How to Use the Summer
Finding opportunities to reimagine and reinvent
The season of summer can be a quieter time at many parishes. Unless you’re in a resort community, attendance inevitably drops as faith formation programs end and parishioners go on vacation (or just sleep in).
While summer should be a time of rest and refreshment for pastors and parish staff, it is also an important opportunity. There’s a lot you can do during this season to set yourself up for a successful fall and beyond. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the success you reap during the ministry year is sown when you set goals and cast vision in the quiet months.
This is especially true as parishes reckon with the enduring fallout of the coronavirus crisis. No matter — whether masks, distancing and lockdowns are removed or remain — this fall will be different. The habits we used to rely on to bring people back to church have been broken. We won’t be able to just plug and play the same old programs and expect the crowds to come roaring back. There will be an ongoing need for reimagining and reinventing. This summer could be the very best time to slow down and get reacquainted with the mission of the Church and your vision for your parish in anticipation of that.
Here are three things you can do that will make a difference:
1) Over-communicate your vision
Even the sharpest vision tends to fade over time. It needs to be constantly repeated. This is especially true now, with all the changes that have come during these uncertain times. Vision casting at our parish follows a sort of cascading pattern. It starts in late spring when the leadership team makes an off-site retreat for prayer, reflection and discussion of goals for the year to come (September-May). A few weeks later, the leadership team hosts a daylong retreat for our entire staff to communicate what was discussed at our off-site gathering. The staff then has the whole summer to build their programs around the vision of the leadership team, which we all share with all the other departments at a third gathering toward the end of summer. Staff then communicates its goals and direction to their lead volunteer ministers. Finally, when the new year starts in September, I take advantage of appropriate opportunities to cast vision to the whole parish through my weekly homily and in our announcements.
2) Plan a “message series”
A very effective way to get the whole parish on the same page, when it comes to mission and vision, discipleship, evangelization (or anything else) is to preach in what we call a message series. A message series is an approach to preaching that explores a single theme over the course of multiple weekends (usually around four to six weeks — three tends to be too short and seven seems too long). The theme is relevant to the people in our community and always focused on at least one step in discipleship, which we’re challenging our parishioners to take. When planned properly, you can almost always connect the topic to the liturgical season and the Lectionary.
There are numerous benefits to this style of preaching, but the main advantage is that it gets the parish moving in the same direction, and that can be powerful when it comes to mission and vision. The easiest way to start is by using the summer to plan a single series to coincide with a distinct liturgical season, like Advent or Lent. Perhaps even plan some faith formation or small group presentations around your series, too.
3) Prune your event calendar
There have been so many events and activities canceled this past year that we’ve come to describe the process of taking things off the calendar as “COVID-ing our way out of things.” The truth is that many of the events we were doing pre-COVID, which were fun or good for fundraising, were not good for serving the mission of the Church.
To some extent, the parish will always be a social hub, and that’s fine. But what’s not fine is expending your resources on events that are secondary to your mission. This summer is a great time to COVID your way out of the events that will otherwise be taking time and energy this fall away from the things that are really going to drive mission and vision.
Be strategic with your summer and your fall will be more successful.
FATHER MICHAEL WHITE is pastor of Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland, and co-author of “Rebuilt,” as well as a book on church financing, “ChurchMoney” (Ave Maria Press, $16.95).