This is the time of year that most churches start looking ahead to the new year. If your church is anything like mine, you’re likely going through your calendar to figure out what needs to be on there in 2016. It is tempting to be ambitious during this season and put way more on the calendar than can actually happen. Our staff uses push notifications on a group calendar and a pop up notification will quickly tell us that someone has had to cancel an event. If your pastor is anything like mine… he is not a fan of getting that notification. Instead of overloading your calendar, your family, and yourself in 2016, take this time to pray about not DOING more, but instead ACHIEVING more. 

Getting more done doesn’t mean you’re making more of an impact. Think about McDonalds. You will never get a quality steak dinner from McDonalds. They will never be the restaurant you choose to cater an anniversary party or other special occasion. What they are good for is getting a cheap, quick meal with a decent (questionable) taste quality that will likely match your previous experiences at other McDonalds restaurants.

The world’s best companies don’t do a lot of things…. they do a few things really well. We call this specialization. I’ll jump into that more in another post, but for now lets focus on the calendar and being a specialist with your time. Here are with a few simple tests for deciding what to put on your group’s calendar for next year.

1. Your vision should set the calendar; the calendar shouldn’t set your vision.

What is God calling you to do? What is your Pastor’s vision for the youth/young adult ministry? What do your students need? These questions should drive your calendar planning. Yes, there are natural times throughout the year that we need to capitalize on (back to school, Easter, etc.), but you should not feel weird pressure to do events any certain time because that’s the way its always been done. Do what works for you. Pray and meet with your team and add things to the calendar only when they line up with your vision!

2. Think more impact not more hours.

As a youth pastor I could literally be busy every hour of every day. There is always a sporting event, the students always want to go out and do something, the church always has volunteer opportunities, etc. My job is not to be as busy as possible. My job is to lead well.

(Disclaimer: Some of your pastors require you to do 5 thousand off-night events. If that is your situation, take advantage of your day off and do those events with a humble spirit. God will honor your service!)

Think through the events that make the biggest impact and do them well! I would love to do big illustrated sermons every week. I do not have the hours or volunteers to make that happen. Instead, I focus in on a few months out of the year to do sets, creative elements, and giveaways. We know that these times draw the crowds and set us up for the rest of the year. Our extra effort in September goes way further than burning ourselves out trying to replicate that big push every week throughout the year.

(Disclaimer 2: Focusing on high impact times is not an excuse to do low quality stuff for the rest of the year. If you are going to focus on small groups 3 weeks out of the month, do them well! If you only have worship at big events, nail the worship time and nail the other service elements when worship isn’t a part. If you are preaching every week, put some effort into making those sermons great. Just know you won’t be able to do everything at the highest level every time.)

3. Maximize your built-in time.

When are students in your building? When are you already meeting with people? How can you take advantage of your 9-5 time to accomplish more? For us, this has been a big push this year. We are learning the importance of giving ourselves AND our volunteers more freedom during the evenings.

In the next month or two we will be moving ALL student and adult youth leadership meetings to Sunday mornings before church. This is doable for us because our campuses don’t have a lot of Sunday school classes and getting to church at 10 isn’t a big stretch for some of our people. This will allow us to get the meetings done more often, but take away less of people’s free time. Maybe for you this means taking advantage of Sunday night service time to meet with students. Another key here is to maximize school visits and events. Heading to a swim meet to cheer on a student? Don’t go alone! Take your student leaders! The swimmer suddenly has a cheering section and you have effectively gotten relationship building time with your team. Again… don’t do more, achieve more.

I could add more to this, but if you can nail these three things, your pastor, your families, and your students will thank you! My youth ministry professor always told us to, “Work smart, not hard!” She didn’t want us to spend tons of time on projects; she just wanted us to do a good job. As you work in ministry, there is a lot of temptation to do more works to be more effective. God gave you your time as your greatest, most valuable resource. Steward it well and He will absolutely bless what you are doing.

Let’s make 2016 our best year ever! Thank you for all you do to minister to students and families.

Brandon Verderber is the Youth and Young Adult Pastor at Woodlake Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His mission is to help 20-somethings become part of a church family and to help them deal with the difficult transitions that happen during their college years.

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