Making the most of the summer slump

April 3rd, 2018

Though we may be in for one more cold spell, spring is on the verge of full blossom. So why take time to go through an article on approaching the challenges and opportunities in Christian education and spiritual formation initiatives in the local church during the summer?

The obvious answer known to anyone active in Sunday School, Christian education and spiritual formation in the local church is that time seems to fly by. While we may have one more cold snap ahead of us we know that the dog days of summer will be upon us before we know it. And with those hot and muggy days come adjusted schedules, family vacations and disruption to the routine in local houses of worship.

It can be a potential headache for those charged with programming Christian education and spiritual formation opportunities in the local church. Vacations and other schedule changes can lead to challenges like scheduling teachers, content selection and varying attendance. But it can also be an opportunity for experimentation and innovation that might be received better in this season where disruption from individual and family schedules is already occurring. Below I’d like to highlight some possibilities to consider during the summer season.

Making Ordinary Time Extraordinary

One of the challenges of the summer season is the space in the liturgical time between the celebration of Pentecost and the season of Advent known as “Ordinary Time”. From Advent to Christmas to Lent to Easter to Pentecost, the church calendar is full of built-in themes to craft programming and activities around, and there is no shortage of material and curriculum for these times. But what do you do during this long break from these big events within the liturgical calendar?

It would be easy to see this period as a theme desert, but what if you saw it as a blank slate? Are there opportunities for exploration that a large section of unstructured time would lend itself to? This season could be a time to explore in more detail some important themes or topics. An extended series on prayer or an exploration of the parables, the Beatitudes or another topic that could use several weeks of unplanned calendar time could work.  If you are worried about attendance gaps with vacationing parishioners, a series of self-enclosed topics could be an option.  Each Sunday session would cover one discreet topic that would stand alone as well as fit in with a larger topic, e.g. a series on prayer could cover distinct types of prayer each week like petition or intercession or contemplation.

Using Teacher/Facilitator Shortages as Opportunity for Innovation

No matter how large or small your church’s network of opportunities for Christian formation on Sundays, it is probably true that it requires a level of consistency and dependability in scheduling and staffing. Summers can be a challenge because some of your volunteers will be on vacation. Some may want a break over the summer to take time to be a participant and recharge for a season. It can be a trying time if you are in charge of making sure things are running smoothly. Let your anxiety be a catalyst for creativity! Ask yourself and your team if the challenges of scheduling and attendance fluctuation in the summer also offer opportunities to break the routine and try something new.

This can be a season to try things out of your community’s comfort zone which could address your scheduling challenges as well as add some excitement to the summer months. Are there opportunities to have a one-time or series of multi-generational events? How can you combine and mix age groups for mutually beneficial spiritual formation activities? If you have a regular system of Sunday School classes divided among school age breakdowns, summer might be the right time to experiment with a one room Sunday School model. This could have the practical benefit of dealing with scheduling issues as well as breaking free of the dominant model that the church always has to conform to the designations and divisions in other areas of culture. What would it mean to envision spiritual formation in a multi-generational format?

You’re Not Alone

Chances are your local faith community isn’t the only one dealing with this issue. Other churches in your neighborhood are as well, and this can be an opportunity to seek solutions together that expand your vision and experience. Take a look at the other faith communities in your neighborhood. Are there opportunities for collaboration and cooperation in innovative ways? This can be a ripe season to have conversations across denominational lines where Christians can explore their shared heritages as well as their distinctions. This can also be an opportunity to reach intentionally across the lines that might divide us. Are there opportunities to deepen cross-cultural and cross-racial experiences?  Talk to your pastor and see if experiments like this could lead to joint worship experiences.

There is no doubt that summer can offer a challenge to the norm, but I encourage you to see ways in which these disruptions can open up exciting possibilities for innovation and experimentation. Be bold. Be creative. See what happens! 

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