No matter what the denomination, summer can be a challenge for spiritual leaders trying to keep everyone off the beach or soccer field and in the pews. This week's clergy discuss creative ways to keep attendance up all summer.
Pastor Bob Cederstrom, Christ Lutheran Church, New Hyde Park:
We have done a lot of things in our congregation to take away the excuses of summer. Usually, we gather for fellowship and refreshments after worship service on Sunday. In the summer, I make breakfast for everyone before service. I personally cook French toast, pancakes, bacon and eggs. You can come to church and get breakfast for free.
We also have what we call the chapel service. We move to a smaller, air-
conditioned space that is more informal. People can wear shorts and dress more casually and feel more comfortable than wearing a suit and tie and fancy dresses. The summer service is about 45 minutes instead of the usual 90 minutes.
We are unique in that we accept that people have things to do, places to be, and summer is a great time for families to get away. We actually don't have any drop-off in attendance during the summer. The same people who come all winter come all summer. But we also don't try to make people feel guilty about missing services.
It is important that I work with congregants instead of beating them over the head about attendance and that God is still here in the summer. We want people to come to service and feel refreshed, and then go on with their day.
The Rev. Craig J. Wright, Calvary AME Church, Glen Cove:
Too often, we take the humanity out of the church. We have the theology. We have the spirituality but forget the humanity. Sometimes, humanity needs to wear loose-fitting clothing, take off the suits and ties and fancy dresses, and just be comfortable.
Normally, the summer is a time to relax and enjoy yourself and to reconnect with family. What better time to connect with family than to start the day in service. Interestingly, the Sunday before Memorial Day, I advised the congregation that we are going to dress more comfortably, more casually this summer. So many people have plans after service in the summer that it is nice to not have to go home and change before going wherever you need to go.
Besides, it is nice to be a little more comfortable when it is so hot. Instead of going home, maybe as a family go to the beach, for a walk or out to family dinner afterward. There is something called the Wesleyan Quadrennial, also known as the four pieces necessary for enhancing one's faith. One of those has to do with tradition. So, I'm imposing the tradition of not getting dressed up for fellowship.
Our goal is to encourage people to attend service, not discourage them.
Rabbi Michael Rascoe, incoming rabbi, Temple Israel of Riverhead:
There are two things to look at. If we can offer something meaningful to them in the service, they will try to come. And, if we can create a community, people will want to sustain that community. We try for both Friday night and Saturday morning attendance. So, luckily, they will come to at least one or the other.
Most important, don't be afraid to discuss your schedule and needs with your rabbi. I can't accommodate all requests, but will consider the request. If it leads to a policy or program change, I'm OK with that. We can stick to policy and tradition and watch congregants walk out the door. Or, we can listen to and try to understand their needs. There are certain things you can't do at a traditional temple, but the one thing we can do is listen.
The temple should partner with the congregation to get them to temple. I have had what some would consider "odd ideas" about worship. Twenty years ago, I tried to get congregations to provide a place for kids and religious books children could bring into service. If you bring kids to the regular service, they get bored. But, if they had some appropriate reading material, they could read for a while and listen to the service a while. They would still be in the main service and able to learn from the main service. The more they come, the more it will have meaning for them. Twenty years later, congregations are coming around to my way of thinking. We are considering having brunch study groups.
We also do such things as pass out candy, let kids walk around with the Torah scroll on Saturday morning. They're all things to help them love religion and not associate it with being boring and that nobody wants to be here.
Yes, of course, there are parents whose children want to do what they want to do instead of go to service. I feel if we make it easier for the parents, we will make it easier for the children.