Summer is a tricky season for groups, but it can also be an awesome season for groups. In North America, public school has conditioned us over the last 100 years or so to take a break during the summer. Once the days get longer and the temperatures rise, participation tends to decline. But, let’s not throw away the summer just yet. Most people take a couple weeks of vacation, but few people have the luxury of taking the entire summer off. Here are some pros and cons of summer group strategies.
I started a men’s group 10 years ago that meets year-round. The guys get together every Wednesday for lunch at a restaurant and use a sermon discussion guide from the previous Sunday. Attendance is up and down, but in the fluctuations of summer schedules, most of the guys work most Wednesdays and eat lunch as well.
For neighborhood groups and other groups that meet in the evenings the summer schedule can be a little more challenging. With longer days and more outdoor activities, group studies can easily go by the wayside.
The pros of summer studies can be meaningful. The group is available when the members can attend. Even if everyone is not there every week, the group meeting is available when they are. As I mentioned before, few people are gone for the entire summer. In fact, sometimes attendance is more consistent to the group than on the weekend when people might take mini-vacations. In the ups and downs of summer, the group could be the stabilizing factor.
The group continues getting together for care, support, study and accountability all year. The group meetings don’t take a backseat during the summer schedule. This made sense for my men’s group. You make a good point about areas with year-round school. This was the case in some of the schools in California when we lived there. Even though school might be in session June, July and August, however, there is still the pull of summer is disrupt the normal pattern of the group.
On the other side of things, summer studies can become rather disjointed. As with any time of the year, if people miss one or two lessons in a study guide, they can usually pick up and continue on with the group. If they miss too many, however, they might feel they can’t catch up and thus skip the rest of the study.
An alternative would be for groups to choose a six-week study, then decide which six weeks they can meet over the summer months. They probably won’t select six weeks in a row, but they can put their calendars together before summer starts to see when most of the group is available. This works for some groups.
Each group must decide if regular summer meetings will serve their group or if it will decrease momentum for the fall launch. The ebb and flow of the calendar is not necessarily a bad thing.
Summer Church-wide Campaigns or Alignments
A few churches have done summer campaigns. A church-wide campaign or alignment means the weekend message is tied to the sermon series. They hear the message on the weekend from the pastor, then they discuss the same topic in their group in the following week. Campaigns or alignments are usually great catalysts in starting new groups, recruiting new leaders and connecting people into groups.
On the plus side of things, a summer campaign would offer people in your church another on-ramp to groups. They don’t have to wait for a fall campaign or group launch. They can join a group now while they are still interested.
There is, however, a considerable downside to a summer campaign or alignment. For one, the senior pastor is usually the motivator in recruiting new leaders, forming new groups and preaching the sermons to go with the campaign. In launching groups through a campaign, I highly recommended the giving the role of chief recruiter and spokesperson to the senior pastor. While other staff pastors could preach the series, recruit leaders and form groups, most associate pastors will only get 30 percent the result that the senior pastor would by saying the same words. (I know this from experience. After I saw the impact of my senior pastor recruiting leaders and promoting groups, I stopped recruiting in 2004 and haven’t recruited one person since.) Often senior pastors take a study break or sabbatical during the summer months. If the senior pastor is unavailable, then a church will not gain much from a summer launch.
The other issue with a big summer groups push is that it takes away momentum from the fall launch. Fall, by far, is the largest group launch season of the year followed by the New Year and then Easter. A few years ago I coached a small group pastor who insisted they promote summer groups. I was very reluctant for the reasons stated above and as much as I advised him not to take that path, he felt it was the way for his church to go. I supported him in the launch. The end result was what I feared. The summer launch was mediocre, and the fall launch suffered as a result of sapped momentum. I should have insisted that he wait.
Personally, I don’t think a summer campaign or alignment is the right timing, but there are churches with summer semesters who would disagree with me. Again, the trade off is gaining a little during the summer to potentially lose a lot in the fall.
Focus Solely on Group Life
While some groups are willing to take on a study during the summer, other groups will turn from group meetings to group life over the summer months. These groups will have barbecues together and other activities just to hang out and stay connected over the summer. Many churches encourage their groups to meet together at least once per month socially over the summer months, then get ready to dive into another study in the fall.
The tension lies in the fact that some churches equate Bible study with discipleship. Personally, I believe discipleship is more holistic and that our spiritual growth is influenced by the Bible, other people, our attitudes and actions, our feelings, our circumstances, our backgrounds, and many other inputs. (There is a book brewing in my head.) All of that to say, I believe there is much more to discipleship than Bible study. Some pastors hold that the absence of group meetings and Bible study indicates the absence of discipleship. Group life without meetings contains many opportunities for discipleship as group members encourage each other to live out God’s Word in practical ways. While the group may not be participating in a formal Bible study, they are involved in care, support and accountability in the practical outworking of biblical principles in the lives of each group member.
The upside of this strategy is that taking a break from group meetings and studies over the summer gives group members an opportunity to live out what they’ve learned the other nine months of the year. It also provides a necessary break from the regular meeting pattern between September and May. Groups will be ready to hit another study hard in the fall, if they’ve taken a break over the summer.
Groups socials are also a great opportunity to invite prospective group members. The prospects can get to know the group in a casual setting before they decide to join the group in on-going meetings.
Of course, the downside of cancelling meetings is that the focus on discipleship through learning is limited to about 30 weeks of the year (September to November, then January to May). Some will argue that we are disciples 52 weeks of the year, so why do we only focus on growth for roughly two-thirds of the year. The counter to this is discipleship is not just produced through studies, but also in life’s interactions, praying for group member’s needs, and living out what they’ve learned.
Summer Service Projects
If the group plans to change up their meeting pattern over the summer, a service project might be a great opportunity for the group to serve, learn and grow together. They could serve in one of the church’s ministries, at a non-profit or even find a need and fill it in their own neighborhood.
A definite pro in changing the focus from group meetings and Bible studies, a service project can help groups focus on living out their faith in a practical way. Not only will the person served benefit, but the group will benefit in several ways. Often God speaks to us when we are serving others. God can certainly work “in” each group member as He is working “through” them to serve others. The best part of serving others is taking the Gospel from a discussion to a practical expression. By serving as a group, everyone will get involved, and each individual might feel more comfortable by serving with others they know.
The only downsides of serving together would be in organizing the projects. If the groups depend on the church to schedule projects for them, then Summer may be a challenging time to coordinate their efforts. Whether the church recommends a project or the group identifies one on their own, coordinating busy summer schedules among group members could cause a roadblock to serving.
Small Group Road Trips and Vacations
Similar to focusing on group life mentioned above, over the years I’ve had groups go camping together, go on vacation together, or just take a day trip together. In fact, one group from the church I served in Greenville, S.C. went on a cruise together. They met another couple from Greenville on the cruise, who ended up joining their small group when they returned.
The pro of this is that you REALLY get to know someone when you travel together—the good, the bad and the ugly. But, the time spent on a cruise or a week-long vacation could be equivalent of all of the time the group spends together throughout the year. And, who knows, they could meet potential group members. Their relationships will be deepened for sure.
The downside is that trips like this aren’t easy for the majority of groups. It’s one thing to offer this as one of many summer recommendations, but it’s a little much to challenge all of your groups with. Oh, and the group that recruiting new members on the cruise, they want to deduct their fare as a ministry expense…
Forming Groups Around Summer Interests
A number of churches create groups in a Free Market system where often groups are formed around sports, hobbies, or other shared interests. The idea here is that particular summer sports, outings and activities could generate interest in forming new groups.
The pro of this is that the more people have in common with each other, the better chance the group will hit it off. By offering a short term commitment around activities people enjoy doing, it could provide a great introduction to group life.
On the con side, most things formed during the summer don’t really start well or last long term. If the purpose is a short term experience, then it will work. But, if you’re looking for ongoing groups, this is not the best season to start groups.
Another downside is that common interest doesn’t guarantee that the group members will gel into a group. Started groups by leveraging existing relationships creates a stronger basis for groups than common interest. These groups will take some effort to start with no guaranteed return on investment.
Take a Break for the Summer
As the old song goes, “Summertime, and the living is easy…” Many people will discard extra activities and obligations over the summer in exchange for the freedom to enjoy the lazy days of summer. Many churches, in turn, will cancel their groups over the summer. They just don’t meet in June, July and August.
The pro for this one is that the groups definitely have a break and will look forward to what’s ahead in the fall. There also is no guilt for not meeting, since that is the expectation.
The cons are many. For those who want a summer Bible study, they are completely on their own to put one together. Even if the group wasn’t planning a Bible study, the lack of connection over the summer could potentially doom the group in the fall. No meetings or interactions could be too much of a not so good thing. Once fall arrives, the new task may be starting completely over and forming new groups. It would be easier to encourage groups to continue in some way in order to avoid this.
Summer with the right strategy can boost groups. This will vary from church to church and possibly from group to group. Offer several options to your groups, so they can choose what would work best for them over the summer months to continue the group, but also allowing for a change of pace.
This article originally appeared here.