Most rural churches are small because most rural communities are small. That is not a bad thing, that is just the way it is. But in small churches we notice when a few families are missing. Numbers can go down quickly.
This past Sunday I was in a small church and was reminded about how there are regular ups and downs in the attendance of each church. This building seated about 120 or more, but there were only about 25 people in church that Sunday. I felt a little sorry for the pastor because I have had many of those Sundays in my ministry experience as well.
Each church has "seasons" where we know certain things will happen. If you are in a farming community, your farmers will have little time for church meetings during seeding and harvest time. If you are in a ranching community, you know that your members who are calving will not be around much during the time their new calves come. If you are in a logging community, you know that there are certain times when the loggers go all out, and other times where they have all kinds of time on their hands.
Each church is also affected by the seasons of holidays. If your church is young, many will be gone to visit family during the special Sundays of Thanksgiving or Christmas or Easter. If your church is older, you will probably have an in attendance on those special Sundays as family comes home to spend the weekend with mom and dad. If you live in the north, you may have realized that as soon as good weather comes, everyone goes camping - at least it sure feels that way. Summer holidays means that many of your people will be vacationing away somewhere.
This church I attended this past Sunday was a small church to begin with, but this Sunday it competed with summer vacations, a long weekend with a holiday Monday, and a nice sunny day in a long period of clouds and rain. As a result, many people were away. And good for them. But it can be disheartening for the pastor.
It is so easy to allow the ups and downs of church attendance to also make our emotions go up and down. We need to understand the seasons of our church. We need to see that when many people are gone, that is okay. For many, they are spending quality family time together that they cannot do when Dad is always at work. It's okay. And when everyone returns in September and numbers go back up, celebrate that. They have come back to church. They are still part of the church even if they miss some Sundays over the summer.
Understand the seasons of your church. Plan for meetings and activities during the slow times. Plan for less busy-ness at church during the busy times when your members are not available. Allow your church calendar of programs to go with the ebb and flow of your community. When everyone is busy, take time to plan ahead. Pastor, work ahead on your sermon series. Plan for your next ministry season. Take time to pray and plan so you are ready when your members slow down.
Understand the seasons of your church and do not allow a Sunday or two of low attendance to bring you down emotionally.