Getting Started with Church Project Management

by | Administration, Leadership, Operations

From sermon preparation to coordinating volunteers and training small group leaders (and more), there’s a lot that goes into leading a church. One way to keep all these efforts running smoothly is by implementing a project management process for your church.

Defining “Project” and “Project Management”

Before we get into church project management, we need to deal with projects. So, what is a project? According to the Project Management Institute, a project is “temporary in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.” 

In other words…

  • Planning this week’s services is a project.
  • Hosting a marriage retreat is a project. 
  • Running VBS is a project. 

With that in mind, project management involves coordinating all the tasks, team members, and resources needed to make the project a success.

How Does this Apply to Ministry?

Most churches have more vision and activities planned than they have resources. To have any hope of not working late nights and weekends (beyond Sunday, of course), you have to be organized and efficient with what you do have available. Using a standard process to coordinate and organize the work helps everyone be more efficient and effective.

Project management is a term we don’t use much in ministry. It sounds very corporate-y, so it tends to get tossed aside. However, after using project management principles in both corporate and church environments, I can personally attest to its usefulness.

Projects such as launching a ministry program, hosting a conference, or starting a new outreach are in addition to the day-to-day responsibilities and can stretch your team to their limit. The key to not wearing everyone out while delivering an excellent result is in planning and project management.

Before I go into detail about how to use project management principles, I want to introduce you to the benefits you can reap from a church project management process:

Benefit #1: Less Rework

Planning involves doing work on paper before you do it in real life. When you plan, you can brainstorm and think through various scenarios well ahead of any deadlines. You can make your mistakes on paper (and identify better ways of scheduling tasks or handling various situations) instead of when a deadline is looming in front of you.

Benefit #2: Increased Excellence

It’s hard to go the extra mile when you’re already exhausted. Planning ahead and carefully managing the plan gives you margin. You can use that margin to do the extra things that take your event over the top and deliver for your community.

Benefit #3: Ability to Deliver On-Time and Within Budget

When it’s down to the wire and it just has to get done, you’re more likely to feel justified in spending the extra money to finish. However, if you carefully plan the timeline and budget, you’re much less likely to have last-minute emergencies.

Benefit #4: Less Risk

Part of the planning process involves considering the risks involved in the event or new program. You may need to purchase liability insurance for the event or make contingency plans in case of bad weather.

Benefit #5: More Creative Freedom

Using a structured planning process may not sound like it would allow for creativity. However, when you plan ahead and allow for margin within your timeline, you can create room for brainstorming sessions and a few iterations of creative concepts. You can’t let the creatives on your team tweak the graphics or décor forever, but you should give them enough time to come up with their best work.

Benefit #6: Less Stress and Fewer Late Nights

You’ve seen (and experienced) it too. The week before a big deadline is fraught with last-minute changes and many late nights at work. Tempers may flare, communication is spotty at best, and you’re all just ready for it to be over. It doesn’t have to be that way. Planning ahead and then working the plan prevents this last-minute craziness.

Benefit #7: Increased Buy-In from the Team

Your team needs to understand the “why” behind this new program or event. Part of the planning process involves defining what success looks like and communicating that to the team. That unifies the group and enables them to communicate more effectively and make better decisions. Then they can all head in the same direction with purpose and enthusiasm.

Benefit #8: More Volunteers

A lack of planning leads to sending out a desperate plea for volunteers a few days before the event. The volunteers who set aside their schedules to help likely receive very little communication or training. In that scenario, your volunteers are frustrated and annoyed. They’re serving because they believe in the ministry of your church – so much that they’ll put up with the chaos this time. However, don’t count on that continuing for long if you repeat this process often.

Benefit #9: More Effective Communication

Invest the time upfront to plan how and when you’ll communicate this event or new program. You’ll want to consider service announcements, social media posts, billboards, website updates and registration, emails, signage around the church, etc.  When you coordinate this communication, it will be apparent to your congregation and the community what you’re doing, why, and how to get involved. That will increase participation and make the whole launch day run smoother.

Benefit #10: Peace of Mind

Now, I know that God is our source of peace. I’m not taking away from that at all. In addition to trusting Him for wisdom and direction, we need to use the skills He provides and give thought to our ways. The simple act of documenting the tasks required to complete a project brings a measure of peace. You can see what needs to be done, who’s responsible for each item, and that you have a schedule in place to get everything done on time. Yes, you’ll have issues to handle along the way, but the volume is much less when you plan ahead. That brings peace and helps you be a good steward of the resources (time, money, and talent) that God has provided.

Hopefully, by now you’re at least intrigued by the benefits of a church project management process. 

Here’s How to Get Started with Church Project Management:

Tip #1: Compile a List of Projects

For starters, you need to identify the projects you have ongoing or that you have planned for the coming 6-12 months. This could be events to host, launching a small group program, a sermon series, etc. Note when each project is due, who is in charge (who makes final decisions), and who’s involved (staff members and volunteers). 

Tip #2: Assign a Project Manager

Each project needs one person to gather and compile a list of tasks, establish due dates and task assignments, monitor progress, and ensure the team members communicate effectively. You might have 1-2 people who manage all projects, or you might have one person per ministry area who handles this as part of their job. However you structure it, the key is to have one person who knows everything about a project.

Tip #3: Establish a Consistent Project Management Process

Each project manager should have a similar process for initiating and running a project. A typical project management process includes the following steps:

  • Step #1: Initiate the project. This involves determining the purpose and scope of the project, key deadlines (the day you’ll host an event, for example), and the budget. 
  • Step #2: Planning the project. During this step, the project manager will meet with each team member to gather a list of tasks that the team must complete for a successful project. The project manager should then put these tasks into a project plan, ideally in an online tool such as Basecamp, Asana, Clickup, Trello, Monday, or whichever tool your team prefers.
  • Step #3: Executing the project. Here is where the rubber meets the road. The project manager should host a kick-off meeting with all team members, then make sure everyone understands the vision and scope of the project and how they’ll communicate progress along the way. Finally, during this step, the team completes all the tasks listed in the project plan. 
  • Step #4: Monitoring the project. This step happens concurrently with executing the project. The project manager monitors each team member’s progress and helps guide the team’s efforts as needed. Typically, a project manager will also provide regular updates to the church leader in charge of the project (this could be the senior pastor or the leader of the department hosting the event or program). Using an online project management tool makes tracking tasks, reporting progress, and sharing related files much easier.
  • Step #5: Closing. We’re usually ready to quickly move on once an event is over or the program is launched. After all, there’s always another effort to start next. However, a project isn’t fully complete until you’ve handled a few closing tasks. This includes gathering lessons learned, collecting all project materials into a central location, and celebrating as a team.

Leveraging a project management process can result in achieving your ministry vision sooner, with less stress and expenses along the way. Talk with your teams today to determine how you might create a project management plan in your church.

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