When we first started ministry, we didn’t know about the “Summer Slump.” (We also didn’t know about being missional– we had a lot to learn!) We had a fairly good attendance on Mother’s Day, but would slowly start to see our attendance wane in the following weeks. We wondered what had happened– nothing had changed in our services, we were still preaching the Gospel and loving our community. We were holding Vacation Bible School and sending kids to youth camp. But every Sunday, we were missing several families. Some were on vacation, some were visiting family, and some were just enjoying decompressing from a busy school year. And then, sometime in August, our attendance would slowly begin to creep back up, and by Labor Day, it would become consistent again.
Typically, the average church experiences a 20% decrease in attendance between Mother’s Day and the new school year. Many churches shut down children’s activities and small group discipleship during this time, because attendance can be so sporadic during the summer months. Giving and tithing typically decrease, as well (although online giving may pick up due to “auto-draft” ).
This decrease can leave you feeling discouraged– but it doesn’t have to. On a recent episode of the Replant Bootcamp podcast, JimBob discussed the importance of maintaining a missional mindset as you navigate the Summer Slump.
When we started replanting Central Baptist, one of the first things we developed was a strategy to reach those in and around our neighborhood with the Gospel and to meet their needs. One of our members is the owner of a local dance studio, so we started there. We allowed them to use our facilities for recital practices and parent showcases while serving refreshments and assisting with whatever they needed. The dancers got to know our church, and their parents got to know our people. Julie, the owner, was equipped through our discipleship program to host Bible studies in the studio and disciple others. Church members attended dance competitions and recitals, and got to know the teachers and students. Eventually, many of the families whose children danced at the studio also became members of Central.
One unfortunate consequence of reaching a dance studio that we didn’t realize is that, like many dance studios, Julie’s groups perform in statewide competitions throughout the Spring and early Summer. Having so many of our families involved in dance means that on any given Sunday in the Spring, as much as 40% of our congregation is gone to a dance competition out of town. Our church can sometimes feel almost vacant on those Sundays!
We had two choices– we could mourn the loss and be intimidated by the depressed attendance, OR we could engage them in a new way while they were out of town.
We chose to recognize that every member at Central Baptist is a missionary. Therefore, the dance studio became a “missions outpost” for Central Baptist. When they are at competitions out of town, they gather together in hotel rooms or in offstage classrooms to watch our livestream at 10 am on Sunday morning and join in worship with our congregation. When they have competitions close by, we will go and visit on Saturdays so that they are still connected with us. Their dance team prays together for our service, and we are praying for them.
Julie’s dance studio is more than just a local business to us. It is our church’s mission field, and those dancers are our family.
You have the same opportunities in your congregation. There is a mission field directly in and around your church, within the radius of your physical location. You can equip those “Julies” whose influence and community involvement can help you meet people that are never going to come to church otherwise. Members who are outside of the physical proximity of the church and “drive-in” to the community can be empowered to be missionaries within their own neighborhoods.
Embracing a missional mindset in the midst of a summer slump only requires a few key steps.
Sometimes we think we aren’t sure how to meet the needs of our community because we don’t know what they are… But our communities are telling us every day what they need. We can read it in the newspaper, on community websites, and at city and county council meetings. One of the most overlooked resources to discover the needs of your community is social media. Apps like Next Door allow our neighbors to share their physical needs, like a yard that needs to be mowed, or a ride to a doctor’s appointment. Apps like Facebook allow them to share their emotional needs and spiritual questions among their friends.
The average American adult spends an average of 2 1/2 hours a day on social media. We can hear exactly what our communities need when we are listen for the clues. Is your community struggling with disunity between groups? Your church can be the bridge for them. Your members can be the peacemakers within their community for the good of the city and show what it looks like to truly love your neighbors.
Do you have a mechanic that can help with car repair, or a contractor that can build a wheelchair ramp? Maybe your younger members could help a senior adult with house work or meals. Do you have women in your church with adult children? Perhaps they could offer their wisdom to a struggling young mom with toddlers. Having a missional mindset means being intentional about listening to the needs of your community and having a plan of action to meet them. Remind your members to listen for the clues that their neighbor may need Gospel-centered guidance or help.
Your church’s address is not a mistake. You have a specific calling to reach those within a local reach of your church building. Praying for your church’s neighbors by name is a simple way to let them know you care and you’re there for them. You can send them a simple prayer card that says, “Hi! We’re in your neighborhood– we are praying for you! Is there anything specific that we can pray for?” Put a QR code on it that links them to a form on your website or simply mail it with a stamped return envelope. When you get a request, invite your church to pray corporately on Sunday morning for those requests.
Your congregation can also be praying for their own specific neighbors. Just as your church’s address is not an accident, neither is theirs! Encourage your church members to pray for their neighbors by name. We had refrigerator magnets made that have three blank spaces for the names of our neighbors and gave them to the families in our church. It’s a daily reminder to pray for our neighbors.
The summertime offers so many opportunities for you church to engage their community. Here just a few ideas for you to pass on to your congregation:
When we equip every member to think of themselves as missionaries, we engage our congregations in a missional mindset. Instead of mourning the Summer Slump, we can begin to embrace the unique opportunities it gives us for impacting our community with the Gospel.