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Heat up lukewarm summer attendance

SUMMARY: Every pastor knows what happens to church attendance in the summer. The nicer the weather, the emptier the pews. It's not easy to compete with vacation trips.

Summertime activities can distract even the most ardent churchgoers. Congregations try all sorts of things to boost their summer attendance. Some look to tried-and-true marketing techniques for inspiration, while others play to the strong social aspects of the church network.

Here are a few ideas from across the country:

Give something away.
A Florida church gave free iTunes gift vouchers for a three-week seminar series called "i: Living in a Self-Absorbed World." It gave $15 vouchers (one per family) for three straight weekends. A Missouri congregation doled out two trips to Disneyland, valued at $3,000 each, to promote attendance at a teaching series.

Play to social instincts.
The support system of the people who make up the body of Christ draws many people to a church. Take advantage of this, with a series of summer networking events. At First United Methodist Church in downtown Little Rock, Ark., annual offerings include a summer picnic, block party and ice cream social. Another church uses summer weekends to assist older adults with minor household repairs.

Do something silly.
A pastor in Des Moines, Iowa, plays dress-up in the summer with themed Sunday services and urges his congregation to do likewise. His attire ranges from full clown gear to a western character named Marshall Wayne Eastwood (a combination of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood). He hopes the fun, informal services will remind people to set aside an hour on Sunday for worship.

Promote air conditioning.
If your church has air conditioning, that itself can be a draw. Use the sign outside your church to talk about staying cool during worship.

Share traveling bear.
Ministry-to-Children.com details a fun idea about Barnabas Bear here. When children from the church go on vacation, they receive a stuffed bear and little backpack with a notebook and a pencil. Throw in a disposable camera if budget allows. Children can detail their travels, then bring the bear and their memories to share with other children in the congregation.

If all else fails, it is wise to consider advice from Tony Kummer, a children's pastor in Indiana. When he finds himself discouraged by disappearing faces in the summer, he remembers these five ways to beat the blues:

  • Thank God for those who come – regardless of the size of the crowd.
  • Pray for those who are absent, even if they are just on vacation. Pray extra for those who are just getting extra sleep.
  • Preach with all your might because every churchgoer matters to God.
  • Take advantage of the smaller crowd to build relationships.
  • Keep working hard and trust God to bring in the numbers.