Avoiding a Summer Drop in Worship Attendance

Ann Michel of the Lewis Center says by sustaining quality worship and programming, churches can prevent an anticipated drop in summer worship attendance from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

In most churches, summer is considered a low time when worship attendance slips far below what is average at other times of the year. But when churches ratchet back their worship and programming in the summer, they can inadvertently reinforce declining attendance, and the assumption of fewer people can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fortunately, many churches are finding that with careful planning and creativity, the sharp drop in summer worship attendance can be minimized.

By God’s design, summer is a season of growth and fruitfulness. And summer can be a time of tremendous creativity and growth in our churches, if we are willing to make the effort.

Why Summer Worship Matters

Unless your congregation is made up entirely of people who own two homes or who can afford to take three-month vacations every summer, it is simply a myth that everyone is gone all summer. Yet we tend to slip into that way of thinking. In fact, for many people, the slower pace of summer means they have more time and energy for church, not less. And in many communities, students return to school in August, not September. So a church that waits until after Labor Day to get back in gear is missing out on this critical time of reengagement.

Additionally, many churches receive more visitors during the summer because families are most likely to relocate in the summer and more people are traveling. So it can be a prime time for welcoming newcomers.

Give People Reasons to Stay Engaged

By God’s design, summer is a season of growth and fruitfulness. And summer can be a time of tremendous creativity and growth in our churches, if we are willing to make the effort.

Worship schedules. Changing the normal pattern of worship in the summer can be off putting to people who aren’t interested in doing something different, and it runs the risk of confusing potential visitors or infrequent attendees who may not get the word about schedule changes. In many churches, summer attendance is stronger when the normal pattern is maintained. Summer might be a time to add an evening service, either on a weeknight or on Sunday night, for those out of town over the weekend, but only if it is in addition to the normal weekend services, not in place of them.

Preaching. Summer is the time to be extra creative and select topics that will draw a crowd. For example, one church does a summer sermon series on God at the Movies pulling spiritual themes from the summer’s biggest block buster films. Another church used the 4th of July weekend as the launching point for a series on The Faith of the Presidents. Several shorter series or stand-alone topics might work better than a longer series, since some won’t attend as consistently in the summer.

Music. If some of your musicians take time away in the summer, you may need to think outside the box to maintain high-quality music. But you want to avoid the situation where your entire music ministry takes a three-month break. Ask choir members to provide their vacation schedules, and if there are weeks when many will be away, use special ensembles or feature guest musicians. Or, you can promote a “summer-choir” made up of regular choir members who are present and other church members who might like the opportunity to jump in as available. Holding choir practice just before the service makes it easier for people to jump in.

Children’s ministries and Christian education. Many parents won’t make the effort to get their families to church if there’s no Sunday School or kids’ activities. If you can’t offer year-round Sunday School, provide high-quality alternate programming. One summer in my church, all the kids worked on a drama project that culminated in a special worship presentation. Another year, we organized special service projects for families each Sunday, with a different family taking charge each week so the responsibility didn’t fall to the normal Sunday School teachers. In a smaller church, you might offer a one-room-school house format in the summer.

The same principle applies to adult education and groups. If the normal adult classes and groups don’t meet in the summer, it’s a great time to offer some other possibilities, such as short-term studies or one-time educational events. Summer is a great time to mix it up and try new things and involve new people.

Special seasonal events. The summer season presents some unique opportunities for reaching out to special constituencies and planning special events. If you do a Vacation Bible School, send out mission teams, or have a family camp, plan special worship services around these activities. Consider special fellowship events, such as an after-church picnic or ice cream social, or plan special events that piggy back on popular community events, like the county fair or the community 4th of July celebration.

Doing our best to keep people coming in the summer can help reinforce the expectation of regular attendance, create a more welcoming environment for summer visitors, and pave the way for a stronger start in the fall. But more than that, it signifies that our commitment to worshiping God is not limited by our calendar.

These ideas are incorporated with attribution in Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit by Tom Berlin and Lovett H. Weems, Jr., (Abingdon Press, 2013), available through Amazon or Cokesbury.

Related Resources

About Author

Ann A. Michel has served on the staff of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership since early 2005. She currently serves as a Senior Consultant and is co-editor of Leading Ideas e-newsletter. She also teaches at Wesley Theological Seminary in the areas of stewardship and leadership. She is the co-author with Lovett H. Weems Jr. of Generosity, Stewardship, and Abundance: A Transformational Guide to Church Finance (Rowman & Littlefield, 2021) available at Cokesbury and Amazon. She is also the author of Synergy: A Leadership Guide for Church Staff and Volunteers (Abingdon, 2017), available at Cokesbury and Amazon.

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