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Summer’s Dilemma: Church or Family?

Last day of school!!!

Ours is today; I bet yours is soon or you’ve already had it.  The official start to summer is here.  Summer vacation means sleeping in, sunny days, water sports, sandy beaches, campfires, parades, and plenty of time with family and friends.

It also means that church attendance in the United States plummets.

Like seriously takes a nosedive.  Attendance becomes sporadic and spotty.  When school lets out for the summer, it seems like church does too.  The response of the church has been to cut programming (no Wednesday nights for the summer anyone?) and plan “fun events” like picnics and Vacation Bible School.

As a parent, I get it.  All year long our calendar is held captive by the school calendar that informs when we can go away and for how long.  Seeing extended family is difficult when you have two days to travel.  And spending quality time together can suffer.  So planning vacations and day trips during the summer months makes sense.

As a minister, I dread it.  It’s hard.  You develop relationships with kids and you have really cool things going like small groups and prayer teams and discipleship, and then, you don’t see them but off and on for weeks.  And then there is Vacation Bible School; don’t even get me started on that.  The sheer amount of time and effort that is put into pulling off a “successful” VBS event takes all the energy you have, so the regular programming starts to suffer.

I’ve seen so many posts recently from children’s pastors around the country utterly discouraged by this attendance reality and frustrated and what seems like a lack of commitment and concern.  On the other hand, I’ve seen equally as many posts from parents excited about the cool things they have planned this summer to do as a family and the memories they are looking forward to making.

So who’s right?  What’s more important?  Family or church?

And therein, I believe, lies the problem.  Because of the “way” we do church (Sunday morning, Wednesday night and/or separate ministries for the family members), if someone misses one of these times, it leaves a gap; a sizable gap.  But families who want to spend these summer months together don’t want to come to a place where once again they are separated and unable to be with each other. So it becomes a choice – do I want to be with my family OR do I want to go to church?

Ugh.  Those choices kinda stink.

What ends up happening then is that when the opportunity arises by default of the summer school schedule to spend that quantity of quality time together, the choice becomes clear –family.  And when the default schedule makes finding that quantity of quality time together more difficult – church.

(Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)
(Hemera Technologies/Getty Images)

But I don’t think either of those reflect God’s heart for family or for church.  In fact, I think that it creates a tension where the two are opposed to each other rather than being in partnership with one another.  Where there should be mutual edification, there is instead unhealthy competition.  And let me be clear, this also takes place with sports, especially travel ball, and academics, especially academic teams, and friends, especially non-churchgoing friends.

And I don’t have all the answers, but I do know this.

Church isn’t supposed to be a building or a program or a set time in the week.  And family isn’t supposed to be vacations and softball games and straight As on report cards. 

Those things might be a part of what church and family are, but they are not supposed to define them.

The Bible is clear that what brings us together isn’t things and it isn’t programs and it isn’t activities.  What unites us is the Holy Spirit (I Cor. 6:17) and what holds us together is love (John 14:34-35). We are not supposed to make a habit of skipping out on our times of meeting with other believers, but we are supposed to be encouraging on another all the more (Heb. 10:25).  We (ministers explicitly) are also encouraged to ensure our homes are in order before taking care of the church and to love, honor, respect, and obey within our families (I Tim. 3:5).

It sounds to me like “church” looks less like meeting on Sunday and more like being in relationship with one another in and outside of a building and all week long, not just on Sunday.  It also looks like we are committed to one another in love and service so we strive to be together and not make a habit of letting things come between us, even good things and fun things and “family” things.

Ultimately I think it means we adopt of philosophy of “church” that is less about “ME” and more about “WE” – that we view the decisions we make not out of a cost-benefit analysis about what works best for us, but rather from a Kingdom mindset of what is best for Him.  Sometimes, this may mean you take your family on vacation.  Sometimes, it may mean you skip a game.  Sometimes it may mean that you meet outside of a building or on a different night.  Sometimes it may mean you cancel a program.

But IF it is about the kingdom of God and not about what works best with our schedules or our plans, it will bear fruitIt will grow God’s kingdom in our families, our churches and our communities.

It won’t send a message that “church” is a choice that we can take or leave but that “church” is a life we choose to live in relationship with others.  And it won’t send a message that family is somehow less spiritual or less important but that family is an extension of the church in the broader community and in the home.

It’s not supposed to be a competition.  And whether we’ve made it that or the pace of modern world has made it that, I think it’s up to us, each and every one, to step back and see if we’ve adopted that mindset in any way.  Families, are you being the church in loving relationships, committed to the “WE” of God’s kingdom in the choices you make?  Ministers, are you supporting the family in partnering relationship, committed to the “WE” of God’s kingdom in the ministry you serve?

It can’t be about one or the other.  It has to be about ONE and no other.

“Be very careful then how you live – not as unwise, but as wise…understand what the Lord’s will is.” Eph 5:15,17

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About the author

Family(40)Christina Embree is wife to Pastor Luke, mom to three wonderful kids, and family minister at Nicholasville UMC. She is passionate about seeing churches partnering with families to encourage faith formation at home and equipping parents to disciple their kids in the faith. Currently studying Family, Youth and Children’s Ministry at Wesley Seminary, she also blogs at and is a contributing blogger at D6 Family,  Seedbed, and

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