5 Tips for Unstucking from 'The Rut' in Annual… | UMC YoungPeople
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April 2023

5 Tips for Unstucking from 'The Rut' in Annual Planning

By Rev. Evan Jones

We have all been there. Another year is starting, and plans need to be made. It is easy to fall into the trap of “rinse and repeat” planning – but maybe it’s time for a refresh to your year. And while there are always some things on the calendar that can’t be changed, it might be time for something new on your annual calendar.

There is a big assumption that you are, in fact, making an annual plan. If you are not, consider this a compelling case to take some time and make a plan for the year. (No more programming week to week! Need support to make that jump? Consider downloading the free “Youth Ministry Crash Course in Administration”!) In addition to setting a trajectory for the year, it also frees you to focus on content from week to week and spend less time brainstorming about what needs to happen. Imagine if you could use the big plan to shape the smaller week-to-week pieces. For example, what if you used the three weekly gatherings leading up to your annual retreat to set the vision and theme for the retreat? This can happen only if you are working way ahead.

Here are five tips to help you get “unstuck” in your planning:

Get Out of the Office

Our brains are hardwired to find a change of scenery as a reset. Why do you think we all feel better after a vacation? So, get out of your everyday work location and find a place to reset your brain. From a coffee shop to a cabin in the woods, find the place that works for you (and your budget) to give yourself some breathing room away from the day-to-day tasks of ministry and declutter your brain for strategic planning work. Mark this time on your calendar and communicate it to church staff so that they know where you are, hard at work, with dedicated planning time.

Find a Brainstorm Buddy or Team

Having someone to bounce ideas off, ask critical questions, and offer new ideas is a valuable part of getting unstuck. It might be a dedicated volunteer, a co-worker, or a youth minister from a different church – but inviting them into the process might be just the thing you need to unlock the next thing in your ministry setting. Be sure to set some ground rules and expectations for your time together.

Visualize the Year That Was and the Year Ahead

A whiteboard, butcher paper, or large format printed calendar can help you SEE the year as a whole. Make a calendar for the year that is ending with all the events, gatherings, and programs. Then make a calendar for next year. Start with the “unmovable” calendar items (Easter, for example) and any important dates in your community. Then start to fill in dates and events; soon you can see where the holes and heavy seasons are in your programming. Get school calendars from every school your students attend and consider their important dates in your plan as well.

Evaluate Honestly

There is a psychological theory called the “IKEA Effect” that says people overvalue things that they helped create. For example, people hold on to their IKEA furniture longer than other furniture because they assembled it. Might the same be said about some of your program components? As you review the year that was, take a step back and review the pieces that were effective and how other components could be improved or replaced with other things.

Start with 'Why'

Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk outlines why the WHY is the only place to start (highly recommend checking it out online!). Before jumping into planning for the year, start with the purpose, the mission, of your youth ministry. Here are some questions to get you thinking about your own why:

  • When students graduate from high school, how will they be different because of this youth ministry?
  • If someone stops me in a coffee shop and asks about the work I do, would I be able to explain the purpose - not just the “what”?
  • If a parent says, “My kid doesn’t want to come to youth group” …what is your response?

If someone asks, “What does your youth ministry do?” – do you end up rattling off program offerings? Or say something that matches the mission of the United Methodist Church? How refreshing might it be to say something like, “Our youth ministry grows disciples so that they can transform the world.” A clear statement about your purpose/mission will radically shape your annual planning when it is held next to the programs and events you are planning.

Taking a step back and making a plan for the year is a difficult thing to find time to do. Hopefully, you are encouraged and empowered to begin to ask some critical questions and set some intention and clarity in your programs. You’ve got this!