How to Handle the Summer Attendance Dip

How will you handle the long days of summer when church crowds are smaller, budgets are tighter and volunteers are harder to find?

A recent conversation on a Sunday went something like this:

Staff member: Where is everyone?

Me: It’s summer.

Staff member: But, it still seems low, even for summer.

Me: This is still up percentage wise well over last year…

Staff member: But, it doesn’t feel like it.

Me: No, it never does.

The next day I received an email from a church staffer at another church. His question prompted this post. He wondered how to handle the long days of summer, when church crowds are smaller, budgets are tighter, and volunteers are harder to find.

Honestly, it can be disappointing if you focus on attendance alone. And, anyone who says they don’t is simply much more mature than I am. You recently celebrated the crowds of Easter. One of the highest times of attendance is followed shortly after by this…the dog days of summer. (I know some churches that are equally impacted seasonally, but at other times of the year.)

The fact is the time to prepare a summer sermon takes as long as sermon preparation does in September. Or it should. But fewer people may hear it. At least in person. If you are not intentional it can be discouraging.

What should the church do during the summer months?

Here are a few thoughts:

Plan and budget accordingly – Recognize the obvious. People are going to be traveling more. The lakes will be full of boats. If your church has them, this will include paid staff, but certainly volunteers. You know it’s coming. Plan for it. Intentionally.

Find ways to stay in touch – Emails are even more important. Facebook, church newsletters and websites become even more valuable. You want people to hear from you and know what is happening even when they aren’t always there. Information helps people feel and remain connected.

Enter in with lower expectations, not lower presentations – Less people may be with you Sunday, but the people who are there shouldn’t suffer because of it. What they receive may be different. You may not have the volunteers or staff to pull off a full schedule of activities, but what you put together shouldn’t suffer in excellence. The fact is people will visit in the summer, sometimes even more so than during the fall or winter. Churched people aren’t the only ones out of their routine. Unchurched people often have more open schedules and are open to visiting if they are invited.

Plan for flexibility – Realize last minute trips will occur and people you thought would be there may quickly decide not to be. I like for the summer series, for example, to have a central theme but each week be able to stand alone. (This is not a bad idea anytime of year, because people who attend less regularly are more likely to return if they aren’t intentionally made to feel they missed something. Ideally there should be a encouragement to want to be there next week, but not a slam for missing last week. That’s a delicate balance.) Something is likely to come up with me also and someone else might need to preach. This makes it easier. We sometimes preach through a book of the Bible or some theme from the Bible. This summer we are doing Bible stories of adventure…people who took risks for their faith. If anyone preaches for me this summer, there are plenty of stories from which to choose.

Carry this flexible attitude throughout all ministries of the church during the summer. It could be, in children’s programs, that you plan more large group activities for when teachers are on short supply. You may need to pull volunteers from one area to help in another area. However it works for your church, just create a summer culture of being flexible.

Do a few special events to boost averages – Special occasions build excitement and sustain momentum through the summer months. Ice cream socials. Outdoor baptisms. Pizza parties and swim parties for youth. Dinner on the grounds. Vacation Bible School. One day concerts. They serve a purpose. We are doing a high attendance emphasis this summer. It’s really just a branding emphasis to “invite a friend”, and obviously the goal is lower than a similar day in the fall, but the hope is to boost attendance for a day. I hear from teachers frequently that they lose ground with students over the summer. It can be that way with churches too. Plan some opportunities to keep engaged.

Use the time to prepare for Fall – People will return from vacation. School will start back. People will return to church whom you’ve been missing. Will you be ready? Rest up. Plan. Prepare some exciting changes to implement. Relaunch.

Remember the vision – Again, it can be discouraging when less people are around for the summer. You simply miss getting to see some of the people. That’s a natural reaction, but remember your vision is for when two or more are gathered. The number isn’t as important as the mission being fulfilled. Celebrate what is happening and whoever comes if they are growing in Christ.

Summer can be a special time if you use it intentionally. And, remember, time flies. Fall will be here soon.

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