How do you feel about summer? Are you racing toward the finish line, eagerly awaiting the break? Or are you dreading the lull of summer when your ministry seems to lose all momentum?
Summer can be a drag for small-group ministry, or it can be the perfect opportunity to breathe new life into it. It’s up to you. Use these three ideas to plan now for how you’ll handle summer in your ministry.
1. Check the church calendar
What is your church like during the summer? Completely dead? Overwhelmed with other ministry events like VBS or an annual women’s event? You’ll want to be mindful of two things. First of all, if your church basically takes a break during the summer, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you continue to offer small groups. On the other hand, if your church is brimming with activity during the summer, especially special events, you may have less interest in small groups.
If your church tends to take a break during the summer, consider changing up your usual small group routine to fit the season. If your church members feel overwhelmed with activities, don’t ask them to do more. Instead, combine efforts. Make sure small groups have a presence at VBS by offering a parenting group or handing out information about fall small groups. Have a table at the women’s retreat that hands out information about women’s groups starting in the fall, and see if any of your women leaders would be willing to lead parts of the retreat. In short, look for natural ties between ministries during the summer and maximize the natural gathering times already in place instead of doubling up on efforts.
Whatever you decide to offer during the summer, avoid planning events and groups around key holidays like Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day. If there are important community events, be sure to plan around them as well. Schedule your important fall dates now: campaigns, kickoffs, and any leader events or retreats. Get them on the calendar now so there aren’t conflicts later.
2. Offer special groups
People in your church may be willing to try something new during the summer. Offering short-term groups, classes, or special interest groups can be a real win. You may meet people who wouldn’t normally join a group, and they’ll get a positive group experience, which may encourage them to join your regular groups in the fall. You might offer a group that goes for a bike ride every Saturday morning, a group of mothers that meet at the park every Tuesday, a class on understanding spiritual gifts, or even a group that focuses on missional practices. Consider this an opportunity to try out something that wouldn’t normally fit in your ministry structure but empowers people to lead out of their strengths, gifts, and interests.
3. Check in with leaders by the end of May
Once you have some plans—or at least potential plans—in place, check in with your current leaders. What are their group plans for the summer months? Is their group ending? Is their group dealing with anything that needs guidance from you? Help answer any questions they may have, bring closure to any groups that are ending, and communicate your ideas and plans for the summer. Make it clear that groups can be different in the summer, and it’s okay for leaders to get a little break. Let them off the hook from keeping their small group on the same schedule and study throughout summer.
Make sure leaders know your expectations as they head into the summer months, especially if there are any changes from your normal expectations. For instance, you may not meet with them one-on-one or hold your regular training events during the summer. Also let them know any important dates for the fall—including kickoff or campaign dates and any leader gatherings that will happen in August or September.
It might also be a good idea to gather your leaders together to celebrate all they’ve done this year. Let them know you appreciate their hard work and acknowledge all the work that goes into leading a group. You could also plan a retreat day that lets them get away and recharge for ministry. Summer can be a great time to invest in your leaders. Alternatively, you may plan a retreat day as you kick off groups in the fall. Just make sure they know the date for this event now.
Summer can allow you to invest in your ministry and connect people in new ways. There’s no need to see summer as bad for your ministry. It may be just what you need to bring new life to your small groups. The key is to plan ahead so you’re intentional with this natural break. Happy summer!
—Amy Jackson is a former managing editor of SmallGroups.com.