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6 things to know about church summer slumps

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“I hate summer attendance!”

That sentence came from a pastor whose church is consistently down in attendance in the summer. Indeed, his sentiments were echoed in many conversations I had with pastors. The conversation began at the consulting and coaching hub at Church Answers. I expanded it with some inquiries via emails, calls, and texts.

The insights these pastors shared were invaluable. Perhaps you can identify with many of them.

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  1. A typical average decline is 20 percent. We used average worship attendance as our metric. The 20 percent number was the response from two of three pastors in this survey. So, for a church with an average worship attendance of 200 during the non-summer months, attendance drops to 160 in the summer.
  2. Snowbird churches tend to have greater fluctuations. For example, churches in southwest Florida and south Florida tend to have an exodus of attendees in the summer, usually greater than 20 percent. On the other hand, a pastor in Minnesota told us his church’s summer attendance was unchanged. Vacationers were offset by returning snowbirds.
  3. Churches in towns dominated by colleges have declines greater than 20 percent. Of course, this issue is often a reflection of the robustness of the church’s college ministry. A pastor in a town where the college makes up a major part of the population told us his church’s summer decline was around 50 percent!
  4. Year-round school is impacting the summer slump. A year-round school system could have a six-week summer break instead of the usual full summer break. Those six weeks of attendance could be down dramatically, well above the 20 percent norm noted by the majority of pastors.
  5. Churches that give a summer break to their small groups typically have a decline greater than 20 percent. It is absolutely amazing how involvement in groups like community groups, small groups, life groups, and Sunday school classes affect ministry involvement, giving, and attendance frequency positively. When churches keep their groups active in the summer, attendance slumps are not as pronounced.
  6. Many churches have become intentional about battling the summer slump. Instead of ramping down they, at the very least, keep their regularly-scheduled ministries on the same schedule. But a number of the churches actually introduce new ministries and opportunities in the summer. For example, the tried- and-true Vacation Bible School tends to impact attendance positively for at least two weeks of the summer.

We are now full into the summer season. I am thankful for these insights on the summer slump from many pastors.

Let us hear from you. How bad (or not) is the summer slump in your church?

Thom S. Rainer is the founder and CEO of Church Answers, an online community and resource for church leaders. Prior to founding Church Answers, Rainer served as president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.

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