School is out, the weather warms, and summer church attendance wanes with the expected vacation season. This can be disheartening to pastors and leaders who serve their congregation all year in the ebb and flow of seasons. If your summer season is less attended, it does not mean your church has to stop reaching out. In fact, the summer season might be a perfect time to connect with new people in need of the community your church offers. Beyond that, the Gospel never rests. Every season is a season for good news. So, when your church pews seem to thin out for the season, there are ways to take the church out to the people and manually boost your summer church attendance.
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Several times in the past decades of ministry, I have had the opportunity to be part of leadership teams that leveraged the summer season. This choice took convincing in the flock in some cases. The arm-twisting to extend an arm is often well worth it. The writer of Hebrews says that our worship should not be neglected as it is a time to “prod” us on to good works. And, it is true that our vertical acts of worship mean little without the horizontal acts of love. These are connected. Jesus forever combined the Great Commandment and the Second. Loving God and loving people are not two separate things, in other words. So, summer worship–whether light or not–can be as meaningful as any other season.
One ministry I served made summer a part of their strategy, reaching hundreds each year! Most churches do a Vacation Bible School of sorts. However, one ministry I was a part of took that to dozens of homes and neighborhoods. Instead of a church event, it was a block party in every region of the city. Kids brought their friends. Neighbors provided cookies, and the teens of the church were conscripted to lead a lot of the fun, providing meaningful ministry and training. Kids–and their families–heard the gospel on their own street while having tons of fun. And, the whole church was enthusiastically mobilized.
Another highlight at yet another church was our desire to become less self-focused and give love away to our neighbors. We canceled church for the morning services and spent the entire day doing service projects in rest homes and giving food to our local homeless population. What could have been chaotic seemed to unify our church–even if for a moment–on our call to love our neighbors and city. All ages were involved, with whole families together on projects. Many decided to create their own projects, which gave them ownership. At the end of the day, we were all tired, but our evening worship was probably the most energetic and heartfelt in the history of that church. Serving energizes our worship.
In yet another ministry, the end of summer brought an outside event where hundreds of backpacks would be given away for school-aged children. Free haircuts, clothes, and access to food met the real needs of people who attended. Music was provided on a stage and food was cooked by church members. Sitting together at a table with members of your community with no strings attached sends a message that you love them. Just like Christ’s table, the invitation is for all to come and enjoy. Taking the table out to be with others is a powerful expression of the Gospel. As with all of these events, you are not separating yourself from the people you are reaching out to. You eat with them. That is what the table is all about.
Lower summer church attendance does not have to mean lower engagement. In each community, there are specific events a church can participate in. If there is a charity walk, or a trash pick up, or hours to serve outside the walls of your church, you have choices. Invigorating your summer worship services may then not be as much about drawing more people to your church. It may be more about bringing your church out to the people. The four walls need not limit us, so break the walls of your church, because hearing the Good News is essential. But, sometimes we have to show it first.