You’ve probably heard of (and maybe even used) one of the popular project management tools such as Asana, Basecamp, or Trello. While these tools are helpful, simply using one won’t get you the results you need when it comes to effectively managing church projects.

What does that mean?

Well, let’s start by defining project management:

Project management involves using a standard process to plan and manage all tasks related to achieving a successful project outcome.

To go one level deeper, a project is a one-time effort with a specific start and finish. For example:

  • Selecting and implementing a new church management system is a project.
  • Launching a new small groups ministry is a project.
  • Installing a new sound system is a project.

It’s easy to sign up for the latest online tool and think that it will make your team more efficient at managing projects. If only it were that simple. Just like a new to-do list app on your phone won’t suddenly make you amazingly productive, a new tool for your team won’t make running projects magically easier.

You just might be suffering from the consequences of bad church project management if you’re dealing with any of these issues:

  • Missed deadlines
  • Stressed out staff members
  • Late nights at the office
  • Low event attendance
  • Minimal acceptance of a new church management system
  • Overpaying for products or services

These problems arise when we don’t have a standard process to define and manage our projects. Simply stating that we’re going to remodel the stage and lighting design doesn’t provide clarity for the team. You’ll end up with lots of well-intentioned meetings but not enough concrete decisions or action to get the work done in a reasonable timeframe.

A project management process can alleviate these issues.

Here’s how to avoid the consequences of bad church project management in two steps and seven phases:

Step #1: Decide What You’ll Manage as a Project

Special events, software implementations or upgrades, and church beautification efforts are a few examples of projects churches typically undertake in a given year. Define and document what types of work you’ll use a project management process to complete.

Step #2: Develop a Project Management Process

Fortunately, you don’t have to create this process from scratch. Below is a process that you can adapt for your church.

Each project needs the following phases:

Phase #1: Clarify the Vision

Define the purpose of the project, high-level timeline, budget, and scope. During this phase, you should assign a staff member to be the project manager.

A project manager is a person responsible for developing the project plan, reminding team members of upcoming task deadlines, helping the team troubleshoot issues, keeping leadership informed of the team’s progress, and providing general oversight of the project.

Phase #2: Develop the Plan

Next, the project manager creates a project plan. The project plan consists of all the tasks needed to complete the project. Your project manager should talk with each staff member who has a role in the project to identify his or her tasks.

In addition to tasks, the project plan should include who is responsible for each task, when each task is due, and if a task depends on another task to finish before it can start.

Phase #3: Assemble the Team

During this phase, decide which staff members (and possibly volunteers) should be on the team. Base these decisions on the needs of the project and each staff member’s current role.

Phase #4: Execute the Plan

This is where you move from talking about what the team needs to do, to doing the work. A word of caution: Just because this is where the action is, doesn’t mean you can afford to skip the first three phases.

Defining the project and creating a plan make the execution phase much more successful than it would be otherwise.  Consider this: The first few phases involve doing the work on paper. You can make lots of mistakes (and correct them easily) in those phases. Once you get to execution, mistakes become real and expensive.

Phase #5: Monitor & Report Progress

This phase runs concurrently with the Execute phase. The project manager will monitor the team’s progress using the project plan and will report to church leadership how things are going.

Tools such as Asana, Trello, Basecamp, and others are useful in the Execute and Monitor & Report Progress phases as they retain all the tasks in a central location. Team members can receive automated reminders of upcoming tasks, update their progress, share files, and collaborate with other team members all from within the online tool.

Phase #6: Complete the Project

Here’s where all the work converges, and you will have a finished product. This could be the day of your small groups rollout, the launch of a new church management system, or some other multi-stepped project you’ve poured your heart into.

Phase #7: Lead Post-Project Activities

You haven’t wrapped up the project until you’ve finished these three final tasks:

  • Celebrate the win – Your team has just pulled off an effort that required months of planning and hard work. Savor the moment and celebrate together.
  • Conduct a “lessons learned” session – Discuss with the team what went well that should be repeated for future projects. Also, discuss what didn’t go well and how phases can be improved for the next project.
  • Compile a project notebook – You’ll probably do a similar project in the future. Don’t let the plan, vendor contracts, lessons learned, and other materials you created go to waste. Save these documents in a central location and refer to them when you start planning the next project.

A standard church project management process can help you prevent unnecessary frustration, extra work, and additional expenses. You’ll also increase your team’s capacity and effectiveness in ministry. To learn more about good church project management, check out this free resource: “The Church Project Management Quick Start Guide.”