Leverage technology to maximize outreach and build community this fall
By Brian Byersdorf
As a church leader, you’re probably feeling the so-called “summer slump” harder than usual in your attendance and tithing.
Referring to the seemingly inevitable dip in church participation between June and August, the summer slump of 2022 has been exacerbated by several external factors.
Even the usual suspect — summer vacation — has a supercharged impact this year. According to one survey, more than 80% of Americans plan to take a vacation this summer — a 42% increase from last year.
And while it’s difficult to assess the pandemic’s long-term impact on church attendance, most congregations have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, and are still experiencing precipitous drops in in-person attendance and tithing levels.
Combined with the looming threat of a recession, record-high gas prices, and skyrocketing inflation, it’s no wonder that many church leaders are wondering if the summer slump is the “new normal” for now.
Here’s the good news: While the summer slump might be — for the most part — unavoidable, the fall season represents an opportunity to re-engage your congregation and reach out to new guests. But it’s not going to happen on its own. You’ll need to start planning now to maximize your church’s outreach efforts in the fall.
Here are four ways to re-engage your congregation after the summer slump.
1. Leverage back-to-school campaigns.
After the structureless “dog days of summer,” most families are eager to introduce stability into their schedules. Church programs you might have put on a hiatus during the summer (like Sunday night church, weekly youth group, and Bible studies) are some of the quickest pathways to get people back to church and into a routine. Families that make church attendance a part of their regular schedule at the beginning of the academic year are more likely to stay engaged throughout the year.
However, it’s up to you to let people know that programs are starting back up. Push notifications from your church’s app are a great way to ensure your updates aren’t lost in a social media feed or email inbox.
But don’t limit your back-to-school efforts to families with younger kids. The seasonal influx of college students shouldn’t be neglected if you have a college or university in your town.
Events with free food are always a safe bet with college students, but community is what will ultimately sustain engagement throughout the academic year. When reaching out to new and returning college students, encourage plugging into small groups that meet weekly outside of the church.
2. Raise community awareness by helping out local classrooms and teachers.
The beginning of the academic school year is a can’t-miss opportunity for the local church to step up and support their community — especially regarding teachers. Teachers have had it rough the past couple of years, from the pandemic to budget cuts.
Teachers are often on the hook for their own classroom’s supplies (Kleenex, scissors, pencils, paint, books, etc.). A great idea would be Sunday school classes in your church to sponsor (or adopt) a classroom or teacher at your local school and help purchase all the school supplies they’ll need for the upcoming year. Using the Needs function in your church’s ChMS, a Sunday school teacher or group leader can post or assign the necessary materials and supplies.
While it might seem only tangentially related to “breaking the summer slump,” community involvement is a beautiful and faithful way to raise awareness for your church and build goodwill.
3. Host a fall launch event.
Depending on your church’s size and budget, you could rent a few food trucks or inflatables to give the event a “carnival-like” atmosphere. And, if that happens to be outside your price range, there’s nothing wrong with a good old-fashioned “potluck” with yard games and food contests.
If your church has a big enough parking lot or family event center, you can host the event there, or you could opt to reserve a local park or playground. In either case, give your church enough time to get the word out. Raising awareness via social media is a good start, but you don’t want to limit your audience to people who already follow your social media accounts. Create fliers to canvas the local neighborhood and encourage your engaged members to invite friends and neighbors.
During the event, be sure to have volunteers operating booths or tables with more information about signing up and getting involved at the church — youth groups, Bible studies, sports teams, etc. And while we don’t recommend delivering a sermon or message at the event, it’s probably wise to have someone from church leadership welcome everyone and let them know everything your church has to offer.
4. Check in on families who have stopped giving or attending.
As church leaders, we tend to take drops in attendance and giving personally. But, sometimes, a family’s or individual’s physical or financial disengagement from your church can be a symptom of a much more pressing issue.
Maybe someone got laid off from their job, a family is going through a divorce, or a parent received a bad diagnosis. Whatever the issue, a drop-off in attendance or giving is often a “red flag” that something is amiss. At these junctures, checking in with your congregants is how the church can be the hands and feet of Jesus.
However, you’ll completely miss these warning signs if you’re not tracking giving patterns and attendance trends on an individual level. Make sure your ChMS and giving software are equipped with the tools necessary to alert you when someone begins drifting away.
As you develop your plan on ways to re-engage your community this fall, be sure to consider ways technology can help do the heavy lifting on logistics and communication, so you can focus on what matters most — people. Also, while these are ways to re-engage after the summer slump, don’t throw in the towel on summer just yet. Be sure to check out ways to beat the summer slump.
Brian Byersdorf deeply cares about the Church and has worked with thousands of pastors and leadership teams to help them better understand how technology can play a role in helping churches achieve their mission.
He is currently a Board member at Central Community Church, a church he helped plant several years ago. He has also been with Pushpay for more than seven years.
Views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and organization represented.