Sunday, June 21, 2009

Faith Works 6-27-09
Jeff Gill

Summer Slump May Be Story Of the Past For Churches

There really was a day, a summer day for many congregations, when the sanctuary pews were empty, or at least emptied out.

Once upon a time, when travel was harder, but ironically, vacation was often longer, there truly was such a thing as the “summer slump.”

Part of me wishes for people the chance to take a two or three or even four week trip, even as I understand that in a time of double digit unemployment and workplace competition, the concept of “a month off” is not going to make a comeback – not this year.

It is true, as Rick Steves keeps reminding us all on his PBS travel shows, that Americans take both the least AND the shortest vacations of any industrialized nation. If we get four weeks off, we’re likely to take two one week vacations and a few days here and there . . . at the most.

This may not be as good for productivity as an economist might think (let alone a manager), since getting your head out of the details might be the best way to get your head in the game. Studies show this, and the Biblical injunction of Sabbath has something to say about it, as part of the very nature of Creation itself.

So faith communities might do well to speak up for time off, both on a weekly basis in Sabbathkeeping, and through the year for a sort of annual Sabbath. We could remind people of the values, contingent and eternal, behind remembering how God is in charge and we aren’t. Vacations do that for us.

Plus, some of the most interesting ideas in congregational life come from church members who go visit a place of worship somewhere else, and return saying “Hey, did you realize we could do THIS?”

What’s more immediately of concern, on the home front, is the tendency to echo the world’s ways and get so blooming busy through the summer that any rational believer would start thinking “I need some time off from this place.”

Somehow, it seems like we’ve gone in a generation from churches that often all but shut down from Memorial Day to Labor Day (other than the odd church that did a VBS or an occasional rummage sale) to being twice as busy in June, July, and August than we are any months that don’t have “ecember” in them.

What can we do to improve this situation? I think it can be a Godly and gracious thing for churches to think and speak as if vacation time is part of a healthy, inspired life, not something to apologize for. You know the flip side: the folks who are first to say “oh, a vacation; I’ve never taken one in the last fifteen years.”

No, church leaders can affirm and celebrate time away, and also lift up worship as a healthy part of this health-filled decision; we can offer to help identify locations near where you’re going to attend worship, or we can provide materials for family worship out on the beach or up in the mountains. Little “vacation worship pacs” in the narthex say to everyone “time away is actually time that is part of a fully engaged life, and worship has a place there.”

The alternative is, well, what we have, where the whole “um, yeah, we’re, uh, taking some time off” along with the horrendously unhealthy “what happens in Blank stays in Blank” leads to the auto-assumption that no sane person goes to church on vacation.

Truly, some of the most powerful and personally productive worship services I’ve attended have been during “time off,” when I was utterly just another worshiper, with no other expectations or assumptions weighing my soul down.

And for those still hesitant about taking their growing personal faith and taking into corporate worship: there is no better way to try out church attendance, without worrying that a congregation you know you can’t stand will chase you for months, than going to Sunday services hundreds of miles from home.

Maybe on vacation is where you can start to find the path to your heart’s true home.

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; tell him a story of worship on the road at, or follow Knapsack

No comments:

Post a Comment