I LOVE planning out a ministry year. Some people see it as a frustrating task or a necessary evil. I see it as an opportunity to refine our priorities and begin to get excited about the coming season. It’s also a great opportuity to get away with my team and work on something together. Typically, I schedule a two day offsite and we’ll dedicate half of one of the days to the caledar.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about what needs to happen before you put a single date one your calendar. Call it theoretical if you want, but doing these three things will help make the practical task of filling up the calendar with events far more purposeful. Anyone can put stuff on the calendar, so don’t make that your goal. So, if you haven’t read that post yet, do it now.

Okay, let’s talk about the tools and the process for planning out 12-18 months of ministry.


Okay, so I usually find a place where we won’t be distrubed and where we have access to a giant wall. I’ll fill the wall with 12-18 months of calendar. There are several ways to do this. Most of the time, I would print out 18 months of calendar on a wide-format printer. I’d export a PDF of 18 months of calendar from Google Calendar or from PDFCalendar.com. I’d have a graphic designer take the calendar into illustrator or some other software and stack the months into two rows. Our wide-format prints 48 inches wide, so each month would be a little less that to feet tall by about 3 feet wide. I’d run six months horizontally and another six months below the top row. It’s really great to be able to see an entire year on one piece of paper four feet tall by 20-24 feet wide. It helps you see patterns and especially busy seasons. Don’t worry if you don’t have access to the printer. The last time I did calendar planning, I used Google Calendar and printed each month on 11×17 tabloid paper. We’ve also purchased a 12-18 month desk calendar and just taped individual sheets to the wall.

We’ll use both colored markers/sharpies and colored post-it notes for the calendaring process. For instance, we know that we do certain things every month, like a baptism class. We’ll use a red marker and just put that down for the first Sunday of every month. We do NextGen baptisms on the 3rd Wednesdays of August, November, February and May. We just place those dates in Green. Color coding helps you visually see the differnt types of events, pograms or classes you have scheduled.

We’ll also use the color coded post-it notes for special events or programs we’re still uncertain about. Early into the calendar process, we might put all our child dedications one the calendar with post-it notes knowing that we may move them around some as we get closer to finalizing the calendar. In the final stages of calendaring, we’re moving post-it notes constantly to find the dates that seem most strategic. Once we are sure of a date, we remove the post-it note and write the event in with the color colded marker.


Once we have the time, the tools and the place, we begin the process which we pretty much follow every time we do calendar planning. Here’s what it looks like.

Start with holidays, local events and big church activities

We never start with an empty calendar. The first step is to know what we’re going to have to work around. When is Easter this year? Where does Thanksgiving fall? When is our church’s leadership weekend and the big all staff retreat. If the mens or women’s ministries do annual retreats, get those dates. Denomination related gatherings or big national conferences, put them on the calendar. Don’t forget about school holidays, teacher work days, spring break and the start and end of school dates. Pay attention to local events that will affect your audience. We’d be remiss to schedule a child dedication the same Saturday as a big University of Texas football game. It won’t affect everybody, but if we could schedule it the following week, everyone wins. We see a noticible decline in attendance and volunteer involvement around the Capital 10K Race, Austin City Limits and South by Southwest – so we’re not going to schedule things that would conflict.

Schedule recurring events

After we know what we have to wok with, we start putting our events on the calendar. We like to begin with the recurring events. Baptism classes, volunteer tours, Child Dedications and special trainings. For us, the recurring events are more successful when they have a predictable schedule. Parents know that there is a baptism class on the first Sunday of the month. Child Dedication is always going to happen on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. Volunteer Tours happen on the 2nd and 4th Sundays. Getting these recurring events on the calendar first help paint a picture of how the year is shaping up and where space exists for unique and stand alone events.

Schedule the unique and stand-alone events

Now that your calendar is shaping up and you can see where you have room to breath, you can look at where you’re going to put that special event for parents or the mission trip for your teenagers. If some of your larger events are date specific, put them on the calendar with a post-it note and see if some of the recurring events could shift for just one month. Although we do Baptism Class on the first Sunday of every month, we don’t do it in June. It usually ends up being a busy weekend with promotion preview services, our mission trip commissioning service and too many other things – so we just don’t do baptism class that month.

Keep your audience in mind

Remember that you’re calendar has more than one audience. Are you keeing everyone in mind?

Staff: When are your offsites? When do you try to get away to dream an plan strategic moves? Several months before our biggest events, we know that we’re going to need extended time to plan. We go ahead and put these things on the calendar, otherwise, they’re probbaly not going to happen.

Volunteers: Are we going to schedule any major recruiting initiatives? When will orientations and trainings happen? Are you planning any kind of appreciation? Is there a key training event that we want to take our key leaders to? Make sure these events land on the calendar.

Families: How are you going to inspire, resource or train parents this year? Is there something you’re planning that you want every parent to attend, or maybe a specific group like single moms or parents of rising 6th graders. Get those things on the calendar as well as a communication plan so parents know to come.

Kids: Well, this is obvious. Usually they’re the ones we have in mind when we’re calendaring. Just don’t forget about the others.

Plan to dedicate 3-4 hours to the entire calendar process. Usually we’ll do this in late summer or early fall and we’ll spend just a couple of hours on this in January or February to firm up the events that were more than 12 months out when we had the main calendar meeting (for instance, school calendars aren’t usually out more than 12 months out, so we’ll tentatively plan out the events more than 12 months out in September and confirm everything in January or February).

Lastly, my team will all open up our computers (google calendar) and input dates on our official ministry calendar. By each taking a couple of months, we can knock out this part in less than twenty minutes. We’ll wrap up usually with one person verbally walking through the entire calendar on the wall while one or more people are verifying that it matches the google calendar.