Step three: Plucking some low-hanging fruit
A good deal of the work of creating transformative growth is pretty boring behind-the-scenes work. It can be tough motivating people to keep at it, year after year. So it is wise every once in a while to come up with some spectacular results to keep people interested and motivated. Let me tell you about a few tried-and-true means for doing this:
(1) If the attendance of children and youth drops off in your congregation during the summer, one of the easiest ways to boost attendance is to improve your summer offerings. This is what the Palo Alto religious education committee and I decided to do a year ago. We had tried all kinds of showy programs in the summer, and none of them had worked. One of our key volunteers said that what she’d like to do was chuck all programs altogether, and simply focus on our first big goal of having fun and building community. She said she’d take the kids to the park every Sunday during the summer to play and have fun. This is a fine example of a good-enough program. Actually, it was too good: it boosted our summer attendance so much that we saw a 21% increase in overall attendance; we wanted good enough, and now we have this big success we are expected to match again. Nevertheless, in many congregations, boosting summer attendance is an easy way to pluck some low-hanging fruit.
(2) Run a special program in the late spring when attendance usually drops off. Late spring projects that have been successful for me: taking 8 weeks to rehearse a play; the old Marketplace 29 A.D. Vacation Bible School program; a program on peacemaking. I’ve done this year after year in congregations I’ve served; it doesn’t always boost attendance, but it always at least provides a welcome change of pace for volunteers. And it’s usually easier to manage than trying to drum up enthusiasm to continue regular Sunday school classes through the bitter end of May or into June.
(3) Parties, overnights, and trips all generate enthusiasm, and often provide a small but measurable boost in attendance. I’ve taken youth groups to Chicago and to New Orleans. I’ve run overnights for grades 5 and up. I’ve helped organize parties for classes, for volunteers, and for the whole Sunday school. These projects are easy enough to do (except the youth group trips), and while the boost in attendance may be small, it is always welcome.
What I’m calling “low-hanging fruit” are things that are not going to create the kind of long-term upward growth trend that you can create through the boring work of management and building administrative infrastructure. But they are things that are fun, that provide short-term boosts in attendance, and most importantly they help keep everyone motivated.
This notion of motivation will bring us nicely to the fourth and last step… but first, any questions about low-hanging fruit?