A View from the Pew: Taking the Summer Off

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Every church has that section of the newsletter where it publishes its monthly “vital statistics:” Sunday school attendance, corporate worship attendance, and giving and budget needs.

You don’t have to read the vital statistics to recognize the precipitous drop in attendance when summer arrives. The reasons for this decline are just as obvious: church members take vacations during the summer.

What may not be as obvious are the effects of a seasonal drop off. Being out a week for vacation here or there isn’t that big of a deal. The problem occurs when our absence extends for weeks, even months, and we end up taking most, if not all the summer off.

Here are five phrases we may find ourselves uttering if we’re out of the pew as much as in it this summer:

1. “Who’s that?” In addition to catching up with friends before and after worship, I try to greet people I don’t recognize. It’s a little awkward when I introduce myself to visitors and ask if this is their first time, and they tell me they’ve been coming for a month.

2. “What happened to the kids programs?” Church staff members have a difficult job planning activities during the summer because they never know who or how many will show up. Fewer people attend, so fewer events are scheduled. Members have less reason to attend, so fewer come. This cycle ends with all activities being canceled for the summer and a re-launch in the early fall trying to re-ignite participation. It’s often a losing proposition.

3. “Nobody called me when my mom passed away.” Personal tragedy and illness know no seasonal boundaries. If we are away from church for an extended time, our ministerial staff and fellow church members may not know what’s going on in our lives. They don’t respond to crises because they don’t know about them. Likewise, we can’t respond to others’ crises.

4. “When did we convert the children’s and youth ministers to part-time?” Churches have a hard time retaining staff amidst declining participation and shrinking budgets. Without programs, churches have to decide what levels of staffing are required. By not showing up for long periods during the year, church members are saying, in effect, that resources should not be spent to staff programs.

5. “I don’t recognize myself.” People of faith pursue spiritual disciplines to stay grounded. When we forsake those disciplines, such as attending corporate worship and the mutual accountability of small group studies, our identity as a Christ follower erodes. Isolated and weakened, we are more susceptible to crises of all kinds, particularly crises of faith.

The church is already losing the battle against our schedules during the overly programmed academic year, with extracurricular and sports activities crowding out our weekends. But when we spend extensive time away from our family of faith during the summer, the work of the church in our community and in our lives becomes that much harder.

Vacations are a necessary and beneficial part of life, particularly for families who bond and build memories that last a lifetime. But so is church attendance, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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