as effective as they once were and it’s time to move on.

Talk as a leadership team and ask some hard questions:

  • What events or activities does your church do that maybe it’s time to quit?
  • Is there a program you keep doing, but it’s no longer as successful as it once was?

Consider what you can stop doing to make room for what’s best for your church to do going forward.

Step No. 4: Take small steps to start planning ahead

It may take a few months to feel any extra breathing room as you stop doing things. You might have to make time to plan an event that is six months away regardless of what’s coming up next week.

At first, this may feel like it’s adding stress instead of alleviating it. Don’t give up. Go ahead and put together a team to plan the big event coming up (if it’s mid-summer, maybe you start preparing for Christmas).

That team can go ahead and develop the initial concepts for the event, start working with the communications staff on the graphics and web content, and get the ball rolling on the planning process overall. They don’t need to create a perfect plan (those don’t exist, anyway).

Taking small, incremental steps towards planning sooner will pay off. As you repeat this on future events, your team will get better at it, and you’ll have more breathing room between events each time.

Hosting events that impact your congregation and community doesn’t have to involve high stress, endless meetings, and long hours.

Getting off the cycle of last-minute planning takes extra effort in the beginning, but the time saved and even better events you’ll experience down the road makes it worthwhile.