By Laura Stephens-Reed
In many congregations, summer is a time of reduced programming (with the likely exception of ministries geared toward children and youth) and hit-or-miss attendance. This means it takes extra care to foster spiritual formation and relationships among church members. Here are some ideas for growing community and deepening discipleship even as people are in and out.
Read a book together. Select a book that youth through adults can read wherever they are. Send reflection questions out through various media or announce that there will be opportunities for discussion and the application of takeaways during the fall.
Plan one big event. Pick a date when a good number of people are likely to be in town. Give folks a reason to come. Promote the heck out of the event.
Send church with your members. Distribute take-home worship kits with the sermon texts for the summer, short devotional entries, and instructions for a related spiritual discipline or activity.
Create a summer checklist or scavenger hunt. Give out a list of experiences you want church members to engage in. Examples include worshiping at a church of a different denomination while on vacation, volunteering at a new-to-them organization in town, or writing prayers for people or places in chalk where those being prayed for can see them.
Livestream worship. Summer is a great time to try out putting your worship services on Facebook or creating a podcast out of the sermons so that those on the go can plug in.
Make virtual space for connection. Set up a group or page or hashtag on social media that will make it easy for tech-savvy church members to check in with each other.
Let people know what they’ll be returning to. As the program year comes to a close, advertise what fall will look like. Will sermons and activities focus on a particular theme? Will there be a big back-to-school or program year kickoff celebration? Is a new process (such as celebrating a church anniversary or starting visioning conversations) in the works? Start getting people excited now.
Summer is not a time to throw our hands up at spotty attendance. It’s a chance to try new things and grow in different ways. Take advantage of the opportunities!
Laura Stephens-Reed is Peer Learning Group Regional Director for Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. She also serves as a clergy coach and congregational consultant.