Lovett H. Weems, Jr., and Tom Berlin discuss how congregations can reach more members and visitors through Special Focus Sundays that emphasize a particular cause or constituency, such as a Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday or recognition of teachers or first responders.
Just as individuals and families have their own distinctive cluster of special days, so growing congregations often have special days during the year as one means to sustain and increase attendance. It is a common practice among many growing churches to have Sundays during the year with a special focus as a way of sustaining energy and attendance and providing opportunities to invite both members and visitors. Examples might include a recognition of Volunteers in Mission participants, a Sunday to thank first responders or teachers in your community, a celebration of the students or teachers in your Sunday School, preschool, or daycare, or a Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday as school resumes.
A Special Focus Sunday is an occasion to invite members and visitors, reaching more people and different people, because inviting people for a special focus is generally much easier than a general invitation.
What is a Special Focus Sunday?
A Special Focus Sunday is an opportunity to reach more members and visitors through a well-prepared and promoted emphasis on a particular cause or constituency. But a word of caution is necessary. Special Focus Sundays do not mean turning your worship hour over to a particular group or agenda. This approach would not always lead to a consistently high level of quality in worship. Rather, the idea is to incorporate this focus into your normal worship and to build attendance by encouraging all those connected with the special focus to attend. A Special Focus Sunday is:
- an occasion to invite members and visitors. Inviting people for a special focus is generally much easier than a general invitation
- an opportunity to reach more people and different people
- a way to generate increased interest from at least some part of the congregation and community
- an opportunity for attention from the media
Where do we start?
The first step is to identify the Special Focus Sundays you already have. Perhaps your church has a homecoming Sunday, a Mother’s Day or Father’s Day observance, a blessing of the animals, or some other Special Focus Sunday. You will want to evaluate each one with questions such as:
- Is there still energy around this occasion?
- Is the attendance well above our normal attendance?
- Is it still appropriate as a special focus for the congregation?
- Does it reach people beyond our usual attendees?
- Should we continue this? If so, how can we build on it?
What else should we consider?
Once you have identified your current Special Focus Sundays, you might consider what other options some churches choose for Special Focus Sundays. These other options may replace or add to what you are now doing.
Back to School. One of the most common Special Focus Sundays occurs in the fall once school resumes. It is a way to kick off fall worship and programming in a special way. A church with a very strong church school did this through a Sunday School Rally Day the first Sunday after Labor Day. Others have their special day a few weeks after Labor Day to provide more promotion time. Churches where schools resume well before Labor Day find it important to have a special Sunday associated with the beginning of school, and then they are able to come back with another special time in early fall.
All Saints Sunday. Some churches observe All Saints Sunday in a way that reaches more people and builds deeper relationships. One model is to invite the families of all members who have died in the past year to be present. Their loved ones are remembered by the reading of each name and the sounding of a chime as the congregation celebrates those no longer with them.
Community Recognitions. Some churches have Sundays where they celebrate their connections to the community by recognition of an important group, perhaps Scouts, police, or fire fighters.
Long-time Members. One church found that marking Memorial Day weekend as a time to recognize those who had been members there for 40 years or more was a very significant time of worship and celebration.
Confirmation Sunday. Churches that have moved the reception of confirmands from Easter to the Sunday after Easter or Pentecost Sunday often find that this scheduling is better for everyone. They also are often able to reach those who have not been part of the church before. Finding a way to encourage these guests to return should be a part of the planning process for this event.
When planning a new Special Focus Sunday, consider these factors:
- Those you seek to reach
- Attendance goal
- Careful preparation
- Thorough promotion
- Planned and executed follow up
Careful planning and hard work will reap blessings for the people of your church and community.
This article is adapted from Lovett Weems’s and Tom Berlin’s book Overflow: Increase Worship Attendance and Bear More Fruit (Abingdon, 2013) and used by permission. Overflow is available from Cokesbury and Amazon.