It’s the time of year when we’ve generally settled into the fall rhythm of life and begin anticipating the next big things coming down the line, namely the Advent and Christmas seasons. Some have decided on a theme/focus for midweek services and at-home devotions. For others, this is the first blip on the radar.
Whether you’re already well on your way to Advent planning success, just starting to think about it, or somewhere in between, Rev. Daniel Ross suggests combining your efforts with Lent planning as well. Not only is the gap between Christmas and Ash Wednesday sometimes small, but planning for these seasons simultaneously helps keep the Gospel story and the anticipation of the resurrection tied together in our minds rather than in isolated events.
Start by selecting themes for the Advent and Lent seasons. Selecting them sets the tone for the work ahead, bringing focus and direction to communication efforts and other planning. You can create your own or use a package. Synods and other organizations often create graphics for congregations to use. You’ll also find resources for the seasons in the Church Year through publishing houses that serve the needs of congregations.
Give yourself a gift; plan and work ahead by batching similar tasks. Once you’ve decided on a theme, focusing your work on one topic, type of task, or another grouping that makes sense for you will save time and can also sharpen skills through repeated practice. Pick a time, block it out on your calendar, and stick to it—your future self (and staff/team and family) will thank you! (If you need some external motivation, pick up a drink from your favorite coffee shop or consider working off site.) Seasons like Advent and Lent are great times to try this way of working if it isn’t already in your wheelhouse.
From a preaching and worship planning perspective, think about things like selecting a service order/structure, slotting hymns, and scheduling worship assistants. Doing each of these tasks at once for this focused period allows us to see how the individual parts support the big picture, decide where repetition is a helpful tool, and identify areas or elements that might need a little extra time or attention.
For seasonal social media, batching tasks like caption writing, image selection, graphic design, advertisement planning, and scheduling content goes a long way in avoiding the hamster wheel of last-minute scurrying when you’re in the thick of Advent or Lent. If you’re looking for some new ideas for Lenten (or Advent) social media, Pastor Ross shares a handful here and here.
Finally, breaking down your congregation’s general communication channels and creating a checklist can help identify specific areas where batch working could be helpful for you. Don’t forget about contact points with the community, printed media, resources for members, outdoor signs, and bulletin boards.
Don’t go it alone—work with others! Whether you enlist others in your congregation (staff or laity), set up brainstorming or work sessions with fellow pastors, church musicians or communicators (locally or virtually), or connect in some other way. Embrace the gift of community and allow the opportunity for iron to sharpen iron. This can also be a great way to implement accountability for the batch working plan you set up.
It may seem silly to take the time to plan for something this far in advance when your urgent to-do list is already overwhelming. But taking small steps and trying new approaches can deliver different, perhaps more favorable, results than you’ve had in the past.
We encourage those we serve to slow down, reflect, repent, and focus on Jesus throughout Advent and Lent. By carving out time to prepare for these seasons, we make space for the spiritual practices that point us to Jesus and nurture the faith we have in Him.
These downloadable charts can help you map out Lent and Advent services step by step for topics, readings, Hymns of the Day, service choices, and additional hymns. Two sample charts are filled in for reference.