Can churches grow in the summer? Of course they can.
In fact, churches should grow in the summer. However, they rarely do, and it’s for one simple reason: Their leaders let down too much.
Some churches I know do away with children’s ministry for the summer to give their teachers a rest. Others quit small groups or put virtually nothing on the church calendar. Some preachers re-preach old sermon series, or do the series they don’t think can handle the freight in fall or spring.
The reasoning is simple: Offerings and attendance go down, so it’s better to save our best efforts and cost for the times when people are actually around.
I completely understand that way of thinking, and halfway agree with it. Given the choice between “using our bullets” in summer or the “high season,” I would choose fall or spring, as well. I’m just wondering if, sometimes, people care less in the summer because we do.
Some churches even talk about summer that way — in effect, convincing the church it’s less important than other times. I’m also wondering if we couldn’t benefit from pacing ourselves better in fall and spring so our churches don’t hibernate in the summer.
Summer is also a main time for people to look for a new/any church home. Some are moving into your city. Others want to get spiritually on track before school starts up again. Some single moms head back because the kids are out of school, and some adult time to ponder their lives would do them some good. If they show up and children’s ministry isn’t happening, the preacher is never there, the calendar is totally empty, and there’s an overall laxness about ministry that’s palpable, you might lose a great opportunity.
During our first summer at New Vintage Church, some of our most core people arrived while we thought our “regulars” were traveling. That trend has continued. Summer is a key time. Don’t surrender it.
If, in fact, our churches need a labor break in the summer that badly, the reality is that we need to pace ourselves better — not abandon the summer. I’m not naïve; I agree the summer is probably the best time for preachers to take their vacations, trim the calendar a bit and so on. But, there’s a difference between running at, say, 85 percent and “mailing in” the summer, both practically and mentally — which is quite common, and also indirectly harmful to the fall and spring church “seasons.”
Summer is actually the best time for doing six things in particular:
1) Rest. Yes, resting. Here, I’m talking about taking a daily run instead of running a marathon in the summer. But, don’t stop running altogether.
2) Fellowship. People are already in the mood for fellowship. It’s BBQ, baseball, lake/beach season. Go with it, and enjoy it. Rather than plan a thick calendar, find one or two simple ways for the church to do — together — what people already love doing in the summer: grillin’ and chillin’. You can do this as a whole church, or in small groups. It will be fun and build community.
3) Strategic planning. I’ve always taken some time in the summer for strategic planning — sermon series, crafting a Fall/Winter ministry strategy, preparing to launch new ministries and so on. Take note: Youth ministry is less accessible in the summer. It’s their “high” season. So, what I’m talking about is strategic planning that doesn’t impact youth ministry much.
4) Apprenticing new servant leaders. Summer is a great time to “try out” new servant leaders. Just be strategic about it. Don’t throw in someone who’s totally unprepared.
5) Spiritual growth. Perhaps it’s because many have more time in the summer, but summer is a great time to encourage the church toward a season of spiritual growth through prayer, Bible study and so on. This also applies to church leaders; make sure your walk with the Lord is vibrant. Summer gives some space for this.
6) Closing loops. Summer is a great time to finish projects that remain undone and general organizational messiness. Get the new copier. Look for a better deal on lawn care. Do some digging on that new approach to family life ministry that piqued your interest.
Lastly, to my fellow preachers: Don’t mail in the task of preaching over the summer. God deserves better from us. Plus, it hurts us practically, as those who visit our churches as guests or vacationers get cold leftovers rather than warm, fresh bread.
The guests may not come back. The vacationers may tell a friend who is set to move into the area that they came, but found it spiritually tepid. “Go check out somewhere else.”
If summer is your break time, fill the pulpit with quality guests or able staff. Keep the bread fresh, whether it’s you serving it or not. Glorify God by not mailing in, or downloading your sermons.
To sum it up: Some of the “back-to-school-jump” churches are actually seeing regular attendees coming back from summer travels, along with people who become a part of the church informally over the summer. So, as tempting as it might be, don’t mail in the summer. It provides all sorts of unique opportunities for your church to grow — inside and out.
Tim Spivey is lead planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, CA. Tim is also an adjunct professor of religion at Pepperdine University and purveyor of New Vintage Leadership, a blog offering cutting-edge insights on leadership and theology. He is the author of numerous articles and the book Jesus, the Powerful Servant. This post is adapted from a prior post.