Any pastor will let you know that Mass attendance goes down during summer months. This is due primarily to families and individuals being out of town on any given weekend. Families have fewer scheduled commitments that prevent them from traveling or spending long weekends with grandparents, at cottages or at beaches.
With this is mind, parishes have to help families find ways to not only maintain faith during the summer but also to support faith growth.
For parishes there are two starting points. First of all, churches need to make sure that they do not inadvertently give the message that nothing is happening during summer months.
That means they have to review how liturgy is celebrated and what takes place during the week. Many choirs do not sing during the summer and most religious education programs take a break. But are there still ways to make summer an active and engaging time?
The second starting point is that parishes have to work year-round to make certain that parishioners are engaged in the daily life of discipleship, so much so that summer becomes an extension of what is already taking place.
One of the goals of our parish has been to develop a spirituality that includes the whole family for the entire week.
At this parish the staff calls this “The Other 10,020” (usually simply called the 10-20) approach. Knowing that a week has 10,080 minutes and that 60 minutes are attributed to Sunday Mass, we try to emphasize the rest of the week as well. Parish programing may change during the summer, but it doesn’t stop.
To facilitate that happening, there are ongoing connections forged.
Our parish has a “Mid-Week Meditation” that appears on Wednesday mornings to draw people’s attention back to faith awareness. We also have a weekly podcast that helps people reflect on Scripture readings, many small faith groups that continue to meet during the summer and a variety of special summer gatherings like a summer film series and book discussions.
Often our emphasis is to find ways to put “faith thoughts” into the minds of people right in their homes.
As for people attending Mass while on vacation, we encourage people to share their travel experiences. Often bulletins from churches around the country show up on my desk. People frequently talk about what their experiences have been, both the positive and less so.
Finally, our parish streams Sunday Mass through our website. On a recent trip to Finland, even after I attended one of the few Catholic Churches in the country, I found it comforting to tune in to Mass at home and pray with members of my own parish. I realized what a blessing this form of technology can be.
In short, it is not enough to simply remind people not to take a vacation from church or God during the summer. Churches need to make efforts to help people stay connected with their faith.
Father Weber is the founding pastor of St. John XXIII Parish in Perrysburg, Ohio.