It goes without saying that most pastors know that worship attendance in the summer usually marks the all time low for the year. We know not only attendance but income will slump. We don’t think it has to, at least not as much as most churches experience. We think the Summer Slump is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. What do we mean by that?
Most churches intentionally plan for a Summer Slump. How? Two of the most debilitating steps many declining churches take in the summer are:
- They combine worship services.
- The choir takes a vacation.
Both of these steps make it certain that the church will experience a Summer Slump. Anytime worship services are combined attendance drops. Studies show that people attend worship based more on the time then the style. So when worship times are changed some group is going to feel exiled and they tend to drift away. Also, the public has no way of knowing the time has been changed. Often the regular schedule is still on the sign out front.
When the choir takes a vacation it sends a signal to anyone with any intelligence that music isn’t a vital part of worship, even if special music is planned in the absence of the anchor choir. Every worship service needs an anchor and the Adult Choir is the anchor. Consider this – would contemporary worship be contemporary without the Band and singers? No. The same is true with the Adult Choir. Take it out of the service and you have a truncated service.
So what can a church do in the summer to avoid the Summer Slump? Obviously don’t combine the worship services and continue the normal worship times and require the choir to sing all summer. But beyond that we have found several things thriving churches are doing to plan for a Summer Hump.
Planning for a Summer Hump
I remember my first visit to Prince of Peace Lutheran right after Mike Foss arrived. I was impressed by something they did in the summer to have a Summer Hump instead of slump.
They added an outdoor worship service and actually remained even for the six weeks of summer. If you only have six weeks of summer like Minneapolis has, outside worship is a big deal.
I also remember when the church I pastured for 24 years decided to have Vacation Bible School all summer. That’s right, every week of the summer. Our attendance didn’t plummet in the summer any longer – and we were just two hours from the beach.
I remember a visit to a church in California that had a higher attendance in the summer than the rest of the year. How did they do it? They did a major musical every Thursday evening and then finished it on Sunday morning. Yes, you read that correctly – every week in the summer they did a full blown major musical they had been rehearsing for all year. Then the theme of the musical became the subject of Sunday’s message.
In another church I consulted with the pastor planned some of his best sermon series for the summer. And along with the sermon arranged form several notable Christian sports figures to give their testimony. Some might think that was too expensive but not if attendance set a record that Sunday as several of the weeks do in the Summer at this church.
Not long ago I received an email from a church I had consulted with that had implemented three “I Love My Church Days” during the summer. The “I Love My Church Day” is a four week program designed to double the number of first time visitors each time it’s implemented. This means the entire summer was devoted to messages around the theme of bringing a friend to worship. It turned out that the attendance was higher than the May attendance. You can find the “I Love My Church Day” in our store at www.churchgrowtharticles.com.
Finally, one church I worked with goes out of their way to not only add ministry in the Summer but they also alert their main givers that Summer is coming and they need to be diligent in their giving so that there is enough money for ministries. This doesn’t end the Summer Slump but it does help in providing the money needed to keep all the ministries going during the summer.
Moving to the year round full blown ministry is a culture shock for most people in declining churches (and yes it is unusual to see a thriving church shut down in the summer). So it takes a bit of persistence to make this shift. Often the Choir Director is the main culprit here and uses the summer to sit back and relax. I’ve found if the Choir Director is convinced of the importance of the choir the choir will sing all summer.
I ‘m reminded of a story told to me by one of the clients I’m coaching. She was called to a mid-sized church. She was caught off guard her first Sunday morning when the choir director announced that the choir would be on vacation the next two and a half months but he would provide special music. When it came time to preach the pastor decided to cut her sermon short and give them a lesson in leadership. She shared with them the importance of music in today’s world and how a mediocre sermon becomes a great sermon if supported by great music. And when she finished she said to them that the choir is so important that if it is going on vacation she would also since worship with the anchor choir is less than effective worship. That’s how important the choir is to worship. Then she asked the choir to meet right after worship and vote on singing all summer. The choir did and that year, and from then on, the choir sang all summer.
So what can you do to plan for a Summer Hump instead of a Summer Slump?