As I write this e-mail, Marsha and I are on vacation. The last eight years our summer vacation has consisted of traveling back to Indiana to visit family, but this year we realized we needed to leave Indiana to get some time off. So we have traveled back to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, a place we visited once previously, for some time away. What have we found here? Heat and humidity, sunshine, beach, more heat and humidity, and lots of morning haze. We like to bike, so we brought along our bicycles, and we are trying to bike while it is relatively cool (under 90) in the morning.
Lazy, hazy days of summer -- that's what one song calls it. In church we also call it the "summer slump" as many churches find themselves dealing with reduced attendance, fewer activities, and lots of people gone on vacation. Part of that is natural and good, because everyone needs the change of pace which summer brings. Part of that is also self-fulfilling prophecy when we say, "Well, there will be fewer people around, so let's stop having all of the small groups, activities, and special worship times which draw people to church during the school year." It makes we wonder, "Which comes first? The summer slump of attendance or our summer slump of activities and ministries?" Or, to put it more directly, "Do our plans help to create the summer slump?"
I notice that some of our churches do not simply "give up" and surrender to the summer slump. Instead, they recognize that summer brings different lifestyles and different schedules, so they plan on ways to minister to people in the midst of those changes. Some churches have outdoor, casual worship services. Many churches have Bible Schools, sometimes in the evenings in order to include adult attendance. A few churches even have Senior Bible School, so that older adults have special events. Lots of these churches plan special worship services on summer Sundays, in order to build participation around special themes (Father's Day, Children's Day, a patriotic Sunday around the 4th, the Sunday morning Bible School program, Grandparents Day, etc.). Oftentimes these special Sundays bring in additional participation which more than offsets those who are traveling. Many churches look for ways to include and welcome traveling visitors (even while encouraging their own traveling members to attend worship while they are away). Preparing to welcome traveling visitors includes things like making sure our church signs and ads reflect the summer schedule (rather than forcing visitors to guess when we meet in the summer), placing ads in motels and other places frequented by travelers, and having special greeting times in worship for visitors (much like Southern churches have learned to do with "snowbirds" who live there in the winter months).
We usually get what we plan for. Do we intend to have a summer slump and so we plan for it? Or do we intend to enhance our ministry to a changing culture during the summer and thus we plan for that? Most summer vacations require planning. Most summer ministry requires planning, too. Have a great summer, and start planning now for a better summer of ministry next year.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner