Stop singing the summer attendance blues
SUMMARY: It happens every year. As the mercury rises, the number of feet bounding through your church’s doors decreases. With children out of school and families taking vacations or participating in outdoor activities, it can be difficult to keep up attendance numbers during the summer. Yet, the need to worship doesn’t go away.
Recognizing the challenge is the first step; taking action is the second. Here are some ways to encourage summer worship.
1. Consider offering a Sunday-evening service.
Getting the children dressed and ready for early morning worship isn’t an easy task. With many summer activities starting in late morning or early afternoon, a late-morning service has lots of competition. Consider offering an early-evening service in the summer, providing an option for busy families with daytime activities or out-of-town, weekend travel. Make the services family-friendly. Use upbeat music. Consider using video clips to reinforce the message. After the service, gather for a potluck or covered-dish dinner so the fellowship can continue.
2. Get youthful in the community.
Offer a summer camp to keep your church in the minds of children – and of their parents, especially those who may need assistance with childcare. Keep your camp simple. Make it low-cost or free. Offer scholarships, if possible. Host your camp at the church and feature simple arts and crafts, outdoor sports and, of course, Bible studies and lessons. Ileadyouth.com provides resources for youth ministry from Cokesbury. The children’s section of the General Board of Discipleship website also has many resources. Your vacation Bible school can have a similar effect involving children, youth and their parents in the church.
For maximum attendance, open your camp and vacation Bible school to the community. List it in local family-oriented magazines and local newspaper calendars as well as on community websites. Distribute fliers to community organizations and other churches to inform their members about your activities. Share your website address where you can post information related to camp or VBS. Post video clips of previous camps or VBS on YouTube, Facebook and your church’s website! Check out these short tutorials on uploading and editing videos on Facebook. Be sure you have parents’ permission before posting videos or photos in which children can be identified.
3. Sing a different note.
Ask choir members to provide their vacation schedules, as possible, at the beginning of the summer. If you see a week many of the men will be away, consider featuring an all-female group. If many of the women will be gone, feature a barbershop quartet. Plan your music accordingly. Try a summer-only choir made up of regular choir members who are present and other members of the congregation who may be more available in the summer. Perhaps you can go sans choir and instruments one week for an a cappella congregational singing experience.
4. Take advantage of the weather.
Provide church-centered and church-sponsored outdoor activities. Set up a booth at your community’s summer fair or work with others on community activities such as safety forums or summer concerts. Take your church to a park on a warm day for worship and a picnic. Distribute bottles of water and attach a card with your service schedule to interest community members.
5. Combine services and activities with another church.
Do you have a sister church nearby? Consider teaming up to offer regular services to both congregations while your attendance is lower than usual. You also can collaborate for summer camps, Bible studies and other programs. This approach eliminates gaps when staff and other leaders are on vacation and saves on air-conditioning and electricity costs.
6. Share in others’ vacations.
Help your congregation find United Methodist churches where they vacation. Ask virtually or in person where people are going, then find the closest church to them using Find-A-Church. Email the service times to them and tell leaders of the church you recommended that guests will be coming. When your members return, ask them to share their experience and ideas from the "vacation" church. Such sharing may lead to new activities or ways to do things at your church.
Host a vacation night at the end of the summer and make sure all your congregation knows. Have families bring photo albums to share with friends. You even could ask them to send images or video clips and create a projected presentation that runs throughout the event. If that seems like too large a task, consider incorporating their vacation experiences in an end-of-summer service.
7. Make it easy for newcomers and guests to find you.
Check your congregation’s information on your Find-A-Church page. If you have a different Sunday schedule in the summer, be certain it is on the first page where visitors will see it. Check that the list of ministries your church offers is current. Many people relocate in the summer and begin their search for a church home. Current and accurate information at Find-A-Church says, "We look forward to meeting you and welcoming you."
8. Embrace the downtime.
Take advantage of free time in the summer to brainstorm new and creative ideas or plan specially targeted activities. Are there ministries you’ve wanted to plan but haven’t had time to do? Are there short mission trips you can take with your youth? Think about your congregation’s makeup and how to benefit it the most during the slower summer months.