A View from the Pew: Summertime Blues

Pew_smSeasonal affective disorder isn’t confined to the limited daylight winter season.

There is a similar mood that strikes pastors when summer rolls around and many of their parishioners disappear for vacations.

It’s easy to see it from the pastor’s perspective: you prepare a worship service and a sermon, you visit the sick, you counsel the anxious, and you show up on Sunday with a heart and mind overflowing with a word from the Lord you are excited to share. But when you reach your seat on the platform and look out at the smaller-than-normal congregation during the prelude, you question your calling.

There are three weekends each summer that can empty a sanctuary: Memorial Day, the weekend closest to Independence Day, and the one nearest Labor Day. Even the most dedicate among us are likely to miss at least one of those three Sundays.

I believe the church’s version of seasonal affective disorder isn’t confined to the pulpit. Feeling deflated because of attendance affects those of us in the pew as well. If we’re not careful, we can let the inevitable absence of members of our fellowship derail our worship.

To tell the truth, when we make our way into the sanctuary for worship on a Sunday, we can’t help but feel just a little bit more excitement when the congregation is a more numerous than usual. On the flip side, when we breeze in on a sunny summer Sunday and see the place half empty, several thoughts come racing to mind: “Oh, it’s going to be one of those Sundays,” or “Where is everybody?” or “Sure wish I had somewhere fun to go.”

None of those thoughts are conducive to worship. Over the years, I have developed a few coping mechanisms that help me stay in a worshipful frame of mind on low attendance Sundays:

1.) With fewer people there, you have fewer distractions. Rather than being distracted by the lack of attendance, make the effort to focus on the One you are there to worship. If you are a social butterfly who finds church enjoyable because of who you get to see, this is a good opportunity to work at your worship by focusing your whole heart, mind, and body on the worship of God.

2.) Intentionally seek someone out who you typically don’t speak to. In a less-than-capacity auditorium, you should be able to find someone you either don’t know well or haven’t spoken to in a while. Go and congratulate them on their faithfulness and thank them for making the effort to show up during a season when so many are out. This isn’t just the pastor’s job, and it will help you feel more of a connection with your church.

3.) During the prelude, make a mental note of those who are gone, and rather than denigrate or envy them, say a prayer for safe travel and a refreshing vacation. It will help you feel connected to them and free you up to be in a spirit of worship. You can tell them you prayed for them while they were away and ask them to return the favor. You can replace your guilt for being out with comfort at knowing your church family is praying for your time of rest while you are away.

Summer is a highly-anticipated season at my house. We enjoy the more relaxed schedule. Our boys look forward to Vacation Bible School, summer camps, days at the pool and our annual beach trip. Vacations are a good and a necessary part of life. They help you have new experiences as a family and strengthen your family bonds.

Maybe it’s because I’m a preacher’s kid, but I do think about the impact my vacation has on church attendance. For the first time maybe ever, our vacation will keep us away from church two Sundays in a row this year.

I have mixed feelings about this scheduling quirk. While I am looking forward to an extended time away, I will miss my church family. As a parent, I try to communicate to my boys that Sunday worship is a priority and that showing up is part of our responsibility as faithful followers of Christ. As a Bible study leader, I don’t like pawning my responsibilities off on a substitute, or worse, canceling my class altogether.

As you plan and experience summer vacations this year, my prayer is that you have safe travels, time to rest and renew, and experiences that draw you closer to your family and friends. And if you happen to show up one Sunday this summer and it’s just you and the preacher, do your best to focus on the One who is never absent. It will feel like a vacation for your soul.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson who works as Director of Communications for the Georgia Tech Research Institute. He previously served as Director of Communications with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Lance blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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