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Monday, July 12, 2010

2nd Monday Discussion: Summer at Church

I have a good friend who dreads summer. In New England summer at church often means diminished attendance and few, if any, meetings. I have looked forward to it as a natural "down" cycle in the year, but my friend often wonders what the point of her work is if it seems to mean so little as soon as the sun is shining longer and the days are warmer.

Does summer, or any other seasonal change, have an impact on the life of your church? Do you appreciate it? Dread it? Do you get busier because of Vacation Bible School? Find you are expected to take a block of time off when you would rather not? Wish your church would turn on the A/C?

Join us in the comments and tell your stories, and I'll keep the iced coffee coming! 

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19 comments:

  1. I don't think it's just in New England that attendance drops! :) And A/C? one of our units went out in early summer and we had to replace immediately. It's non-negotiable in Texas.

    Even so, I know attendance is down. And this year, I am one of the culprits...I have been away from church more than there this summer. I don't like that, especially because I believe in showing up during summer and other low-turnout times.

    Sigh. Life calls, you know? And I'll be back. And I am very grateful for Facebook, which has allowed me to keep up via friends' comments and PHOTOS of mission trips, VBS, etc.

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  2. Summer means vacation and shore houses here. Lots of things slow down and more time appears during the week to get ahead for fall planning....until I take 2 weeks of vacation and run head long into VBS.

    I have been wondering lately about the issue of taking vacation during the program year vs. during the summer. It feels easier to take it in the summer, but I need it more (and it feels more like vacation) during the program year.

    Part of me wants to capitalize on the slow down to get some dreaming, praying, planning time in - instead of vacation time.

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  3. 5 years - very cool! Next Friday, 16 July, I'll have been blogging for 8 years! I'll definitely be ready with blogs and designs for both anniversaries.

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  4. I am in my second summer here and I am hereby naming the Slowdown of Summer as a myth. We do go down to 1 service and staff meetings are only every 'other' week but I have found that I miss 2 services (once there for one, what is the big deal?) and I have filled my weeks with catch-up details and planning.

    None of that, by the way, is a complaint.

    As for vacation, I space it out - summer and program year. Our office is closed the week between Christmas and New Year's so I don't have to save a week for that, which is nice. For the first time ever I am attempting 2 weeks blocked off in July. I am looking forward to it!

    I think in a few years I may once again look into heading to a NE church where the summer slow down is a given, but will warn them that I will still be taking a week in April and in October.

    Also, thank you God for air conditioning. Amen.

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  5. rural life has a rhythym to it, but july thankfully slows a bit, and august is a big plan ahead month. i takes time in the summer slowdown but also take time inbetween thanksgiving and christmas, or right after chrismtas which is busy... but i need time to recharge myself before expending the vast amount of energy christmas calls for...

    the services yes. the special events yes. family time yes. but the flood of people who come for counseling at that time of year... unbelievable!

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  6. I'm in a university town, and everything here seems to revolve around the academic year. It was a bit of a shock for me when I first moved here from the south, from a church where we continued all our programs all through the summer.

    I always look forward to summer here because mentally it feels like a nice downshift, and a time to prep for the coming program year. The reality, though, is that special projects and task forces often get pushed to the summer months. So I end up with fewer regular meetings but almost just as many other types of meetings. It always takes me by surprise, even though it seems to happen nearly every year.

    We have typically taken our vacation in July, which is definitely the slowest month at our church (in addition to lower attendance, our choir doesn't sing in July - too hot in the choir loft in our unairconditioned sanctuary - and we don't have Sunday School classes). This year, however, we scheduled it for August. The plus side is that we get to be around for the slowest month of the year, which I actually find refreshing. The downside is that we will be gone on those Sundays when people new to town might be visiting our worship service for the first time. Oh, and we'll pull back into town just in time to help with VBS. Oy!

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  7. I'm in the upper Midwest so we have a strange combination of cabin folks and snowbirds. Our overall attendance doesn't change too much; it's just different people who are here or gone.

    In a similar way some activities pick up and other slow down. There are some adult groups that don't meet except in the summer because the snow birds are gone in winter and some of those who stay won't drive in the ice and snow.

    The kids' weekly activities slow down in the summer so I miss that bustle, but we have two separate weeks of daycamp (basically all day VBS with a little more Oomph to it) that keep things interesting. Also, in the summer a daycamp for youth and young adults with disabilities (developmental and serious medical combined) use our property for their activities. In that way the activity (and noise) level is way up in the building. It's fun to have that life and ministry (although secular) in our building.

    Worship is interesting. The choir is off, the worship/praise team is spotty. Some folks will volunteer for solos or small groups occasionally, but not a lot. The service is often "short," but I try to supplement with a hymn sing most weeks. Attendance, again, doesn't change TOO much.

    This year, though, I'm missing all of it since I'm on maternity leave, so I'm assuming it's still the same. :)

    Bethany - - I try to space my vacation out throughout the year so that I get it both when I need it and when it's easy for the church. I know that depends on how much vacation you get and whether you like to take it in chunks or not, but it works for me. In the past I have snuck a week in between Christmast and Lent (or a week in the middle of Lent). A week in June and/or July. And a week in October and/or November. I get 4 weeks so that works in some combination.

    Last year I purposely did NOT take the week after Christmas off since I realized that even though they don't give us the week off, it is truly the slowest week (unless there's a funeral). It seemed a waste to take a vacation week if we weren't going to travel (which we stopped doing at Christmas last year). I also took the advice of folks here and used the Sunday after Christmas for non-preaching Lessons & Carols which helped it feel like a vacation for me. It was a hit on all fronts!

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  8. Our attendance drops as well. What amazes me is that despite the long-standing history of decreased attendance, there is no planning ahead for budgeting and programming. The other issue is that volunteers are taxed to cover others' jobs, and there are many who burn out at the end of the summer.

    There is a rhythm in most people's lives (particularly when their kids' schools are on summer break) and it makes sense to me to follow this rhythm.

    I've been blogging since January 2004, writing on a webpage since before that... and I have to say the RevGals are a wondrous thing and I am so grateful for each of you!

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  9. Our attendance drops as well. What amazes me is that despite the long-standing history of decreased attendance, there is no planning ahead for budgeting and programming. The other issue is that volunteers are taxed to cover others' jobs, and there are many who burn out at the end of the summer.

    There is a rhythm in most people's lives (particularly when their kids' schools are on summer break) and it makes sense to me to follow this rhythm.

    I've been blogging since January 2004, writing on a webpage since before that... and I have to say the RevGals are a wondrous thing and I am so grateful for each of you!

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  10. Love the questions! I am still in seminary and love the chance to intern at different churches each summer (this is my third & last!). So I know nothing except the summer rhythm...

    The question that made me post was, "Do you wish they'd turn the A/C on?" The answer---in this 105 degree weather--is HECK YES! I wish we could afford to fix our A/C. The only good thing about preaching with my hair pulled back and sweat dripping off my chin is that one day I'm gonna proudly be one of the retired clergy who shakes her finger at the young folk & tell them they don't know how easy they have it... lol.

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  11. Our attendance drops significantly. While I appreciate the less hectic pace in osme ways, but I miss the most is the absence of children in worship. Almost none of our families with children come. I don't know if they are up at their cabins every week, or on vacation, or if, in some cases, they just don't want to worship with their children if there is no Sunday School.

    In any event, as someone who grew up going to church and Sunday school every Sunday, it was a big shock.

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  12. It was certainly interesting for me to read the post. Thank author for it. I like such themes and anything that is connected to them. I would like to read more soon. By the way, rather good design you have here, but how about changing it from time to time?

    Brandy Meetington

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  13. Summer is my busiest time, being the youth director! There's always something happening. But the overall church calendar slows down a lot. Worship attendance on Sunday was pretty low, though I had heard it was because of some big soccer game somewhere ;) It's typical, though, for summer attendance to be lighter. Our choir takes the summer off, Pastor goes on vacation, mid-week Kid's program takes time off, yep, summer is usually slower around here.

    We rely on natural A/C, fog, which usually works except for one or two Sundays, usually around VBS time. That's when the fans come out in full force! Still, preaching when it's 80 degrees in the Sanctuary is no fun!

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  14. I live in a rural community. Attendance definitely tends to drop. Because of this, we try and plan some special services which attract people back to church.

    Our choir doesn't sing - although it is really more of a quartet than a choir unfortunately. We do have some visiting musicians but inevitably it falls back on me to either provide the special music AND preach or to at least find someone else willing.

    I'm taking two weeks in July (but still preaching on Sundays due to some political turmoil). These weeks are really more study leave for me as I'm completing post seminar projects for my D. Min. degree.

    Our committees typically take time off in the summer. However, our trustees are busy this year as we are completing a pavilion building project and contemplating and researching the possibility of housing a daycare for children with autism.

    Usually take the week off after Christmas - although I agree with another blogger that it seems foolish to take the week when there is nothing happening. This year we are traveling so that will make it seem more like vacation.

    We are blessed with air conditioning! Have been in churches without air but they normally move their service time to an earlier hour to avoid the heat of the day. Most of the time that works.

    I typically utilize the slower summer months for planning the rest of the year so it's a nice rhythm.

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  15. Attendance drops at our place -- not so much because of vacations but because of the endless rounds of graduation parties and weddings held in our close-knit, often closely related, community. On the other hand, we also get more guests -- out-of-town relatives, visitors attending our frequent summertime baptisms -- so that softens the financial blow of "thin" summers.

    We're not a church with a lot of weekly programming, but one drawback of the summer=church vaycay mentality is the lack of ability to make full use of the lovely long days for small-group activities; no one is interested. They get interested about the time that dusk falls at 4:30 :-( , which makes evening meetings at church seem long and dreary, and scares our elder drivers (and some of the rest of us) away.

    When our church A/C is on and running, it makes our sanctuary a very pleasant place on a scorching day...I'm all for A/C.

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  16. As a former academic, I miss being on the academic year. But I don't think church should run that way. So for the first time in anyone's memory here, we have maintained our 8 and 10 am services. There is no church school and the choir doesn't sing, but otherwise no changes is services. Attendance is holding pretty steady so far. No one seems to mind not having the one 9 am service since it was a time change for everyone.

    As for meetings, well we don't have that many relatively speaking anyway. The Vestry will take off in August when I'm on vacation. The Stewardship and Evangelism Committee are both meeting regularly b/c they have big fall events to prepare for.

    We aren't doing VBS this year, so I don't have that to contend with. I would like to use some summer hours to catch up on some organizational and writing tasks I have been putting off...but honestly my schedule is not that different from what it was in winter.

    We are having a picnic on the lawn once a month, too. In August we are inviting all our neighbors--literally putting flyers on everyone's houses inviting them to come. I am sort of excited to see if anyone does.

    I am taking my four weeks of vacay in August but only 3 of my 5 Sundays b/c I need to take two off in November for a conference. I may look at spreading my vacation out in the future but we'll see...

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  17. Semi rural community here. Population 900, 15 miles from a city of 300,000. Suburban communities within 5-10 miles. Summer isn't what it used to be. Most families are still around--kids at baseball games, golf tournaments, bowling leagues, cross country camp, drama camp, etc. I feel sorry for the kids who have 8-9 weeks of their 10 week summer scheduled to the brim. We drop some in attendance, but I try not to give in to the "nothing goes on in the summer" mentality. Actually our praise team was formed 5 years ago during the summer because there was no choirs and no special music in the summer and choir director not interested in providing any special music. So, some of us took it upon ourselves to fill in the gaps with some contemporary music. Started with 4 people, 1 guitar, 1 keyboard, 1 piano and 4 vocals. We have morphed into a team of a dozen people (some rotate in and out different weeks), 2 services (started in Jan 2010) even though not bursting at the seams but as a way to grow by giving options year round. It seems to be working. Even summer attendance is up from last year. I run a small group which I don't have as much time to do during Sept-May, and our praise team and sub groups of it are playing out at a couple community events so that group is busy! We would like to expand our summer outreach to the community's kids next summer as follow up to a June VBS, by having a summer day camp, but we'll see if the church is willing to make the kind of commitment necessary when the time comes.

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  18. I pastor in a mountain community where attendance is literally multiplied in the summer. That means complicated program needs, but it also means lots of great fellowship opportunities on long, lazy summer evenings. I begin to think, "Oh, what we could do if we had all these people year-round!" Then comes Labor Day and I'm down to 20 people on a good Sunday, and January/February when I'm sometimes down to 2 and I consider adopting the hibernation model of ministry.

    In an interesting twist on perennial budget issues, we can tell on Sept. 1 what next year's budget will look like, because we have very little income except in the summer months. If we spend too much too soon, I don't get paid in April and May.

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