Summer Break, Ministry Break

Summer Break Ministry Break

A ministry taking a break or scaling back during the summer is pretty common here.  MOPS groups meeting during the school year, but take the summers off since the kids are home.  Bible Study groups take a break since people are busy traveling.    Women’s Ministries do not plan much for the summer, due to unpredictable attendance.

I’ve watched this happen for over twenty years, various denominations, and assorted cities in which we have lived.  I thought it was a regional thing due to our hot Florida summers, but I’ve learned it is pretty common throughout the country.  How did this happen?

Over the course of twenty years, I’ve noticed something … people’s vacations, life interruptions, and crisis don’t wait for summer.  In fact, if I had to point out what I see as the busiest time of the year, with the most interruptions it would fall one week before Thanksgiving and through the week of New Years.  Why?

Ahead of Thanksgiving you have two things happening, either you are preparing to travel for the holiday or you are preparing to host the holiday.  Then once Thanksgiving has passed, you enter the Christmas season.  Just like Thanksgiving, people are preparing for the holiday travel or to host guests at their home.  However, unlike Thanksgiving, this season is also peppered with holiday parties thrown by friends, family, co-workers, and companies.  Schools will have some sort of winter presentation (band concert, choir performance, etc.) and class parties that require shopping for supplies, dropping them off, or even attending the event with your children.  In your free time, you may find yourself in the mall or local stores shopping til you drop.  Even if you are shopping online, you still need to locate the gifts, receive them, and wrapping won’t elude you (unless you pay for the store to gift wrap for you).  All of these holidays impact the majority of your church members. In the holiday season, we do not see a decrease in church service attendance. 

Because of this, I try to make sure that our ministry events and studies wrap up prior to Thanksgiving week.  Then we will have some sort of a kick off in January that will introduce our next study group topics and calendar for the coming months.

The summer, however, doesn’t have that same rush and chaos as the holiday season does.  We are not feeling as stretched thin, schedule wise.  Not only do we see the ministries take a break or cut back, but even Sunday service attendance decreases.  In some states you might be tempted to blame good weather, especially if you are prone to long cold winters or rain filled falls & springs.   However, in Florida, we almost always have good weather.  In fact, our summer is so hot that many of us will do less just to avoid the heat.  We relish the cooler months when they come.

Unless your kids are in certain travel sports teams, their sports have also taken a break for summer.  Yes, you might have cheer camp, band camp, or a sports camp for a week or two, but typically you have the majority of the summer off.

I wonder if this is the reason we take summers off?  Have we jam packed our mid Aug – May (or early June) with so much stuff that by the time summer comes it serves as a respite.  We are not rushing around doing school tasks/errands and events for our kids?  The concert/performance/team seasons have ended.  Less kids birthday parties fall during the summer.  There are no holiday parties, shy of 4th of July which may be the most low key holiday when it comes to preparation.  Vacations are not accompanying a holiday, so they don’t have as much preparation or pressure.

We are just doing less during the summer, and perhaps that led to us seeing summer break like a sabbath season from the year.  In addition, we are all collectively doing less.  And, we enjoy the break.

The problem with summer breaks from ministry and studies is the result of having to restart the attendance habit each coming fall.  It takes a while to get back into the swing of things, after a two or three months break.  I also believe that as a result of the ministries and studies taking a break, people also break from Sunday services… particularly now that they can watch online from their home.

Yes, it is good for our leaders to get a break and recuperate.  Rest is something that is mentioned quite often in the Bible as a good thing.  It is good for all of us to get a break to stop & be still for a bit.  However, we must be careful that it isn’t too long.  Further, if we are actually scheduling in the breaks throughout the year then a summer break may not be necessary.  For example, instead of teaching a study without a break Aug-May… intentionally scheduling a two week break between study topics/books may be enough to re-energize the leader through the next session.  If you could get a short reprieve periodically throughout the year then teaching through the summer wouldn’t be as daunting.  Plus, your study members would also get a break and perhaps attending throughout the summer would be more appealing.

To Recap:  A possible reason for a summer break, is that we are so busy throughout the year that when summer comes, we are just done and ready to rest.

To Resolve:  Schedule short breaks throughout the rest of the years, so that a summer break is not necessary.

School is Back in Session

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Does your ministry take the summer off?   This is what I experience in my home town. Women’s studies conclude, usually by the first half of May.  Women’s Brunches wait for fall to return.  Other ministries also seem to stop or at least lesson their summer load.  In some ways, it is a blessing since almost all of the conferences I like to attend happen in the summer.  The break affords me the ability to attend events where I am being poured into vs. on duty. Yet, at the same time, I feel the void of connection that comes with a break that lasts several months.

When I reflect on the last twenty plus years of ministry service, I notice that most ministries seem to run on the same schedule at the school year.  September through May is ministry season, June through August is summer break for all.   I had always viewed this as something that happened in my area due to the number of seasonal residents.  But, now that I have spoken to a few leaders outside of my home state… it seems it happens more than I realized.  Leading me to wonder if this is more common than I thought.

Over the next few posts, I’d like to explore the reasons given for taking a summer ministry break, and would love feedback from our readers too.

Here are some questions, I’d love to discuss as we get started….

Does your ministry/church take a summer break?

Do you find this break to be beneficial?  Why?

Is this a trend that you think needs to change?

Has your ministry/church successfully stopped taking summer breaks? How did you transition your members?

Out of Office

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Summer time means the WMC offices close for travel as our leaders vacation with their families & head off to conferences where we 1) learn and 2) are served.   You can not serve from an empty pitcher.  We pour out all year long, and the summer gives us an opportunity to be poured into.

WMC site posts will resume in August.

To Teach or NOT to Teach?

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When you begin connecting with Women’s Ministry leaders from across the globe, a common question/theme begins to emerge.

“I am speaking on {insert topic} … do you have any suggestions?”

“I am supposed to give a devotion on {insert topic}… can you point me to one?”

Just because you are the Women’s Ministry leader, that does not mean YOU have to deliver every topic, teach every subject.  In 20 years of Women’s Ministry Leadership, I have only personally spoken twice to the women in our church.  Twice.   Yes, I do speak at other churches.  I have led Bible Studies.  However, I’ve never positioned myself as the sole presenter of information.  Why?  Because, I am not an expert on everything.  Other women have insight, education, experience, and testimony on subjects that I will simply never qualify for.

I’ve never been divorced.  I’ve never lost a child.  I have not battled addiction.  there are things I have endured, struggles to overcome.  I can speak about conflict in friendships, the changes that come with marriage over the decades.  My personal strengths bend toward apologetics and leadership development.  I know my lane, and I choose to stay in it.

The Lord may give you a vision for a topic to address, something that the women need to hear… but it doesn’t mean that He has appointed you the person to deliver that message.

As a leader, we should learn about the women in our church and ministry team.  Perhaps there is someone with the gift of writing and speaking that is better suited to deliver the messages.  There may be a woman who has walked a hard road that will speak truths about God in the midst of her crisis that will carry further than any word you would ever utter.  You may find that there is a woman with a depth of knowledge that surpasses anyone serving on your team, who sits down the row from you every Sunday morning.

It is our job to identify these women and equip them to share their experiences with others.  It is a gift to these women to be able to share from their life, how God has encountered them and become present in their circumstances.  It is also a gift to those who will receive the message, to hear from the perspectives of others.  When we invite women to share from within the body, we also open the doors of intimacy and connection among our members.  When we invite someone from outside the body to speak, we expand the world before our women to see that they are not alone or unique in their struggles.

Whether you are utilizing women from within your church to teach/speak, or invite someone in as a guest speaker, you are exercising wisdom in how you reach the women the Lord has put in your charge.  Knowing where your expertise ends and another’s begins is a solid leadership tool we should all embrace.   An added blessing, is that you are released from feeling the responsibility of knowing everything, all of the time.

Instead, reach out and connect with other leaders.  Share with one another, speak at each others’ events, introduce leaders from other churches to women in your ministry that have a story to tell.  We are all one body, of many parts, working toward sharing God’s love with everyone.  Our unique perspectives help us reach more people.

This does not mean that a leader can’t learn and present information on topics that she is not intimately involved in.  Rather, that we make sure before we tackle the subject, we first look to the women God has put in our lives to ensure there is not someone who has already been qualified in the topic.

Do You Know?

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When I was in retail management, we had a strategic plan for employees who wanted to advance through leadership positions.  It was called “G.O.A.L.S.” and the acronym stands for:  Growth – Opportunity – Advancement – Leadership – Success.

In the years since, I have used this acronym for quite a few different purposes, redefining it as needed.  Today, let’s look at what G.O.A.L.S. would look like for ministry.

GROWTH –   In previous articles we have addressed how numerical growth is not always a sign of success, especially in ministry.  It may ensure we can pay our bills and provide the volunteers to get work done.  The kind of growth we are looking for, as a ministry, should be spiritual growth.  Have we witnessed those who are under our care take steps forward in their spiritual walk.  Are they bearing good fruit?  Do they seem more confident in the Word?  Is their prayer life a higher priority?

OPPORTUNITY – There are two different types of opportunity that we can assess in our ministry work.  The first, is the opportunity to serve.  Have we made an effort to get to know the women in the church, and learn (or help her discover) their spiritual gifts?  Are their opportunities being presented to the women to serve within the church (or under the church in the community)?  The second, have we prepared our women for the opportunity to share the gospel?  We should be taking the time to train our women on how to recognize when the opportunity is presenting itself, and the confidence in how to share the gospel with others.

ADVANCEMENT –  To advance is to move forward, or move upward.  In assessing our ministry, we need to evaluate if we are providing room for advancement.  As a woman increases in her leadership ability, is there somewhere she can be placed to serve in that capacity?  Has the leadership created an environment where our team members are not trapped in long term commitment to serve with us, but instead have the freedom in knowing that if God is calling them up/out of ministry and into another we support that advancement.

LEADERSHIP – Have we created a pathway for the identification, development, and deploying of women in leadership positions within our ministry, church, or organization?  Leadership does not always look like a full time staff member with a title, leadership is one woman leading another woman in a mentoring relationship.  Leadership is overseeing a ministry or service area.  Leadership is taking on a task or project that the woman is gifted in.  Leadership is training other leaders.

SUCCESS – Ministry leaders should have an ongoing conversation with their overseers (Pastor/Elder/Deacon) about how the church measures success.  Additionally, the ministry itself should also have a measure for success.  We need to be able to look at each event, activity, offering and determine if it is successful or not.  This is how we know if an event should be offered again in the future, revamped, or scrapped completely.  Just because it is a “good thing” doesn’t mean it is a “God thing”.  We need to discern the difference, so that in all things we are working for His glory and His purpose.

Working Together

Collaboration marries experience, willingness, innovation, and inspiration.

I have been leading in Women’s Ministry for just over twenty years.  While I know a lot about Women’s Ministry, I’d never dare say that I know everything.  For example, I’ve never had experience leading a Women’s Ministry in a multi-site campus capacity.  I know how to function within the singular local church, but when it comes to coordinating with multiple campuses and Women’s Ministry on a more global scale I am inexperienced.  I do have a history in retail management, working with multiples stores throughout a county.  I understand the mechanics of multi-site leadership but just not in a ministry capacity.

This was an area that I needed to learn more about, and I wanted to speak with someone who had been doing it for a bit of time and for 3 or more campuses.  Last year, I had the pleasure of meeting Women’s Ministry leaders from across the globe at a conference.  One of these women happened to be in driving distance, and was a Women’s Ministry leader in a multi-site church.  I dropped her a quick note and asked if she’d be up for a face to face meeting to talk shop.  Thankfully, she accepted.  It was a great afternoon and I walked away with plenty to chew on.

Collaboration between ministry leaders is HUGE in helping us all succeed.  Perhaps one leader at a local church is better at building up interest for Bible Studies, where another is great at planning retreats.  You could be a young leader who is given the opportunity to connect and learn from a more experienced leader.  Collaboration marries experience, willingness, innovation, and inspiration.

Experience:

A leader who has walked a few miles ahead of you knows the terrain you are going to encounter.  There is a level of wisdom that they have gained by going through the trenches, and witnessing the evolution of ministry in the church.  They recognize the fads, and know what will endure long term.  These women can speak into your role as a leader with understanding & guidance.

Willingness:

A collaborating leader is willing to share with you, so that you can learn from her successes and her failures.  She is willing to bring you under her wing, without fear of what you may be taking from her.  These leaders are happy to invite you to their events and attend yours, for support and crucial feedback.  This willingness to walk along side one another will help both of you through the thickets of ministry life.

Innovation:

A willing leader will happily share their new ideas and fresh perspectives because their view of ministry is all working for one purpose.  They don’t withhold their ideas but instead distribute it to others who make run with it, or even make it better when they add their own flair.  The more we collaborate with each other, the more we innovate with each other.

Inspiration:

Beyond just good idea, fun themes, decorating ideas, and even training materials; leaders can inspire other leaders.  We inspire one another to keep pushing forward, when the times get tough.  We add fuel to the fire of ministry that encourages us to go a little further, do more, dig deeper, and make an impact for the Kingdom in our community.

Collaborating leaders not only have each other to rely on, but everything within each other’s grasp.  We have books to recommend or loan, feedback on studies, leadership guidance, and so much more.  We open up our hands and generously give from the resources God has entrusted us with.  We are co-laborers for the Kingdom, let’s never forget that.

Practical Actions:

  • Share resources
  • Utilize speakers from each other’s ministries
  • Invite smaller churches to your events (studies, retreats, brunches, etc)
  • Meet to talk about ministry trends and ideas
  • Pass on décor or materials to ministries without or with low budgets
  • Pray for one another
  • Collaborate on written materials and studies
  • Co-host events open to the community at large
  • Educate one other based on your strengths

What Are the Numbers

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Throughout the past 8 years, I have had a more vested interest in understanding and helping other leaders.  As I connect with these leaders about their ministry work, a topic that comes up often is getting an increase in event attendance.   There is a connection between the number of people who attend and how we assess success.  The more people in attendance, the more successful the event.  While this success measurement works in some industries, such as entertainment, it is not the appropriate measure in others.  For example, we do not look at the success of a school based on the number of students who attend but rather the percentage of students that graduate or move on to college.

In ministry, more often than not, we are using the wrong measurement.  We determine our success rate by the number of seats being filled versus the impact/engagement of those who are in attendance.  A mantra that I have often relied on is that I trust God to bring to an event exactly who is meant to be there, whether it be 2 or 200.  We do have a responsibility of being a good steward with our time, finances, and resources.  That responsibility affirms that we can’t just ignore the numbers but that we use the data obtained to better plan for our future events.  Numbers do matter, but how we use the numbers matters the most.

For example, you are planning for a Women’s Brunch with an expenditure of $5 per woman to cover your speaker fees, decorations, and take home favor with an expectation 200 women will attend.   Your ministry has paid $1000 into this event, yet only 20 women show up.  You have essentially “lost” $900 preparing for the event.  You could see this as a failure, and vow to never hold this event again.  Or, you learn from the data and the next time you plan an event with a lower expectation on attendance.  Instead of seeing it as a failure, it becomes a learning experience.  However, it is also important to understand the numbers by not just analyzing the data after the fact but understanding the numbers out the gate.

Regardless of the industry, there is what is referred to as the 10% rule.  The 10% rule is pretty simple.  Whatever it is you are attempting to do, your response rate will be 10%.   If you attempt to sell bikes to 100 people, 10% will actually make the purchase.  You will sell 10 bikes.  Simple concept, simple math, and one we can use to plan for our desired results in advance.  Let’s put this into perspective of a ministry event.

If you have a church of 500 adults, approximately half being women, you are starting with 250 women that you will invite to your event.  Apply the 10% rule, you can expect 25 people to show up.   Since we do know that women tend to attend events in groups or if you are holding an event that encourages the women to invite a guest, it is reasonable to plan for 50.

If you have hosted events like this in the past, you will want to consider those numbers into to your planning.  If your church has grown or shrunk in attendance, that it going to affect your numbers.  If a church of 250 women normally has 25 attendees, and since the last event has grown to 500 women in attendance… you would want to adjust your planning to accommodate that growth and plan for 50 women.  If your church has remained at a steady size, but you notice that event to event there is a 15% growth in attending your events, you will want to use your previous attendance and plan for an additional 15%.

If you notice that your events are decreasing in attendance you will want to plan for that, but also try to understand why there has been a decrease.  Church calendar too busy, too many options competing, or is the event no longer something that is interesting to your members.

Another good example would be in the introduction of Small Groups.  If you currently offer 2 Bible Study/Small Groups, you will see a large attendance in these two groups.  However, if the following fall you expand your studies and now have 10 groups meeting… you may get more people from the church at large signing up for small groups.  You may also have women that move from one of the original groups to one of the new ones, due to more convenient meeting times or interest in the study topic.

Numbers are important, somewhat predictable, and subject to shifting.  This is why the numbers alone are not enough to be the sole basis of decisions.  Analyzing the data that accompanies the numbers is the key to understanding the full story.

If you want 10 women to volunteer to serve in the church, you will need to ask 100.  If you want 10 small groups with 5 women in each group (50 women) then you need to invite 500 women.

While these numbers may seem daunting, I want to share with you the release they also bring.  If you have 200 women and 20 show up, you are doing well.  If you have 40 women, and 4 attend your event, you are doing well.  Do not be discouraged!

This is so important and a reminder why we can’t compare our ministry work and success to someone another ministry.  If your church attendance numbers are varied, if your percentage of women attending vary, then you will see a variation in your attendance number.  Don’t get caught up in it, learn from it, grow from it.