It’s August 1st.
For most youth ministries things really kick off in 30 days. That means in the next 30 days you need a publishable Fall calendar, you need to check in with all of your volunteers to make sure they are coming back, and you need to host a volunteer training meeting as well as schedule a parents meeting.
Plus, you have all your normal day-to-day work. And you still have summer ministry stuff going.
The Vortex of Doom
Remember that feeling you had in May? The one that looked at what you were doing through a critical, tired eye? The one that said… “Gosh, this was pretty good but we can do a lot better.” The one that resolved to make 2012-2013 better?
Remember how you were relieved to have made it through your annual review unscathed? You left that meeting with a sinking feeling that you probably bought another year before people start demanding “results.”
And now you’re here. You have taken the time to evaluate the past year. You’ve taken a little time away from normality to get some perspective.
And now there is a lot of temptation in your busyness to just do what you did last year with a few minor revisions and hope for different results.
I call that the Vortex of Doom. The Vortex of Doom is that rushed feeling you feel right now, anxiety whispering in your ear… “You won’t be ready in time!” The Vortex has gravitational pull to “just get stuff done” and results in you not doing your very best.
If you give into the Vortex of Doom every August and plan to do what you did last year, just a little bit different and just a little bit better, than don’t be surprised when you get to May 2013 and you:
a. Feel worse than you did in May 2012…
b. Get fired because you delivered the same results yet again…
I promise you this. If you take 48 hours and re-evaluate your 2012-2013 plan right now… you’ll be thankful all year.
If you do last years strategy with only minor changes you will not see a different result. Why? Because a bad strategy, wonderfully executed and fully funded, is still a bad strategy. Doing it again this year, with gusto, won’t change things. Investing in your past will never lead to your future.
You work with teenagers… change has to be in your DNA to survive.
The 48 Hour Self-Retreat
Here’s one of my little secrets. While it’s really hard to get my team away for a planning retreat, it’s actually pretty simple to identify 2 full days of planning for myself. Then I can schedule some meetings with key leaders as part of my retreat, say have coffee or have them over for dinner, and they are participating in the planning retreat without even leaving home. (Or knowing they are on your retreat. BAM!)
Tasks for the 48 Hour Self-Retreat
- Prayer. Spend an hour or so each day in silent prayer. I’ve found it useful to spend the first 30 minutes just listening and slowing down. Next, I like to spend the first day praying for all of my leaders and students. The second day is spent asking God for wisdom.
- Celebrate the victories. I’ve found it really useful to spend an hour or two celebrating what God has done in the previous year. What were wins? Who were the people impacted?
- Make some resolutions. What big things need to change? Maybe it’s your target demographic. Maybe it’s what students learn? I can’t answer that for you.
- Two-fold research. First, spend 2 hours doing a basic ethnography at 2 different places. Do observation, take notes, etc. (Here’s a link to how to do that.)
- Meet with 2-3 key volunteers to ideate. I like to get this to a point of asking, “What if” and “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” statements.
- Meet with 2-3 key student leaders to ideate. Same as above. Depending on your set-up you might even do t his with those adult leaders. A dinner is a good way to accomplish that.
- Meet with 2-3 “fringe students” to listen, dream, ideate. I actually like to meet with a couple groups of them. Those in the church who should be involved somehow but aren’t. And those truly on the fringe, maybe have visited a couple of times and you see at school, but aren’t engaged at all. Take them out for a coke or go to Dairy Queen… something simple like that works wonders.
- Spend a couple hours compiling all of this data, identifying the top 5 learnings. Do this before lunch on the second day.
- Have a “So now what” session. Go into a room with a big white board, chalk board, or butcher block paper and just start brainstorming ideas. Look at your data and your learnings and start saying… “So now what?” If you can gather your team for this, awesome. But seriously… this is one of the most critical parts of the process, otherwise you just learned a bunch of stuff but haven’t done anything with it.
- Identify 1 measurable difference for the coming school year. It’s not that you are only doing one new thing… it’s that you want to everyone to be able to clearly identify what that 1 thing is and recognize it when they see it. For example, last school year the ministry I volunteer with wanted to dramatically increase the “I know you” factor. So we changed a whole bunch of things so that the group interacted more, hung out more, and got to know one another. At the end of the school year we could all point to that and say.. “Yep, that’s way better.”
So, how did it go? I’d love to hear how your 48-hour retreat went!