Small Group Leader, Don't Waste Your Summer!
This is a guest post by Todd Engstrom (Community Pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church). To see the entire series click here.
Summertime always prompts images of grilling in the backyard, vacation road trips, watching baseball, and adventures in the neighborhood. In the church, it’s often a season where we “take a break” from ministry and community. I’ve always found that idea somewhat odd when I consider my identity in Christ. I don’t really ever “take a break” for an entire season from my earthly family, so why would I skip out on my spiritual family for three months?
My family rhythm certainly changes in the summer, but it doesn’t disappear entirely. The kids are out of school, and we’re on the go more, but we don’t stop teaching our kids about Jesus and His Word. We certainly don’t cease to be brothers and sisters in Christ with our church family during the summer either.
What if your community continued striving to be a spiritual family this summer, rather than pushing pause? In my experience, there are a few things that will help a community thrive in a season where many fade away. Here are three ideas to consider implementing:
Gather in new ways.
Because summer is a new season where rhythms change, take the opportunity to change up your gathering. Instead of the regular weekly routine, try gathering on Friday evenings for a BBQ on the deck and some low-key conversation. If you have younger kids, let them have a sleepover and stay up way too late, while the adults enjoy some conversation outside.
Summer is also a great time to connect your community with those who don’t know Jesus. Try gathering at the park or the pool, and intentionally have folks invite their neighbors. We call this a “Third Place” at The Austin Stone, and it’s our primary way of engaging in God’s mission with our community.
Study something new, and in a new way.
Because of vacation schedules and other events, most people will end up attending a group, on average, six times over the summer. The flow of a group will inevitably be interrupted. Rather than trying to have a cohesive study plan that requires consistent participation and builds week to week, try something that is a little more self-paced.
I’d recommend using a study that someone can easily do independently, and then utilize a group gathering time to discuss the takeaways from the material. Focus on questions like “What was the most helpful thing you learned?” and “How did this change the way you interacted with your family/friends/neighbors this week?”
Summer is also a great time to incorporate the use of digital technology to help foster conversation. Rather than depending entirely on the face-to-face gathering, try having an ongoing discussion through email, a Facebook group, or by using church communication software.
This one requires planning, but it’s the best thing my community does – we enjoy vacation with one another. We’ve done it a number of ways – going to a lake house, road tripping to the mountains, and going to a family camp together. Having our entire families interacting and creating memories with one another fosters such unique and authentic community that it’s compelling for our neighbors who don’t know Jesus.
A week of community vacation also presents an opportunity for more intentional time for discussion, as well as much more informal time for sharing life and dreaming about the future of your community. You can do so much more in one focused week than you can in an entire semester’s worth of group gatherings!
Enjoy your summer to the glory of God.
Summer is a hard time to start new things, but it’s a great time to adapt a lot of your existing practices to the challenges of a summer rhythm. Most importantly, though, is to rejoice in this season that God has graciously given for His glory and our good. Summer is a blessing to be enjoyed, and an opportunity to change up your normal rhythms.