Archive for Saturday, July 1, 2006

Luring the faithful

When attendance sinks in the summer, churches find creative ways to snag visitors

July 1, 2006

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When the temperature rises, attendance at the Rev. Darlene Strickland's church starts to evaporate.

Unity Church of Lawrence averages about 220 people each Sunday, but last Sunday only 170 people came to services.

"It's a real combination of other plans," Strickland says, "and people take advantage of the fact they're off work, and the weather's nice, so they can be out on the lake."

It's a story that's repeated at churches throughout the country this time of year. For a variety of reasons, attendance is down in the summer, leading pastors to look for ways to draw people back inside the church when busy lives and nice weather are luring them outdoors.

"A lot of people make a point to tell me they'll be traveling or visiting family in June or July," Strickland says. "By the same token, a lot of our regular faces might be gone, but we seem to have more visitors."

Eudora United Methodist Church has found one option for reversing the summer doldrums - an outdoor service that draws about 35 people weekly.

It's held at Eudora City Park, and it's been going on for more than a decade.

"One of the ideas was to bring the church to the community," says Janet Gabriel, lay leader. "We want to make church more available and publicize it and let people know it's there for anyone. It's very casual - you can have a cup of coffee and have worship."

Part of the emphasis is on the early-morning time for the service, 8:30 a.m.

"Particularly in summertime, you have different functions like family reunions, and you can have worship services taken care of by 9:15 in the morning," Gabriel says.

Another emphasis is on being outdoors.

"Early in the morning, it's normally very nice and very cool," she says. "As it gets later, the positioning of our chairs seems to shift to stay in the shade."

Changing times

Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2104 Bob Billings Parkway, also started a worship service with timing in mind.

It now offers a service at 5:33 p.m. every Saturday. The service started in September, but the lag in attendance during the summer months was one reason for getting it going, since it gives busy people another option for going to church.

It's a small service, with 15 to 20 people each Saturday. But organizers are hoping to draw more people during the summer.

"We wanted to grow," says Jan Dean, a church member. "We have two other services on Sunday mornings that aren't full, but we wanted to reach people who, for whatever reason, weren't coming on Sunday morning."

And during the summer months, there seem to be more reasons why people might not come.

"We're just trying to be creative," Dean says. "Things are changing. We're trying to accommodate people the best we can."

'Less stressful'

The Rev. John Schmeidler, priest at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Ky., says churches have a new competitor on Sunday mornings: athletics.

"There's a lot more athletic activities on Sundays," he says. "When I was growing up (in Hays), they never scheduled anything like that on a Sunday."

Schmeidler's church reduces the number of masses it has during a weekend from six to five during the summer months. It also doesn't have religious education classes during the summer.

He most often hears attendance decreases because people are traveling, but he's not sure he buys into that reason.

"If that were the case, the churches would still be full," he says. "If people are traveling, they'd find a church."

Despite the reduced church numbers, Schmeidler says summer often is a time for him to catch up on things.

"It just seems like it's always busy, but there are activities that do lessen, so it's less stressful," he says. "There are fewer things going on."

Comments

mooseamoose 8 years, 10 months ago

why would you need to "lure" the faithful? maybe they're not that faithful...

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