Summer months can be hard on churches. College students go home. Families take vacations. Yard work, ball games, fishing, swimming and sunning can often take precedence over worship services. Even if you can’t convince them to come to the church building every Sunday, you can still help your congregation stay connected and committed during the summer months. Here are a few ideas:
Take advantage of technology
Most people carry their phone and often a laptop computer, even when on vacation. Help beat the summer church slump by taking advantage of technology to keep your congregation connected.
- Post sermon quotes and links on social media.
- Write a blog about a spiritual experience you had on vacation. Ask readers to contribute their thoughts or experiences in the comments section.
- Tweet or text special event reminders, invitations or “We miss you” messages.
- Email prayer chain requests, church newsletters or even information contained in the weekly bulletin. Use online forms for prayer requests, and always ask permission before sharing.
- Encourage travelers to use the church website to communicate prayer needs of their own.
- Make sure that registering for big events, like vacation Bible school, is quick and simple. Set up and send instructions for online or text registration, as well as reminders for the event itself.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
People are going to leave town. They are going to get busy. Summer months seem destined to have a few extra empty pews. So, instead of trying to change their minds or ignore the problem, why not meet your congregation where they are?
- Stream your church events using Facebook Live. There are several free solutions to broadcast your worship services, but Facebook has risen to the top by making it incredibly easy. To be copyright compliant, you can get a streaming license, stream original music or exclude copyrighted music from your live broadcast.
- Provide or recommend spiritual resources that can be used at home or on the road. Consider creating a list of Bible websites or apps, books to encourage spiritual growth, and links to personal or family devotions. If you have a church library, make known what materials can be checked out and for how long. Consider collecting leftover children’s materials (Sunday school handouts, coloring pages, etc.) and giving them to children who may miss several Sundays during the summer.
- Promote live podcasts or video feeds of your Sunday services.
- Consider hosting non-traditional, off-site services a few times each summer. Have church at the lake followed by a potluck barbecue. Have services at the ballpark; then watch a game together. Host a picnic service at a local park. Get permission from a large apartment complex to let you worship in their courtyard. Get a bouncy house for the kids and you may get people from the apartments dropping in to see if they can join. Remember the “church” is a body of believers, not a place. Be creative.
- Encourage visitation at other churches. Don’t make your congregation feel guilty about attending elsewhere. If they can’t attend your church, encourage them to find another church to visit. They can look up United Methodist churches in the area where they are traveling. Make it a shared, fun experience by asking them to bring back a bulletin from the churches they visit. Set aside a board where the bulletins can be posted.
Encourage consistent giving.
Fewer people in the pews often means fewer dollars in the plate, but the bills still have to be paid, and ministries continue to need funding. Encourage your givers to give consistently — even when they aren’t physically present. Help them do so by making giving easy.
- Increase giving by making sure that everyone is aware of all giving opportunities. Post, print or send information regarding opportunities and instructions for giving.
- Regularly promote text-giving instructions.
- Encourage automatically withdrawn donations.
- Have a direct mail strategy for your church. Make sure that the church address is clearly visible in all church communication. If congregants are uncomfortable with non-traditional giving, they can still mail in their tithe checks or support.
Don’t forget about them.
If you want your congregation to continue to feel connected, you can’t forget about them just because they aren’t there. In fact, it may be even more important to remember them when they aren’t in the pews. When they know they are missed, they will want to return as quickly as possible.
- Remember birthdays. Send birthday greetings in the form of a card or message. If your church is too large to do this on your own, enlist volunteers.
- College students and sabbatical professors, children who live with a different parent or relative while on vacation, adults who have summer homes, and even some business people may be gone for months at a time. Encourage them to submit their new contact information before leaving, and ask if you can share it. If so, enlist volunteers who can send postcards, letters and notes to them while they are away. Let them know that they are loved and valued, even when they can’t be with you.
- Avoid overlooking people in need. Ask Sunday school teachers and small group leaders to call or text the members of their class who have been consistently absent. Encourage them to ask (and follow through) if there is anything that can be done for them or their family while they are out of town.
Just because they can’t be in the church building doesn’t mean they can’t maintain church ties. Help your congregation stay spiritually connected to God and to each other this summer.
— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.