I realize that you might be reading the title of this article and thinking, “I go to church in the summertime!” If you’re one of those rare people who attend church year round, or always find a church to attend when you’re on vacation, high five. But most pastors will tell you that church attendance declines during the summer.
I remember speaking in the state of Washington when the women’s ministry director mentioned that they see so few sunny days, they expect that their parishioners will be out taking advantage of the good weather, even on Sundays. They just accept it as a given. That seemed strange to me, and I mused about what message this sent to their children. We’ll go to church if it’s rainy or cold weather, but when God gives us a beautiful day, surely He would want us enjoying it. I think God would want you to enjoy recreation on a sunny day… but not until after you take the family to worship together in God’s sanctuary, the church.
Some churches then take a lackadaisical attitude that many of the pews or chairs are going to be empty in the summer, and they can't do anything about it. That sends a message to parishioners that it’s okay to put summer activities before worshipping God.
Bible study groups or small groups taking a “break” during the summer because many members will be on vacation and the groups will be smaller, reinforces this "oh well" attitude.
But here is the question I always ask when a church or ministry lowers their expectations of attendance in the summer: Does God take a vacation in the summer?
The mentality that if I’m not at my own church, I won’t attend any church, even carries over to “snowbirds,” which we have many of in our community. They are often in an area away from home for four to five months, and I recently asked a couple where they worshipped when they were gone for the winter. They looked at me sheepishly and said they don’t go to church when they’re away, even though they’ve gone to the same place for years.
I told them about my husband and I having a mountain cabin and we started attending the local Bible Church on Sundays. Even though we were members of Saddleback Church, this small church became our second church home. We were always welcomed when we were at our cabin, and now that we’ve moved out of state and aren’t at the cabin as often, when we return it’s as if we never left.
The snowbird couple said there were several churches in the area where they spent the winter and they would visit them when they returned. Sometimes it’s just reminding people that God is wherever they are, and He’s waiting each Sunday for them to come to His house.
If you asked most Christians what was first priority in their life, they probably would give the dutiful answer, God. But if you looked at how they spend their Sundays, especially in the summer, I think it would prove different. Granted some churches have Saturday night services, but that only solves the problem if you attend.
So What Can a Church Do to Encourage Summer Attendance?
1. As summer approaches, the pastor could give a message on the value of Sunday worship together, even during the summer, wherever they are on vacation. Provide a website where they can locate the nearest church to where they will be vacationing. There are many sites, but here’s one where they can put in their location and the type of church where they worship: findachurch.com.
2. Offer an early morning summer service, which allows them to enjoy the rest of the afternoon or add an evening summer service.
3. Camping might make it difficult to find a church, but most national parks have a Sunday service. What could be better than worshipping God in His creation?
4. Provide short summer Bible studies if the “regular ones” are taking a summer break.
5. Encourage small groups to continue their regular meetings, even if everyone isn’t in town.
6. Plan fun church events like a church picnic, carnival, or special weekend music.
7. Every summer month has a holiday… Memorial Day, 4th of July, and Labor Day. Make those special times and plan events that involve church members in planning and serving.
8. Host a free Vacation Bible School (VBS) as an outreach to the community and invite the children and their families to attend your church.
"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:24-25)
Janet Thompson is an international speaker, freelance editor, and award-winning author of 18 books including, new release Forsaken God?: Remembering the Goodness of God Our Culture Has Forgotten, and The Team That Jesus Built, Dear God, Why Can’t I Have a Baby?, Dear God They Say It’s Cancer, Praying for Your Prodigal Daughter. She is also the founder of Woman to Woman Mentoring and About His Work Ministries. Visit Janet at: womantowomanmentoring.com.
Publication date: June 21, 2016