Summer can be a tricky season for groups. Once the days get longer and the temperatures rise, participation tends to decline. With more outdoor activities, indoor group studies can easily go by the wayside. Still, let's not throw away our summer group plans just yet. Most people take a couple of weeks for vacation, but few people have the luxury of taking off the entire summer.
Each group should decide how regular summer meetings would serve their group, or if it could potentially decrease momentum for the fall launch of small group meetings. Keep in mind, the ebb and flow of the calendar is not necessarily a bad thing. Life happens. It’s important to maintain the integrity of the group while recognizing other priorities. Here are some summer group strategies that may work for your small groups, with pros, cons, and possible solutions for each.
1. Continue On As Usual
I started a men's group about 10 years ago and we continue to meet year-round. We get together every Wednesday for lunch at a restaurant, and use a sermon-based discussion guide from the previous Sunday to focus our conversation. Attendance is up and down, but even with the fluctuations of summer schedules, most of the men still work on Wednesdays, and eat lunch as well.
There are positive implications for continuing as normal throughout the summer. In the spontaneous ups-and-downs of the season, the group could be a welcome stabilizing factor. The awareness that meetings don't take a backseat during the summer months demonstrates an ongoing commitment to the members. The group remains available for those who can attend, even if not everyone can be there every week. Regardless of the weather, the group still requires care, support, study, and accountability all year. If this is a possibility for your group, consider meeting during the week when attendance seems to be more consistent, rather than on the weekends when people might take mini-vacations.
As might be expected during the summer, group meetings can become disjointed. If people miss one or two lessons in a study guide, as with any time of the year, they can usually pick up where they left off and continue with the group. If they miss too many lessons, however, they may feel they can't catch up and skip the rest of the study. To alleviate this “all or nothing” mentality, an alternative would be to choose a six-week study, and then decide which six weeks group members can meet over the summer months—even if it’s not six weeks in a row. Coordinating calendars before summer starts in order to establish when most of the group is available has proven beneficial for many groups.
2. Focus on Relationships
While some groups will decide to continue their study, other groups will turn from formal meetings to informal get-togethers over the summer months. These groups will have barbecues and arrange other social activities just to relax and stay connected. Many churches encourage their groups to meet together socially at least once a month over the summer, and then prepare to dive into another study in the fall.
Another idea is to go on a trip together. Over the years, I have had groups go camping, plan a vacation, or just take a day trip together. In fact, one group from the church I served in Greenville, South Carolina, went on a cruise together; they met another couple from Greenville on the cruise, who ended up joining their small group when they returned! Keep in mind, you really get to know someone when you travel together—the good, the bad, and the ugly—as you spend a lot of time together in a small window, rather than just a few hours each week. With a little patience and understanding, very deep bonds are likely to form.