This article reminded us that summer is the time when families most often move and thus might be looking for a new church home. Summer, says Ehrich, is NOT the time to gear down, but a time to be creative in reflecting who we are.
These thoughts led us in a new direction.
Prior to this, summer Sundays for adults and youth had consisted of stand-alone sessions with a different teacher each Sunday. Adult choices typically included a Bible study and a DVD series. For the youth, summer Sunday mornings often entailed faith discussions on current issues or movie clips followed by discussion. Though all of these certainly are worthy topics, they had been repeated often and excitement had waned.
Armed with a refreshing point of view, members developed new plans in partnership with our Worship and Music committee. We shifted our Sunday schedule from two worship services at 8:30 and 11:00 with Church School in between to one worship service at 9:30 a.m. followed by a learning/service hour. Worshiping and learning together as one community led to the title “Summer SUN” (Servants Uniting NorthPark) to reflect our new approach.
In 2009 the learning hour was structured as an intergenerational experience. Last summer we organized broad age groupings with a couple of exceptions: a brunch after worship for everyone to enjoy our annual youth mission trip presentation of video footage and stories shared by the youth, and working together on the Sunday closest to July 4 to assemble care packages to be sent to our troops.
Both summers’ intergenerational — then adult — components of our endeavor tapped the various committees to take responsibility for a Sunday in order to highlight their work. Some further examples:
» Our Mission Committee invited a representative from an agency we support to make a presentation and suggest additional ways we could help them both as a community and individually.
» The Fellowship Committee led a Bible study on hospitality followed by small group sharing on that topic.
» With a new pastor in place, one Sunday’s topic was “Conversations with Brent,” giving people an opportunity to get to know him better.
» The Worship and Music Committee took groups on rotating “tours” of our organ pipes and a hands-on time with the hand bells and chimes.
» A doctor and his wife in our congregation, who have taken several medical trips to Kenya (with “Meds for Africa”), told their story through slides and commentary on a summer Sunday in 2009. Two other church members joined their 2010 trip, and the congregation pledged new funding to an eye clinic there.
This year’s summer Sunday learning hour for the youth grew out of feedback from several of our college students. They identified our periodic exploration of other denominations and religions as among the most helpful topics as they entered the broader world of college. So we increased the inquiry this time by inviting adherents of other religions — each a friend of someone in the congregation — to the youth class to share their beliefs and traditions, to answer questions, and to help us find common ground with them. A Jew, a Muslim, and a Buddhist were all given a designated Sunday. The youth are still talking about this engaging experience.
One youth summer learning cycle used in the past, certainly to be repeated in the future, has been to learn about and worship with different Christian denominations. One Sunday involves study and discussion of information about a particular denomination, followed by a visit to worship with a congregation of that denomination the next Sunday. On the return trip we debrief the experience together. By the way, we have found the youth materials from Faith Alive Resources (Christian Reformed Church curriculum) help to discuss such differences from a Reformed approach that offers information and understanding without casting aspersions on the other groups: Which Way to God? And What’s Up With the Church Down the Street?
It has required some reworking of the schedule and pooling of lots of ideas, but our Summer SUN program has generated higher attendance in the summer, but more importantly, it has increased enthusiasm and commitment.
We plan to ratchet it up this next summer, too.
JANN TREADWELL, the 2010 APCE Educator of the Year is the Certified Christian Educator for Youth and Adults at NorthPark Church, Dallas, Texas.