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4 Tips for a Big Summer in Your Small Church

Summer’s fast approaching and those of us in the children’s ministry world are feeling the heat—and not just on the thermometer! While teachers and families may look at summer as a time to unwind, we’re winding up for big fun. Kids have more free time, giving us the chance to connect with them more easily. Wonderful! Should we do a kids’ camp? VBS? Weekly meetups at the park? Swim parties? Movie nights? All of the above?

Leaders in small churches may feel the heat even more. Large churches generally have the resources (people and financial) to pull off big “wow” events that can make smaller gatherings seem ho-hum. How can smaller churches attract kids and families when resources are slimmer? How can we provide unique summer ministry for the kids in our smaller churches?

To get some insight, I reached out to Laurie Acker, founder of the Small Church Network & Academy. Acker connects with hundreds of small church leaders every week. She’s a champion and voice for those leading congregations of 200 or fewer. And when it comes to summer ministry, Acker sees small churches as having advantages they may not realize.

“Small churches need to understand they’re in a unique position to meet very real needs,” she says. “Not only do many people prefer small churches, but by their very nature, small churches are a family—a place where everyone knows your name. The ministry of Jesus resembles small church ministry.”

And when it comes to summer ministry for kids, Acker’s enthusiasm continues. She shares how small churches are uniquely poised to reach kids and families who are craving relationships in our screen-centric world. Here are a few top tips that Acker has gleaned from small churches making a big summer impact.

4 Tips for a Big Summer in Your Small Church

Make Sunday mornings big with VBS.

Vacation Bible school seems like the “must-do” summer church event. And there’s no doubt that it can play a huge role in making summer feel special. Colorful themes, new music, and even fresh approaches to Bible stories do infuse new life into the routine. But Acker encourages small churches to leave the jaw-dropping décor and bounce houses to the larger churches. They’ve got that, so you don’t need to! Instead, mix up your Sunday mornings by using a themed VBS curriculum as your core curriculum. It’s likely that one day of VBS curriculum is sufficient for two Sunday mornings, giving you 10 weeks of special programming.

In addition to the Bible lessons, the fun VBS themes can be scaled back while still creating a sense of surprise and summer sizzle. Themed costuming might be as simple as a goofy hat. Decorating can be done with easy-to-hang posters. Add in a VBS-themed game each week and you’re good to go. Since summer is a great time for trying new things, consider taking everyone back into Bible times with a HolyLand Adventure VBS. With this unique program, kids (or the entire church) experience the culture of Jesus’ day.

A small church setting may also allow for themed snacks (or even cooking experiences) that would be more challenging with a large group of kids. So take advantage of a VBS theme and explore how you can take it deeper with a small group!

Let go of numbers and meet needs.

Too often, small church leaders look at the crowds of kids flocking to a big church summer event and feel defeated. But Acker is quick to remind leaders that it’s not about numbers. Instead, she’s passionate about the things small churches can accomplish. “Small churches are an intergenerational playground, where smaller groups are norms and everyone matters. Small churches are also really nimble; they can pivot quickly to meet needs.”

“Instead of thinking big numbers, consider deeper life change. Teach skills. Build relationships. Serve the community. Give children the opportunity to find their talents, grow in significance, and impact others, too.”

Summer may be just the time to reach into the community to provide a VBS program for kids and families with disabilities. The small group setting can be ideal for kids who may be overstimulated in a larger, busier group. Or let kids tackle a big job at church such as painting an exterior fence, planting flowers around your building, or learning basic maintenance and repair. You might even look into unique service projects that allow kids to make a big impact in meaningful ways. (Check out these 8 kid-friendly service projects!)

Never overlook the important role you can play in giving parents a rest! Working parents are often looking for ways to keep kids busy—and day care is expensive. Since small churches needn’t navigate unwieldy logistics or large groups of kids, planning summer outings can be simple. For example, there’s no need to rent out the entire community pool for your pool party—just communicate the day and time for kids to meet there. Look around your community and ask, “What do these neighbors need?” Then seek ways your church is uniquely poised to meet that need.

Start something new in your small church.

Often we revert to what we remember from our own childhood or what we assume should be part of summer ministry. But small churches are free to think completely outside-the-box! Think of your smaller church like an agile speedboat rather than a luxury cruise ship. Small churches can navigate differently, pivot quickly, and offer a unique array of personalized activities.

“My best tip for small churches in summer kidmin is this: Quit trying to duplicate what the big churches are doing,” says Acker. “Instead, think about who’s in your church—what skills and talents are represented? Musicians? Gardeners? Chefs? Builders? Teachers? Use what God’s already gifted you with and offer what you do best: relationships and mentoring.”

Summer can be prime time for letting church members share their skills, gifts, and talents with kids in ways that a large church can’t manage. You may offer a cooking class once a week, led by an avid baker. Have a knitting whiz in the congregation? They would likely love teaching this skill to kids in a small group setting. Ask your worship leader to teach a music camp (even for just a day) to aspiring musicians. Kids can even lead worship the following Sunday! These mentoring opportunities are golden for today’s kids, helping them develop skills and—more importantly—relationships with caring Christian adults.

Looking for something for families? Create a weekend family festival. Check out Group’s Weekend VBS program, easily-modified for families and requiring the bare minimum of time and volunteers.

Take a break from programs.

Like you, busy families need a break, too. While parents are looking for things to occupy kids’ time, sometimes they just want to be together. Look for easy “hangout” opportunities that allow families to connect, without feeling like an event. (Here are 10 easy and innovative ideas for family summer night get-togethers!) As a small church, these can be simple to pull together with an email, social media post, or a few phone calls. It may be as simple as, “It’s a full moon tonight! Let’s meet on the church lawn to watch the sun set and the moon come out. Bring snacks and a blanket!” Or “We’ve grabbed a picnic table at the local lake. See you there at 7:00. Bring a frisbee.” Take advantage of your small size to build a sense of family and community within your congregation.

Take a break on Sunday mornings, too. You may opt for family worship, rather than a kids’ Sunday school class. Connect with your pastor or other leaders to see what family worship and a family message would look like. Maybe one week feels like a day at VBS or kids lead worship another week.

And don’t forget that you can take a break. Take time to fuel and refresh your heart, too! Summer is a great time to pray, asking God for a fresh ministry mindset. (Pop in your earbuds, lean back in the shade, and check out this podcast just for small churches!)

Some final thoughts.

The heat is on—whether your church is mega or mini! And if you’re serving in a small church, it’s time to warm up to all the unique ways your church can serve, mentor, and reach kids. Don’t get lost in church comparison and competition—lean into your church’s unique potential. Need more inspiration for your small church ministry? Check out this webinar about how small churches can have big impact.

Laurie Acker is one of the top experts in small church ministry and founder of the Small Church Network & Academy. Since beginning Small Church Ministry LLC in 2020, her website, podcast, and conferences have reached over 1 million people in small churches worldwide. Go here to read Laurie’s incredible story “From Jesus-Loving Misfit To Ministry Expert.”

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4 Tips for a Big Summer in Your Small...

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