Summer usually is an unusual ministry season in the local church. In some ways, it is the busiest time on the calendar. Our days and weeks regularly are filled with extra activities, fellowship events, special services, VBS, summer mission projects and trips, and children and youth camps. Wow — I get tired just thinking about it!
In other ways, however, it can be the least consistent time in the lives of the families in your church, including yours. This can affect various aspects of a congregation’s number in areas like attendance and budget. The church where I am currently interim pastor recently had one of these experiences. After nearly five months of consistent and high tithes and offerings, we had an extremely and abnormally low giving Sunday in this area. I encouraged them. Sometime in the summer, there is no rhyme or reason. Amazingly, we had better than average attendance, but the lowest offering we have had for any week in my tenure.
There perhaps are many reasons why the summer is like this in many churches. What seems to be like a high concentration of national holidays, summer break from school, summer sports and activities, and family vacations are only a few them. Any or all of these can alter normal schedules and routines, effecting attendance, finances, and participation in church. For this reason, seasoned pastors and leadership experts may tell you that the summer is not a good time to start “new” things. “You should save these emphases for the fall,” they may tell you. Specifically, the week after Labor Day is preferable.
Therefore, the weeks and months from Memorial Day, which we just observed, and Labor Day, which is over three months away, can be the proverbial “black hole” of church life. It can be hard to get any idea “off the ground” in this timeframe. Planning can seem almost impossible with every area in church life and on a pastor’s calendar. This is uniquely true concerning the preaching calendar.
What should you do with the preaching calendar during the summer? You are probably finishing off your spring series or book study right now. Moreover, you may feel like every week you will have a slightly to completely different audience/congregation. Another way to say it is there is a better chance than many people who were here this week were not last week and vice versa. Since this is the case, how do you plan any kind of series or consistent and connected messages? Beyond this, you have three months, which is one fourth of the calendar year, so you have to figure out something of substance to do. However, if the experts are correct, you need to be done by August/September so that you can start fresh when your congregation returns from summer break and your attendance increases. So, therefore, you do not have an endless supply of time to accomplish much from the pulpit.
If you have ever felt like this or are feeling the pressure now, you are not alone. I have felt this way many times before in my ministry. I faced it almost every summer when I was a pastor. And, I am even addressing it now as an interim pastor. Although not perfect fixes, I have discovered a few suggestions that have helped me plan for and make it through my summer preaching schedule. Below are five such suggestions.
One, Consider the Calendar.
I am not referring to the church calendar here. I will address that below in one of my other suggestions. Rather in this suggestion, I mean the national calendar. As we mentioned above, several major holidays fall in the summer months. I know there are two schools of thoughts about this in evangelical circles right now, but as a pastor, I was one who did not shy away from taking these into consideration when planning my preaching schedule for the summer.
Please do not hear me say that I preached sermons on the United States during these times or led my church to replace the worship of Jesus with the worship of the country. I did not do this nor should you. I am not advocating for making the United States the object of our praise or the subject of our faith. However, series or single messages that relate or can be applied to what is happening in our communities and country may make a positive impact on your church. Some of these may include a message on “What It Looks Like for the United States To Truly Be Blessed” from Genesis 12 on the Fourth of July. Or “What We Should Do With The Freedoms We Have” from 2 Corinthians 5 on Memorial Day. Or “Being a Discipling and Disciplining Father” from Ephesians 6 on Father’s Day.
Any of these, and numerous others, allow you to use the calendar and keep the focus on Jesus and eternal matters in a way that connects with your people. This can be a helpful way of navigating through parts of the summer, planning well, and still faithfully preaching the Word.
Two, Plan Shorter Series.
Instead of planning a three to six month book series, which is the typical practice I advocate during the fall and spring, design or pick a series that can be accomplished in half or a third of the time. There are several avenues you can go down to accomplish this. You can plan a four or eight part doctrinal series in the summer. “What We Believe as Southern Baptists About the Holy Spirit” or “What We Believe About the Bible” are two great options.
You also can design a multi-part series on a biblical topic and develop it to cover a month to a month-and-a-half of Sunday mornings. “What Does it Mean to Be a Church Member” or “Stewardship: All to Jesus I Freely Give” or some derivative, are possibilities. The one on stewardship could serve multiple purposes in the summer. Two things it may accomplish is the ability to finish it in a short amount of time, and it would address some of the major areas that the church may struggle with in the summer – lack of attendance, participation, and giving during these months. Finally, you may pick a book or a portion of a book you can preach through in four to eight Sunday morning messages.
One of my preaching students recently contacted me because has been given the opportunity to fill in for a pastor who will be out on sabbatical for the entire month of June. He wants to preach through a book during this timeframe, and this year there are four Sundays during the month. So, he asked me what books break down well into a four part series. There are several, but the ones that come to mind the most readily are Jonah and Ruth in the Old Testament and Titus and Jude in the New Testament. A portion of the Sermon of the Mount from Matthew 5-7 would mark another possibility.
Planning shorter series is another way to connect with your people and keep their attention during this three to four month time span. It is a great way to navigate the summer while maintaining a healthy focus on the Word of God.
Three, Emphasize Some Summer Themes.
This is where the church calendar specifically and uniquely comes into play. As I mentioned in the introduction, there are several special events and unique activities on the church schedule that only fall in the summer. Instead of seeing these as barriers for the success, you can use them as convenient strategies in your Sunday morning preaching plan.
Some emphases that you can use from the church’s summer calendar is the Vacation Bible School theme. You may consider previewing the VBS theme in a two or four week series leading up to your kickoff. The curriculum providers usually release their themes months ahead of time, so you should know it well before the summer hits. In addition to the convenience this may provide for your preaching calendar, it can also serve as a Sunday morning advertisement to participating families and a vehicle to build excitement for your workers and volunteers.
A couple of other ideas include preaching on missions or the mission of the church — since churches plan so many of their trips in the summer — and the family — since the summer is the time when many people look and have the opportunity to spend concentrated amounts of time with their children. A unique possibility related to the family would be to plan a message or two on “Vacationing with a purpose” or “How to use your summer vacation as a family mission.”
Again, this simply is another way to use what is naturally a part of the fabric of the church’s life during the summer to aid, enhance, and bring attention to your pulpit during a time that often contains some barrier to doing so.
Four, Pull Out One Heavy Hitter.
Although everything mentioned above about the challenges of a church during the summer is true and even though many of the most faithful and consistent families will be out some, this does not mean that no one will ever come to Sunday morning church during this three month span. Neither does it mean that your attendance will completely bottom out. People will still be around, and your members will continue to attend church in the summer. And as they do, they will arrive with an expectation to hear a faithful and prepared message from God’s Word from the called messenger of the Lord, not some warmed-over, underprepared, get-me-by discourse. In other words, they come with the exact same expectation they do the rest of the year!
For this reason, I would not be afraid to plan or save one of my biggest or most anticipated series for the summer months. A few examples of this could be a series through a portion of the book of Revelation or Romans, a four part series on biblical stewardship, as I mentioned above, or relationships, or doing a study addressing a well-known or interesting doctrine on Sunday mornings. Furthermore, I would not only give significant effort to planning but also to promoting this “heavy hitter.” Again, the reason is that no one is going to be gone every week, and people will still be around. Perhaps this could be what entices them to come on a Sunday when they had originally planned to not. Perhaps you can use this strategy to turn this summer into a period of some of the best attendance you have ever had.
Fifth, Build Toward the Fall.
After writing all of this, I do not think the experts and seasoned pastors are completely wrong or off with their assessments regarding the summer. There is something to be said about planning your big emphases after school starts back, when vacations and summer activities are over. It probably is wise even to wait to launch your major series the second weekend in September, after everyone has had there one last summer hurrah. But, instead of approaching this with a defeatist attitude, you can use it for your advantage. Don’t limp toward September, run towards it. Use the summer to build momentum. Have a plan and plan well ahead of time. Let everyone know what you are doing.
How do you do this? Make sure you have the summer well marked out in advance. Whatever you have planned for the pulpit from May to September, transition well from one thing to another. Build anticipation and let your congregation know through multiple means what will happen on September 9, 2018! A major yet simple way the pastor can accomplish and promote this is through the outward display of his own anticipation of what is to come and excitement for how the Lord is moving.
I hope you will take these strategies into consideration and perhaps implement one or more of them this summer. The summer months are a time of epic cinematic blockbusters, neighborhood cookouts, and Disney vacations. They should not be a source of discouragement to you nor of hindrance to the church. Therefore, let me encourage you to make sure you enjoy the summer with your family. Find some time to unwind the rubber band yourself. And in your church, take advantage of what the Lord has graciously given as a part of the rhythm of the congregation’s life. Be creative in finding a way to leverage it in the pulpit and for the edification of your people.
I pray this blog will help with and alleviates some of the pressure and stresses of what to do over the next several months. But even more than that, I pray that it helps you stay faithful “Preaching the Word” to your people this summer!