Imagine it’s October 3. Hypothetically speaking.

You’re drinking your pumpkin spice beverage. (Don’t hate.)

You’re enjoying the changing of the color of the leaves.

Perhaps you’re sitting out by the fire pit.

Maybe in full-on planning mode for your church’s Fall Festival.

Then it dawns on you: You’re less than 90 days from Christmas and you haven’t even started planning yet.

If that doesn’t sound off the Twilight Zone music in your head, it should (for all you youngsters out there, the Twilight Zone was a spooky, thriller TV show from the 50’s-60’s that had a distinct theme tune…Google it).

Christmas is one of the biggest opportunities for churches to advance the Gospel.

If you’re not giving it considerable advanced planning, you’re probably not squeezing every ounce of church growth juice out of it.

But, often it’s difficult to get your staff team to plan ahead, right? Especially if your lead pastor is the last minute sermon prep type.

I get it.

But, as church communicators, it’s our job to lead up in this department and help your colleagues help you with planning ahead.

Here are 4 reasons it’s important to plan ahead:

  1. Higher Quality – The more time you have, the better you can develop your theme, your graphics, your overall approach, and your follow-up.
  2. Invitation Opportunity – If you want your people to invest and invite (and you should want your attendees to invite their friends and family…it’s the fastest and best way to grow your church), you have to get invitation materials in their hands at an early enough interval for them to be useful.
  3. Production Planning – If your production and worship teams are going to knock it out of the park, they need plenty of time to plan, practice, and even execute (i.e. a stage design) ahead of time.
  4. Holy Spirit – I’ve found when writing a sermon or sermon series, the further ahead I work, the more the Holy Spirit works within me. It never fails, if I’m preaching on grace a month from now and begin working on my sermon that far in advance, the Spirit works in my life on the topic of grace over the course of that month. I become flooded with personal stories, illustrations, and examples of God’s grace in my own life, which allows me to connect my sermon in a personal way. Sometimes in planning ahead, we give God space to move within us.

I could go on, but you get the point and, if you’re a church Communications Director, I’m probably preaching to the choir on the value of getting ahead.

So, let’s move on to the more helpful topic: 

How to Get Your Team to Plan Ahead For Christmas

The key to getting your team to plan ahead is helping your pastor understand the value of planning ahead. The team will value what the pastor values.

As I mentioned, if your pastor isn’t a planner, this could be tricky.

Avoid the temptation to come at him with hard facts. For most non-planner types, that’s going to cause them to bristle and withdraw.

Instead, leverage what your pastor is passionate about.

For example, if your pastor has a high evangelism spiritual gift, frame planning ahead as a way to reach more people with the Gospel.

If hospitality is his/her spiritual gift, then explain how planning ahead a bit can help the church be more welcoming.

One year my pastor was on a kick about becoming a church that other churches look to for resources. So, I suggested that we work ahead and create a killer Christmas program — full of amazing resources such as print pieces, web invitation tools, social graphics, creative elements, production elements, lobby decorations, etc. that other churches could use. He was instantly on board and it was one of the best Christmas series we’ve ever had.

I had another pastor who was very much into the theatrical arts. So, I suggested we begin working in June to write our own Christmas theatrical production. He was totally on board and by October we had entire play written, costumes produced, rehearsals underway, and the full communications spread was already completed.

Along with leveraging your leadership’s passion areas, here are a few additional ways you might be able to induce your team to plan ahead:

Explain how you can leverage other events to promote Christmas. 

For example, if you’ve planned far enough ahead, you can promote your Christmas series or program at Fall Festival.

Bring options to the table.

Often, leaders have so much on their plate putting out fires, they don’t have the creative mental space to begin thinking about Christmas far in advance. But if you can put options on the table to begin sparking the creativity, it saves them a lot of mental work and advances your cause. Even if you don’t know the exact topic your pastor will be speaking on this Christmas, fortunately, Christmas themes are usually predictable. So, show up for a creative meeting with some options in hand (just remember to hold them loosely in your hands).

Find the mutual win.

An area I see a lot of church communicators make a mistake is framing the planning ahead discussion with their needs. Something like, “I need you to plan your sermon 6 weeks ahead so I can get the design done.”

Not to be crass, but your pastor’s job isn’t to make your schedule easier. Quite the opposite, really. You should be there to make your pastor’s life better as you both work toward the common mission.

Find a win-win that you can present to your pastor. “Hey Pastor Bill, I know you’ve been wanting us to do a photo booth in the lobby for special events. How about if we brainstorm your Christmas sermon a little bit and we tie the photo booth into your sermon theme.” 

You’ll go from needy to hero.

Ask permission to schedule a planning meeting.

This seems too easy, but sometimes all that’s needed to get the planning-ahead ball rolling is scheduling a meeting. And, sometimes all you need to do to get that meeting on the calendar is ask permission to schedule it with the relevant parties. Often, the pastor is just too busy to try to coordinate everyone’s schedules and will be relieved that you’ve offered to do this.

Is it beneath the dignity of the communication’s director to schedule meetings for people? Perhaps (but probably not). Wouldn’t you rather lose a little dignity in the short term to accomplish more in your communications role?

Bring the value! Over-deliver!

This one is hard for me to write, but it’s time to speak some truth. Often times, the reason the pastor doesn’t want to work ahead is because the value they’ve received from you in the past hasn’t been worth the effort they’ve put in to help you out.

It’s incumbent upon us as communications directors to over-deliver value when we have the attention of our colleagues.

If you’re tempted to be lazy, to mail it in, or to under-perform, do us all a favor and don’t even ask your pastor to engage with you.

It’s unfair, but it’s pressure that we need to place on ourselves in order to get the results we want.

Use the Planbook to help you with your planning.

Duh. Use the Church Comm Planbook and our Christmas Planner Resource to help you be more prepared and to work ahead.

Work backwards from deadlines. 

This tip seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people fail to do this. Think about when you want promotional materials (printed, video, etc.), then add in the deadlines required to get those materials in time. Add in some design time and there’s your working timeline. 

If you have your timeline together, it’s much easier and legitimate to ask others to work on their timelines.

Planning ahead for big events, especially Christmas, is key to greater reach and effectiveness. Instead of approaching it from a place of entitlement, think about how you can serve your pastor and colleagues so they will desire to work ahead.

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