Aug 01, 2016
Planning for Growth in College Ministry
Kale Uzzle shares the four levels of planning that are key to leading for growth in your college ministry.
Over my eight years in college ministry, one significant growth edge I have noticed between new college ministers and veterans is the ability to think and act in monthly and semesterly patterns instead of simply living week to week. As I work to supervise and train young staff with InterVarsity, helping them to move beyond short-term to medium and long-term planning and execution is a critical step in their development.
For me, this development pathway begins right now in the calendar year as they finalize their plans for the upcoming year of ministry. I encourage my staff to think of their year on four distinct and interlocking levels to help maximize their efforts and have the best chance of achieving the goals they set. Here are the four levels and the key questions they seek to answer:
- Vision – Where are we going?
- Goals – What tangible markers will tell us we’ve arrived there?
- Plans – What incremental marching orders should we follow to arrive at those markers?
- Rhythms – How do we use our existing hours and structures to carry out those orders?
In our world, having a vision statement is certainly not novel or unique. We’ve probably all spent hours of our lives crafting vision statements. However, where young staff tend to fall short is not in having a vision; they fall short in being led by that vision. College ministry is often overwrought with regular commitments that make it easy to settle into a mode where perpetual motion, the need to simply maintain structures, becomes the unspoken but dominant driver for our ministry’s existence. To combat this, it helps to begin with our vision statement. Where are we going? What is the preferred reality we want to see on our campus and in our city this year?
Like many people, I love the acronym S.M.A.R.T. as a metric for goal-setting:
I could write a paragraph about each of these constraints but I will zero in on one where many young staff struggle: Measurable. By “measurable,” we mean that there should be a tangible ability to prove that any set goal has been achieved. It does not mean that every goal has to be number-based. My wife works in planning and evaluation for a major non-profit funding agency and she has taught me that there is almost nothing that cannot be measured in some way.
Let’s say you set a goal that every freshman that walks into your community would feel welcomed and cared for after their first gathering. How could you measure that? One way would be to ask them to fill out a simple survey on the way out the door – perhaps you could raffle off scholarship money to an upcoming conference or tickets to an event on campus to incentivize participation. With fifteen minutes of work on a Google form, you’d have tangible data to measure your ability to welcome freshmen. Almost anything can be measured; you simply need a plan in place to do so. The S.M.A.R.T. acronym ensures that our goals are not merely numbers on paper but markers of healthy, sustainable growth.
This is by far the largest skill gap in young ministers that I have seen when it comes to strategic planning. Many feel confident about setting goals. Most know how to sustain a structural rhythm like a weekly Bible study. Knowing how these rhythms add up to goals being accomplished is where they fall short. This is what I mean by plans: plans are the incremental ways you leverage your rhythms over a definite timeline to achieve a goal.
Let’s say you set a goal to have 30 students attend a conference in December. You have three weekly rhythms in place: weekly Bible studies, a weekly worship service, and a bi-weekly leaders meeting. Your plans are the bite-sized pieces of that goal that you use your rhythms to accomplish in the months leading up to the conference. In August you probably have some large events planned where you could distribute fliers for the conference. In October, you could use a leader meeting to get your entire leadership team registered. It’s key for each goal to write out the incremental steps it would take to accomplish it and distribute those steps as plans for each month. For each of my goals, I will copy these plans onto a “Monthly Priorities” list at the top of my calendar each month, which gives me my marching orders for the month at hand.
Rhythms are the pieces that actually make it on the calendar – our working hours and the structures for which we are responsible. Whether you start here and move backwards through my list (if you’re more detail oriented) or end here (if you’re more big-picture oriented), the key questions to ask are: Where do our rhythms take us? Are they accomplishing the goals we’ve set and ultimately seeing our vision realized?
As I mentioned earlier, the temptation in any ministry setting is to get into a place of perpetual motion where it seems like the primary objective is to simply keep the wheels spinning and never asking the question of where the wheels are taking us. Rhythms are essential; unexamined rhythms can be toxic in the life of a healthy organization. Annual planning offers us at least one yearly period in which we evaluate our organizational health and ask these key questions.
With these four levels covered, we can begin lifting our eyes from what is immediately in front of us to the larger picture of how a year of ministry effort can lead to more disciples being made and greater growth in the depth and breadth of our ministries.