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Oh No! Where Did Everyone Go?

This has never happened to me before in ministry…

It’s summer, and at least half of the adult leaders I serve with are unplugging from their roles until the fall. And a large chunk of our youth group also won’t be around because they’ll be “at the cabin” for most of the summer.

I heard this was coming. I even planned for it. Still, I’m in emotional disbelief.

“Don’t they get it?” I mumble. Why is it so easy in summer to turn recreation into a god and God into ‘recreation?'” 

In the other churches I’ve served, my adult leaders have used the laid-back summer months as a key time to invest in students. Parents regularly adapted their schedules so their kids could slow down and linger with their small groups.

Friends who serve in ministry near large lakes or recreational areas have told me in the past that they shut down their ministry every summer because kids and leaders just don’t come. “Not us,” I’d always respond, feeling just “a wee bit superior.”

So now what? Time for a pity party, or treat this as a “creative opportunity”?

Here are 5 questions I’m asking—maybe they’ll help you, too.

1. Where do I live? If you live where it’s cold for a good chunk of the year, summer symbolizes a “We made it!” mentality. And in warmer climates, the sunlight lingers longer into the evening. Summer sports often create a new rhythm for families. Study your context like a wise missionary, knowing that God has called you right here—to minister to (and not resent) the people who live right here.

  • An Idea: Change your weekly schedule. During the school year, we run separate “large group + small group” formats for middle school and high school students. This summer we’re bringing everyone together by rotating grades 6-8, 9-10 and 11-12 around most of the night (teaching, discussion groups, or games), ending in a collective 15-minute worship time and celebration (with some sort of food). This requires less leaders while maximizing/growing the leaders who do regularly come.

2. What do I expect? Adult leaders give up a regular night or day of the week (if not more) to invest in someone else’s kids. Is it so bad for them to want to spend the summer with their own kids or spouse during summer break? In an ideal world, such things wouldn’t feel competitive. Unfortunately, they often do. 

  • An Idea: A care package for a volunteer’s whole household. I chuckled watching a video of fans thanking Tina Fey – while clearly overlooking Jimmy Fallon as they did.  It reminded me of how often some people are overlooked while others are honored. So pack up a care package for an adult leader’s whole family—with a gift card to a local ice cream place, a mega-bag of pizza rolls, and a movie gift certificate along with a card that says: “Thank you to everyone in the family who makes what we do possible!” Recognizing the people at home who sacrifice to make it possible for your adult leaders is a sensitive and generous way to honor them.

3. When does training happen? What if summer was when you released leaders from “doing’ so that they could focus on “becoming?” Maybe you don’t have the capacity to have everyone unplug for three months, but could you even give a leader or two a month off along with a great soul-filling book to read (Spiritual Grit or The Unreasonable Jesus, for example) or video series to watch (Becoming Myself for women and Wild at Heart for men). What if the secret sauce to a great school year is maximizing June, July, and August?

  • An Idea: Let summer leadership development continue into the fall. This fall, find a youth ministry local training event to attend as a team to help everyone reconnect and reinvest as the school year begins.

4. Why am I bothered? Honestly, some of my frustration about summer “check-out” time is driven by selfishness. I want people to care about what I care about in the way that I care about it. And I don’t want us to lose a moment of momentum—and busyness masquerades as momentum sometimes. Meanwhile, we serve a God who prescribes a Sabbath rhythm to our life. Perhaps what others are doing doesn’t look “spiritual” enough for our standards, but maybe it’s exactly what God wants them to be doing.

  • An Idea: Claim a summer hobby of your own. Not only will it create empathy and understanding in you, but it will also model to others how to kick back personally without shutting down your investment in ministry.

5. Who is Jesus? It seems like an odd question, but it’s the only one that matters. Your ministry will not save or convert anyone… only Jesus can do that. But you can create a kind of “ripe” environment for them to meet Him more intimately. Consider hosting your own summer book club to draw your leaders into a deeper relationship with Jesus—use The Jesus-Centered Life as your magnet.  

  • An Idea: Pray and journal. Be honest before the Lord about how you’re feeling, what you fear, and what you hope for. Invite Jesus to share His heart with you, too.


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Oh No! Where Did Everyone Go?

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