A View from the Pew: Less Summer to Do Summer Ministry

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If you have school-aged children in your life, it’s no secret that summer isn’t what it used to be.

Gone are the days of a summer break that lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The shrinking summer phenomenon impacts families trying to plan vacations, industries that rely on a seasonal student workforce, the tourism and hospitality business, and local churches that attempt holistic ministry to families and by families.

There’s a smaller window to fit in mission trips, vacation Bible schools, youth retreats, children’s and youth camps, and special local ministry opportunities. For my own family, we had just two unprogrammed weeks out of the entire summer break from school.

What can families and churches do? Here are five tips to ease the pressure and help your children’s spiritual formation remain at the top of your summer priority list:

1. Work as a team. Families and churches have to work together. If families view the church ministry planners as the enemy to their free time, or the church staff sees families as uncooperative and selfish, nothing good will come of it. Our children are the victims. Instead, church staff and families should open up formal and informal dialogue to put in place a schedule that is meaningful, achieves the objective and gives priority to faith development and family bonding.

2. Plan ahead. The earlier your family and your church can work together on a summer schedule, the better. A year in advance, with some allowance for flexibility and unforeseen circumstances, is not too early to begin working together for those precious eight to ten weeks when children are out of school. And if planning goes against your family’s or your church’s personality, find less rigid ways to build a schedule. If specific dates can’t be accounted for, then give each other date ranges.

3. Commit and participate. Families can help by recognizing that the opportunities to serve and grow that the church is providing for their children are important. When possible, build your schedule to accommodate those events. Commit to being there and supporting the objective of your church staff. You can even make church activities family activities by volunteering as a chaperone or group leader. Doing so will allow you to bond as a family while you minister.

4. Protect sacred time. There are certain events the church cannot and should not compromise on. It varies from church to church, but for our church, we wouldn’t give up Christmas Eve service, Good Friday worship, or summer camp for children and youth. For my family, we make time to visit family at Christmas and we get to the beach for a week of togetherness and relaxation. All of these occasions are sacred to our family, and not making time for them would harm us in deep and profound ways.

5. Celebrate and reflect. To maximize the effectiveness of each activity, whether it’s the church’s or your family’s or both, make time before, during, and after to help your family anticipate, learn, process, bond, and remember these special times. Your children will learn to love their church and their family better if you facilitate appreciation by having intentional conversation. Churches typically do this with testimony services where children and youth share their experiences with the congregation. Families used to do this by looking at photos and reliving good memories. When you share your photos with the world through social media, don’t neglect to share them as a family, laughing and crying together as you remember the happy and challenging times.

You can’t add any hours to your ever-shrinking summer schedule, but you can make the most of the ones you have. May God grant you wisdom as you work with your church to “redeem the time.”

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who does media relations for the Georgia Institute of Technology. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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