The Lazy, Hazy and Hopefully Not Crazy Days of Summer

Originally published June 2003.

I was asked a very good question from a youth worker.  A very good question. And I quote:   “Why do nearly all students bail out on Jesus in the summer time?”  

I remember that frustration and sadness from my days as a youth pastor over this very question.  Whether it was a youth on a leadership team that went “wild” over the summer or the loss of momentum that was being built in your youth ministry that gets slowed because of summer.  This is a true frustration.  But does this question truly reflect what is going on over the summer or does it express more of our frustration and sadness?

Summer comes.  It is part of our calendar year and we can’t change that. So let’s work with summer and what summer brings.

Summer is generally a family time.  We need to plan and remember that we are not in competition with the parents over their children.  We need to support them in all that they do--even if it upsets our program.  Because upsetting our program is small beans compared to causing a division between child and parent.  We can not compete with that family vacation or family summer responsibilities.  If one’s family vacation falls during the mission trip, give that youth responsibilities for the mission trip he/she can do before the vacation and during the vacation. If a youth has to go live with his father for the summer in another state, we should send him off with all kinds of tools like he is going on his own mission trip and not with guilt of how much he will be missed and how much the youth program will miss his leadership over the summer.  We need to do all we can to support that already fragile relationship.  

Most of all, do not even attempt to compete with family plans.  You or the work of God you have planned should not be the cause of family arguments.  Instead do everything you can to encourage the parents to spend even more time with their children since their children have more time over the summer.   Put together a list of “Taxi Drive Time” ideas from Moms & Pops Stuff for the parents to take on that vacation.  Put together a list of “Family Projects” from Moms & Pops Stuff to give to the families to help them make summer plans--even if it falls on your youth night.

Big hint: For those large core youth events you have planned for the summer, tell your parents early so they can make vacation and other camp plans around your schedule--because you gave it to them first.  Your parents will appreciate you even more.

Another part of summer are band camps, cheerleading camps and other sport camps.  We as a youth ministry should not compete with these.  Why?  (And please read further.)  Because parents are mostly involved in their child’s activities in some way.  The camp is to better their child’s involvement with that program which their parents are involved with.  These kinds of activities do much to bring the child and parent together just like hopefully our youth ministries do.  Plus, we do not give out scholarships for their extracurricular involvement for college but they can get that for some of these school camps.  We should support their growth, even academic growth.  And the last reason to support school camps, we need to encourage our youth to take their faith “out there” at that band camp or sports camp or governor’s school.  We should be excited about their many opportunities that may arise that week on their “mission trip.”  Our youth ministries should teach them how to handle those opportunities that arise and send them off with our encouragement in whatever creative ways possible.  

Another summer time realization we need to understand is that a youth’s faith can not be dependent upon the youth ministry and the youth ministry activities.  It just can not be.  No explanation needed, right?  Your responsibility is to teach them to have faith outside of the youth ministry.  God desires that their faith is “out there.”  If they are spending their summer outside of your youth ministry, hopefully their faith will grow from what you have taught them throughout the year and from all the situations that they will experience over the summer.  Train your youth so they will have the best summers of their lives.  

Of course, we also have to remember that a drop off in attendance over the summer time does not necessarily mean that they have bailed out on Jesus.

Quite often though, a youth’s faith is not his/her own.  They are your loving and on-fire youth of your youth ministry on Sunday and cussing and shoplifting sinner on Monday.  And youth see no problem with that.

This problem does matter more over the summer though because of summer it may become more apparent that one youth’s faith is not his/her own due to the change of schedule.  It may not be a newsflash but it may become more apparent to you.  Summer provides lots of time and despite what teens say, they need structure and schedule.  Summer does not offer that.  Structure and schedule provides comfort and boundaries in the midst of those new emotions and experiences.  Due to the removal of structure and schedule, teens’ sinful behaviors may increase.  

Our reaction may be to schedule our summer full of youth activities to provide more of a structure or a schedule.  But that would be a lot of effort on your part for sporadic attendance (due to family stuff) and it would not truly minister to your youth.  You want them to have a faith that is not dependent on your youth program, right?  Summer provides opportunity for your youth’s faith to be “out there” and for them to learn about that with your youth ministry as their safety net.  Summer also provides opportunities for forgiveness and grace, the kind of true grace that may make a youth’s faith his/her own finally.  And you get to be a part of that healing process, that memory-making time when he/she truly experiences more of God.  

Summer’s coming.  What are your plans?  What are your plans now?  And what are you doing for yourself over the summer?