When I first came to this church two years ago, all Christian Education pretty much came to a halt during the summer — no Sunday school, no small groups, no large-groups, no regular youth meetings at all. I had never heard of a church that did that before and thought, “Why in the world would you stop youth ministry programs during the summer? Don’t teenagers need Jesus just as much during the summer as they do during the school year?” My church’s response was that most people are gone during the summer and have such irregular schedules that it is very difficult to run any programs. Attendance is low and it’s difficult to get adult leaders on board. Although it made me raise an eyebrow a bit, I went along with the tradition as the newbie at the church.
Since then we’ve added weekly summer Bible studies at my house that my wife and I lead without the help of other adult leaders, so at least there’s something regular for kids throughout the season, but that’s about it except for a couple big trips (one for sr. high, one for jr. high). Still no Sunday School or traditional youth group meetings.
I actually converted to being a strong supporter of slowing down and even ending youth ministry programs during the summer for several reasons besides low attendance and irregular schedules.
1. It provides time for me to pull back to a birds-eye view and refocus on the big picture. All year long I’m staring at the ministry from so close-up that I get cross-eyed and don’t always remember the big picture of our ministry. It’s easy to get bogged down in running individual programs and loose sight of the overall direction of our ministry as a whole. When you drive at full-throttle for so long, it’s hard to notice subtle shifts in direction until you stop to widen your perspective and take a look at the map.
2. It gives me time to properly evaluate the ministry. It’s hard to work in an annual evaluation of the entire ministry when there’s no real break for doing so. It’s even harder to think objectively, pray and talk through necessary adjustments and changes when the programs just keep running and running without a pause. You don’t fix a car without first shutting it off.
3. It gives adult leaders a well-deserved break so they’re rested and energized for the fall. There’s no substitute for a team of rested and energized youth leaders! They all work so hard during the school year, they serve so sacrificially, and give so much of themselves to teens that the summer is a great time for them to just relax and recharge. They tend to stay on the youth team longer and avoid burnout when they have the summer break. And anyone who works in youth ministry knows that longevity for youth workers is essential to life-change.
4. It allows me to do a lot of vision-casting for the fall. After proper evaluations have been conducted and we have a plan for improvement to take kids deeper and wider, I have most of July and August left to cast that vision, communicate it with parents, teens and leaders. It’s a time for everyone else zoom out to a birds-eye view of the ministry, too.
5. It provides a natural transition when we re-launch in the fall. It kind of provides us with a clean slate for when normal ministry programs do start up again. We can make changes, cut things and add other things to the ministry without a lot of complaints because everything is new again. Plus, when we launch everything in the fall, there’s always much more excitement and energy. Momentum builds very quickly.
6. It provides sufficient time to hang out with kids while they’re not in school. You could say, “Kids aren’t in school during the summer, so that’s the time to rev up your youth ministry!” That may be true in your community, but here in Alexandria, Minnesota, it doesn’t really work that way. So instead I see it as a goldmine of opportunities to spend one-on-one time with kids every day. Instead of trying to keep kids busy with programs that may or may not be spiritually influential, I’d rather focus on relationship building with individuals and in ways I know will be spiritually influential.
7. It’s my time to read, self-educate, and do miscellaneous projects. The school year is so busy that I tend to put “continuing education” off to the side. Youth and adolescence changes so rapidly that it’s different almost every 6 months! What I learned about youth ministry back in Bible college years ago hardly applies to today anymore. It’s very important that I continue to read, study, learn and don’t become an obsolete youth leader. It’s also a great time to jump on those projects that otherwise would always be on back burner (like rebuilding our group’s website, organizing the office and cleaning out storage closets).
Do your youth ministry programs slow down or pause completely during the summer? We’d all love to hear why in the comments below.
[ UPDATE: To add some clarification to this post, read the follow-up of what our summer youth schedule DOES look like. ]
Posted on May 20, 2009