By Amanda Furbeck
Alongside the fun and festivities that come along with the sweet retreat of summer time is a difficult phenomenon for worship leaders: summer lulls in attendance. Oh, it is definitely not ‘personal’ – people are on vacation, participating in family reunions, and diving into their summer activities. But it surely feels personal to stare out at a sparsely filled sanctuary, trying to impart some energy and times of praise into a few minutes of the weekly worship hour. A little freshness and a little something new or different may be just enough to add a little sparkle back to the worship set. A few creative ideas interspersed into the summer worship schedule might help the worship leader and the congregation connect with each other and with Jesus.
Worship in the park. One reason for church absences during the summer is that folks are seeking time to enjoy the great outdoors. The call of the wild is hard to ignore, but bringing the worship time out-of-doors may give worshipers a whole new reason to praise the Lord. Move the worship service to a nearby park, outdoor bandstand, or even a large backyard. Focus on themes of creation and praise, and thank God for His beautiful creation.
Bring the outdoors, indoors. If the weather is uncooperative, but creation themes inspire your worshipers, try bringing the outdoors in. Borrow as many potted plants, trees, and flowers as you can find. Create a beautiful cluster of greenery in the front of the sanctuary and the lobby for a great backdrop for a creation theme. Dim the lights and make the sanctuary a little extra cool to simulate early morning in the garden.
Sit closer together. Worshipers tend to sit in the same locale no matter who is missing, and often folks will drift to the back pew, leaving big gaps of empty space. Ask congregants to move closer together, and consider roping off back sections of the worship space. Being closer in proximity to each other will help your fellowship feel more connected and sing better, while the sanctuary or multi-purpose room will feel that much fuller.
Special guest nights of worship. Special events will help bolster attendance, and providing a night of worship may allow people to worship whose summer schedule prevents them from attending on Sunday mornings. Consider giving aspiring artists a chance to lead worship, swapping worship teams with another church, or putting together a few sets of the congregation’s favorite worship songs.
Experiential worship. Summer is a great time to take advantage of smaller numbers and try some new or more intimate worship experiences. Create different stations in the sanctuary around a theme, such as prayer stations. Hand out manipulatives that focus on the sermon theme, such as pieces of clay when discussing the Potter (Isaiah 64:8). If appropriate, teach your congregation some simple liturgical dance or sign language to use during sung worship, or explore different postures of prayer. Dim the lights, light a few candles, or even try some incense to involve all of the senses in the worship experience. You might have attenders submit short testimonies and photographs to share what God has done in their lives over the summer. Put it all together for a stunning video of how God is working in the lives of the congregation. Follow this with a time of praise! Make a service project an act of worship by bringing food pantry items or donations of clothing to the altar for a specific ministry or shelter. You might even investigate global worship by involving those who speak another language to read Scripture or sing in their native tongue, while showing footage of their country’s church services or countryside.
Change your instrumentation. It can be difficult to maintain a full worship team for the entire summer. Don’t be afraid to simplify. An acoustic guitar, a hand drum, and a vocalist can create beautiful moments in which to worship Jesus. A simple piano accompaniment can sound fresh and new; unaccompanied singing allows worshipers to connect and listen to each other as they praise the Lord.
Try silence. Take a cue from the Taize community, who practices silence, simple prayers, and repetitive music. Incorporate some times of quiet prayers, meditation on Scripture, and simple a capella songs for a mini-retreat during the worship service. Encourage worshipers to be still and rest in God’s presence for a time of spiritual renewal and refreshment.
It is easy to feel discouraged during summer down times, but the Bible is clear: Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Mat 18:20). Whatever methods or ideas are implemented to engage the congregation, whatever means are used to add energy and freshness to worship, there is no substitute for delighting in the Word of God and no replacement for genuine, sincere worship of Jesus Christ, the Savior, Lord, and King.
Amanda Furbeck serves as a worship pianist at Bethany United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania. She is also a free-lance writer, piano teacher, and cosmetologist. Amanda has led worship in a variety of settings, including women’s ministry events and as music pastor in previous churches. She has a heart for helping people connect with God through music and is pursuing a Master of Divinity at Liberty Theological Seminary.