By: Jerad Morey
Every summer, some Minnesota towns and cities throw their arms open to welcome an influx of migrants that can quadruple their population. Some new residents stay for just a weekend, some for the whole summer. A few spend a lot of time in the community and develop relationships, while others never leave the lake. While many Twin Cities-area churches enter the sleepy season in May as their members leave for vacation homes, churches in the lakes area are just waking up.
Park Rapids comes alive in the summer. While the city's permanent population is about 4,000, cabin season multiplies it to 20,000. Hubbard United Methodist Church's worship numbers reflect that increase—while in the off-season they average 120 people in worship, in the summer months attendance almost doubles. On July 4 weekend last year Pastor Laurie Kantonen had to find room for 290 people in her church building, which is only built to hold 200. To better accommodate Hubbard's growing summer attendance, the church plans on expanding the sanctuary into the entrance area.
Not every lakes-area church experiences this much seasonal growth, but many do engage in significantly different ministry during the summer than they do in the off-season. Rev. Alan Bolte, superintendent of Minnesota's North Star District says “Some churches work very hard to include the summer folks even if they are around for a short time.”
Music ministries are one easy way for temporary residents to plug into the life of a congregation. While metro-area church choirs typically stop meeting in the summer, churches like Villard UMC, which Bolte also pastors, and Hubbard UMC keep their choirs going year-round so summer residents still have a chance to sing. Hubbard's summer choir is twice as large as its winter one!
While lakes-area music ministries tend to grow during the summer, discipleship and faith formation often do take hiatus. “One of the things I have found over the years is having a study in summer is difficult. It seems so many people are on the go with a limited number of nice days, so they aren't so interested,” says Bolte. Hubbard UMC's Kantonen agrees: “small groups meet in winter.”
Even though small groups don't meet during summer, Hubbard makes certain there is no shortage of opportunities for new people to participate in. Folks connect to the congregation through its twice-weekly bicycling group, a golfing group and organized canoe trips. The congregation knows nobody expects to stay inside during a Minnesota summer, and members are happy to invite others into the activity groups they enjoy.
Being invitational is also how another lakes-area church, Sebeka UMC, reaches its mission field.
“Sebeka has grown over the years because they have become a relational church welcoming all people,” Bolte says. He highlights the fact that they stand out from other churches by hiring a full-time youth director for year-round programming.
Reaching even the temporary residents of their mission fields empowers congregations to be used by God for lasting work. Hubbard's attention to its lakes-area population shifts enables it to “see lives transformed by the grace of God,” says Kantonen. They do this through devotion of significant time and resources to local and global missions. In 2011, people volunteered with the community food shelf, a hospice and Meals on Wheels. They stitched quilts for families entering new Habitat for Humanity homes, people at the pregnancy resource center, and families who experienced house fires.
In addition to these donations of time, Hubbard gave more money to God through missions than almost any other church in the North Star district. Tallied up, Kantonen says they gave $32,000 last year to local, national and international missions and are set to match that number this year.
So what's the formula for success for congregations whose mission field has a tourist season? Bolte says it varies from church to church, but prayer and vision are key. Thinking about Hubbard, he says “one of the major things they did to change was pray for wisdom, guidance and direction.... It is important that the pastor and the laity must work together to reach the mission field of the congregation, whether this includes lakes or not.”
Bolte also reminds us of the patience required. Over 20 years, Hubbard “planted and nurtured a lot of seeds before they began to see the fruits of their ministry.”
Jerad Morey is a member of Mosaic in Brooklyn Park and a freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter @Jerad.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church