Thinking Out Loud

May 19, 2017

Church Continuity, Summer Shutdowns and the Lake House Mentality

There was a time I thought this was more of Canadian thing, but apparently it happens in various types of churches: Big and small, urban and rural, independent and denominational, established and recently planted. We call it ‘Summer Shutdown.’ Simply put it means that many of the programs of the church start shutting down at the end of April and don’t resume again until after Labor Day (that’s the week after the August Bank Holiday for you Brits.)

The logic in shutting down various children’s programs has to do with competition from evening sports programs, particularly kids baseball and soccer (that’s football for you Brits.)

The logic in shutting down the Thursday morning ladies prayer time totally escapes me (that’s ‘totally escapes me’ for you Brits.)

This phenomenon seems to be more pronounced in North America, but here in Ontario it is coupled with something called ‘the cottage mentality.’ Perhaps where you live the term cabin is more prevalent than cottage. Or the lake house. It means that if it is the weekend in June, July, or August; one is officially at their summer cottage, even if they don’t actually own one. This means that the summer shutdown becomes evident even in the Sunday morning programming of the churches here.

To me, this just leaves a lot of people detached from other people; it leaves them with feelings of isolation and loneliness; it leaves them with more inactivity; and it leaves them increasingly disconnected from their local church. As I wrote recently,

Imagine the greatest institution the world has ever seen suddenly shutting shop. Imagine a movement so powerful that nothing can stop it dispersing its followers for an extended holiday. Imagine the Church of Jesus Christ simply not being there for the hungry, the thirsty, the needy.

It waves the white flag of surrender to the calendar, the school year, football games, and the arrival of hot and humid weather. It gives up because so-called “key leadership” decided to spend weekends at the lake. It broadcasts the message that summer ministry simply isn’t worth the bother. It says, “There’s a big game being televised so probably nobody is going to show up anyway.”

I remember one woman returning to church in September after an absence of at least 90 days, announcing to all nearby that she was back and ready to help “whip this place back into shape.” That did not go over well among those who had been faithful throughout the warmer months. She wanted to pick up the pieces and create a fresh start, when in fact the church had a colorful and vibrant ministry during the weeks she was at the cabin enjoying the sunshine, the barbecue and the swimming.

The loss of continuity here is gigantic. I have however noticed that among some megachurches the programs just become so overarching that it is impossible to curtail them in the summer months. This may actually be a major positive attribute for megachurches at a time when people are so quick to emphasize their negatives. But then these same megachurches will have a weekend where the simply shut down everything altogether. Everything. The doors are locked. For you mainline Protestants, think of it as the non-Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Can you imagine a Roman Catholic church not having the mass the week after Christmas? Or a long weekend? No. Neither can I. Where did this day-off-mentality come from anyway?

Two years ago I wrote on this subject with respect to a church which also shuts down the week after Christmas:

We live at a time when people are taking an extremely casual approach to church attendance. Families with children have already sacrificed weekly continuity on the altar of getting their kids into team sports: Soccer, baseball, three-pitch, t-ball, gymnastics, swim teams, etc. What hasn’t been destroyed by athletics has been decimated by dads working weekend shifts or moms working retail Sunday openings.

These days, if you can get a family out to church 26 out of 52 Sundays, you’re doing well.

So why chop that down to only 50 Sundays? Why create even the most subtle suggestion that taking time off church is perfectly acceptable?

We did attend a local church since moving to this small town where the Sunday School ministry didn’t really miss a beat in the summer. I noted their dedication. It was like they believed in a God that doesn’t take three months off each summer. Last year however, they succumbed to the influence of what other churches are doing.

So here’s to those local churches who provide spiritual nurture at full throttle during the holiday months. Good on ya. People are hungry for more of God’s word and teaching, and also opportunities for fellowship twelve months of the year. I’m willing to bet there are stories of spiritual starvation that take place when ‘spiritual providers’ take off. I’d like to start a crusade to fight on behalf of those who are simply not looking forward to the next few months of meetings suspended until the fall. Some of those are hurting and some are lonely.

The people making the decision to curtail programming or shut down a particular weekend are usually well-connected and have lots of social activity planned for the time they are away.

For many large churches, it’s all or nothing. They can’t do small church anymore. Think about it:

The modern megachurch simply cannot offer an alternative service in a smaller room in the church where Mrs. Trebleclef will play some well known choruses or hymns on the keyboard (or Mr. Coolhair on the guitar), the head of Men’s Ministry will speak, and then we’ll have a coffee time in the atrium. That would be a simple service. It would involve said pianist, the person giving the short devotional message, and the person to make the coffee, as well as someone to unlock the doors and check the restrooms before locking up. But that’s not the brand these churches want to offer. You can’t have a simple, grassroots service like that. Better to have locked doors.

So where do those KidMin, worship and parking volunteers come from on Christmas and holidays? They don’t. You change up the brand image for the sake of one Sunday and using a skeleton staff, offer something for the people who really need to be connected. Maybe not Mrs. T. on the piano. Maybe it’s a film. It might involve a guest speaker or guest musicians. Perhaps it’s a shorter service. 

Sadly however, this is not going to happen. ‘It’s not how we do things.

Wanna buck the trend? Light a candle! Use the summer to invite people over to your home for informal events. Can’t lead a Bible study? Just find a good teaching DVD and set up the machine in the living room; make some coffee and then let whatever is meant to happen next, simply happen. There are sermon DVDs from pastors you’ve heard of available as downloads online, you can purchase some from various ministry organizations, or you can buy them at Christian bookstores.

Can’t lead a Bible study? Don’t do anything fancy. Just pick a short Biblical book, invite people over; make the aforementioned coffee; and start in on chapter one. Don’t even suggest getting together the following week for chapter two; let those who are present suggest that. (Some may offer their home for the following week, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning!)

Counter the summer shutdown mentality with impromptu, informal events in your home this summer. And no, you don’t need your pastor’s permission; in fact, make it a non-church event by inviting some people from a different church. Or if the DVD has good outreach potential, invite some non-churched neighbors.


If you feel like you’ve read this before here, you have. This is a recurring, annual Thinking Out Loud rant. But this time around the rant you’re reading is a mash-up of four previous articles with additional content.

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May 8, 2016

Churches that Post “Gone Fishing” Signs on the Front Door

Then turning to His disciples, Jesus said, “Okay guys, I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to maintain focus during this sticky weather, especially since air conditioning won’t be invented for at least another 1,900 years. So whaddya say we take at least eight weeks off, and then we’ll meet up at Bethany and start planning the fall season.”

Imagine the greatest institution the world has ever seen suddenly shutting shop. Imagine a movement so powerful that nothing can stop it dispersing its followers for an extended holiday. Imagine the Church of Jesus Christ simply not being there for the hungry, the thirsty, the needy.

That’s essentially what many of our North American churches do in June, July and August.

And it’s wrong.

It waves the white flag of surrender to the calendar, the school year, football games, and the arrival of hot and humid weather. It gives up because so-called “key leadership” decided to spend weekends at the lake. It broadcasts the message that summer ministry simply isn’t worth the bother. It says, “There’s a big game being televised so probably nobody is going to show up anyway.”

Sorry, we’re closed.

It turns out this is a topic on which I have both strong opinions and raging passion, because I’ve written about it here twice; in an April, 2008 post, Loss of Continuity, and a May, 2009 post, Summer Shutdown Mentality.

While both posts did some darkness-cursing, they both did some candle-lighting as well; first in 2008:

I have however noticed that among some megachurches the programs just become so overarching that it is impossible to curtail them in the summer months. This may actually be a major positive attribute for megachurches at a time when people are so quick to emphasize their negatives.

We did attend a local church since moving to this small town where the Sunday School ministry didn’t really miss a beat in the summer. I noted their dedication. It was like they believed in a God that doesn’t take three months off each summer.

And then in 2009:

Use the summer to invite people over to your home for informal events.

Can’t lead a Bible study? Just find a good teaching DVD and set up the machine in the living room; make some coffee and then let whatever is meant to happen next, simply happen. There are sermon DVDs from pastors you’ve heard of available as downloads online, you can purchase some from various ministry organizations, or you can buy them at Christian bookstores.

Can lead a Bible study? Don’t do anything fancy. Just pick a short Biblical book, invite people over; make the aforementioned coffee; and start in on chapter one. Don’t even suggest getting together the following week for chapter two; let those who are present suggest that. (Some may offer their home for the following week, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning!)

Counter the summer shutdown mentality with impromptu, informal events in your home this summer. And no, you don’t need your pastor’s permission; in fact, make it a non-church event by inviting some people from a different church. Or if the DVD has good outreach potential, invite some non-churched neighbors.

Just this week, I had a conversation with someone who is operating in a kind of spiritual paralysis because she thinks she needs her pastor’s permission to invite a few friends over for a faith-based discussion; that she needs her church board’s permission for a few Christian friends to pool some money to sponsor a 10-year old girl’s week at a Christian camp.

As the Nike advert says, “Just do it.” 

More recently — well, 2013 actually — David Murrow wrote about another factor: Huge structures we call megachurches are already grossly under-utilized without closing down for a week.

Most church buildings are owned debt-free. Many of these churches sit empty 160 hours a week. And they’re half-empty on Sunday.

The summer is actually a time of great loneliness and isolation for many people. Here’s the conclusion I drew in 2008:

I’m willing to bet there are stories of spiritual starvation that take place when ‘spiritual providers’ take off. I’d like to start a crusade to fight on behalf of those who are simply not looking forward to the next few months of meetings suspended until the fall.


Related: North Point takes Memorial Day Weekend and Sunday after Christmas off in 2015. Excerpt

We live at a time when people are taking an extremely casual approach to church attendance. Families with children have already sacrificed weekly continuity on the altar of getting their kids into team sports: Soccer, baseball, three-pitch, t-ball, gymnastics, swim teams, etc. What hasn’t been destroyed by athletics has been decimated by dads working weekend shifts or moms working retail Sunday openings.

These days, if you can get a family out to church 26 out of 52 Sundays, you’re doing well.

So why chop that down to only 50 Sundays? Why create even the most subtle suggestion that taking time off church is perfectly acceptable?

May 27, 2010

Most Powerful Institution in the History of the World to Close Next Week

Then turning to His disciples, Jesus said, “Okay guys, I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to maintain focus during this sticky weather, especially since air conditioning won’t be invented for at least another 1,900 years.   So whaddya say we take at least eight weeks off, and then we’ll meet up at Bethany and start planning the fall season.”

Imagine the greatest institution the world has ever seen suddenly shutting shop.   Imagine a movement so powerful that nothing can stop it dispersing its followers for an extended holiday.   Imagine the Church of Jesus Christ simply not being there for the hungry, the thirsty, the needy.

That’s essentially what many of our North American churches do in June, July and August.

And it’s wrong.

It waves the white flag of surrender to the calendar, the school year, and the arrival of hot and humid weather.    It gives up because so-called “key leadership” decided to spend weekends at the lake.    It broadcasts the message that summer ministry simply isn’t worth the bother.

Sorry, we’re closed.

It turns out this is a topic on which I have both strong opinions and raging passion, because I’ve written about it here twice; in an April, 2008 post, Loss of Continuity, and a May, 2009 post, Summer Shutdown Mentality.

While both posts did some darkness-cursing, they both did some candle-lighting as well; first in 2008:

I have however noticed that among some megachurches the programs just become so overarching that it is impossible to curtail them in the summer months.   This may actually be a major positive attribute for megachurches at a time when people are so quick to emphasize their negatives.

We did attend a local church since moving to this small town where the Sunday School ministry didn’t really miss a beat in the summer.   I noted their dedication.   It was like they believed in a God that doesn’t take three months off each summer.

And then in 2009:

Use the summer to invite people over to your home for informal events.

Can’t lead a Bible study?   Just find a good teaching DVD and set up the machine in the living room; make some coffee and then let whatever is meant to happen next, simply happen.    There are sermon DVDs from pastors you’ve heard of available as downloads online, you can purchase some from various ministry organizations, or you can buy them at Christian bookstores.

Can lead a Bible study?    Don’t do anything fancy.   Just pick a short Biblical book, invite people over; make the aforementioned coffee; and start in on chapter one.   Don’t even suggest getting together the following week for chapter two; let those who are present suggest that. (Some may offer their home for the following week, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning!)

Counter the summer shutdown mentality with impromptu, informal events in your home this summer.    And no, you don’t need your pastor’s permission; in fact, make it a non-church event by inviting some people from a different church.    Or if the DVD has good outreach potential, invite some non-churched neighbors.

Just this week, I had a conversation with someone who is operating in a kind of spiritual paralysis because she thinks she needs her pastor’s permission to invite a few friends over for a faith-based discussion; that she needs her church board’s permission for a few Christian friends to pool some money to sponsor a 10-year old girl’s week at a Christian camp.

As the Nike advert says, “Just do it.”

The summer is actually a time of great loneliness and isolation for many people.   Here’s the conclusion I drew in 2008:

I’m willing to bet there are stories of spiritual starvation that take place when ‘spiritual providers’ take off.   I’d like to start a crusade to fight on behalf of those who are simply not looking forward to the next few months of meetings suspended until the fall.


May 29, 2009

Summer Missionary Without a Net (Network)

Camp Iawah Banner

~~ Camp Iawah – http://www.iawah.com – Kingston, Ontario, Canada ~~

So…we’re trying to help our oldest son raise some money for a summer work opportunity at a Christian camp.   They’ve promised him a base rate which is about a third of the minimum wage here, though he will also get room and board.   Given that he’ll be working in the kitchen and now has four kinds of food services experience, I was hoping they’d offer him a bit more than they did.   If he wants more — and he’s starting university in the fall — he has to raise the support himself.  That’s how mission organizations do things.

So armed with an e-mail contact list that contains over 1,000 names, I started to focus on the two or three hundred people that I know personally enough to ask, and made an interesting discovery:  Most of them are also involved — or have someone in their family circle involved — in some kind of mission activity, also.   An added challenge is that despite his exhaustive Bible knowledge, computer skills, and fluency in a second language, some people don’t see the kitchen as frontline ministry position.

Some well-meaning person once told me that if the friends I have can’t help me out, I should get new friends.   Seriously.   But it’s true that many people we know are ‘tapped-out’ financially with a variety of church and civic concerns constantly knocking at the door and asking for help.     Still, I also know that a number of people we know aren’t tithing to their local church right now because they don’t have a local church.   So given that I had nothing to lose, I sent off about 60 e-mails at the start of the week.   At first, replies were few, and we were only at about 20% of the maximum fundraising permitted.   But as the week went by, we were feeling more optimistic.

How about you?   Do you have discretionary funds available for special projects, or is your philanthropy relatively locked in?   I know that in future, when I’m asked to help out people — especially young people — in a similar situation, I’ll be looking at it rather differently.   And what about the many who are in-between churches and have been for many months or years now?   To whatever extent the “tithe” concept extends into the New Covenant era, do they still have a responsibility to give; and if so where should they direct those funds?  For those in that situation, these are actually hard questions.

We’ll keep you posted on how it goes, but I can tell you right now, we’re not well networked and we’re not gifted fundraisers.   But when you’re passionate about a ministry, like we are about this camp, and when it’s your own son on whose behalf you’re appealing, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.

As to the advice I received:  We like the friends we have and we’re not getting new ones just so we can ‘use’ them.   I’d rather hang out in a social circle where everyone has mission opportunities that they are excited about than have friends who are materially rich but lack ministry passion.

If you live in Canada and want to help out and receive a receipt for your donation, contact us at the address in the lowest box on the sidebar at right.   If you’re the one-in-a-million person who is looking for a major project to which to direct your giving, I don’t know anything — outside of some third-world projects — better than this particular interdenominational camp organization.  Write us at the same address and I’ll tell you more!

May 13, 2009

Summer Shutdown Mentality

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 4:56 pm

simpsons_church_sign_closed_for_summerI was glad to see that author and pastor Mark Batterson is reporting on his blog that he’s leading a summer discipleship group for dads during the summer.   Glad because it flies in the face of a mentality that says everything should shut down for the summer.

Here in Canada, we have what is called a “cottage mentality.”   Even if you don’t own a cottage, technically you are “away” during the summer.    Some programs here shut down during the last week of April and the first week of May.

To me, this just leaves a lot of people detached from other people; it leaves them with feelings of isolation and loneliness; it leaves them with more inactivity;  and it leaves them increasingly disconnected from their local church.

Light a candle!   Use the summer to invite people over to your home for informal events.    Can’t lead a Bible study?   Just find a good teaching DVD and set up the machine in the living room; make some coffee and then let whatever is meant to happen next, simply happen.    There are sermon DVDs from pastors you’ve heard of available as downloads online, you can purchase some from various ministry organizations, or you can buy them at Christian bookstores.

Can lead a Bible study?    Don’t do anything fancy.   Just pick a short Biblical book, invite people over; make the aforementioned coffee; and start in on chapter one.   Don’t even suggest getting together the following week for chapter two; let those who are present suggest that. (Some may offer their home for the following week, especially if you don’t have air-conditioning!)

Counter the summer shutdown mentality with impromptu, informal events in your home this summer.    And no, you don’t need your pastor’s permission; in fact, make it a non-church event by inviting some people from a different church.    Or if the DVD has good outreach potential, invite some non-churched neighbors.

Postscript:   If you really want to do the summer in style and you’re not leaving the city yourself, consider upgrading the coffee to a dinner and showing the ten weeks of the H2O discipleship program.    Great videos, with all the content of the Alpha program, but with superior dramatic production values suited to a media-savvy generation.

Okay, so this is not the first time I wrote about this.  I guess I’m quite passionate about this topic.   I call it righteous obsession.   (Which would be a great name for a CK product.)

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