Churches in vacation destinations face unique struggles. They tend to see fluctuating attendance, with many visitors coming in during the vacation season and then attendance dropping in the off-season. With the right planning, most of these churches can adapt and save up money for these times.
But with COVID-19, some churches will undoubtedly miss out on the vacation influx as people cut back on or cancel travel plans. How can these churches weather the storm? Here are a few practical ways to survive if your church is missing out on the usual rush of visitors.
Highlight Your Safety and Disinfection Measures
Unfortunately, you will miss out on the people who cancel their travel plans – there is no way to get around this. But what you can do is adapt to the needs of people who are still venturing out. In the COVID-19 era, safety and cleanliness are the top priorities for most churchgoers.
Make sure your safety measures are up-to-date with current CDC guidelines. This includes:
- Proper sanitation and disinfection after every service
- Social distancing measures inside the church
- Requiring masks or cloth face coverings
- Using a contactless thermometer to screen people for fever as they arrive (optional but helpful)
Then work on reassuring travelers that your church is a safe environment for them to worship. Use all available channels to talk about your church’s safety and disinfection measures:
- Announce it on the website
- Post about it on social media
- Consider investing in some advertising around the community (radio, billboards, local tourism guides, etc.)
Adapt to Reach Cautious Tourists
While many people are canceling their travel plans altogether, others are modifying their vacations to ensure safety. RV travel has become quite popular, and people are still flocking to beaches and other outdoor destinations where social distancing is easier to maintain. If people are changing their plans, your church should be adapting as well.
If people feel comfortable outdoors, perhaps you can bring church outdoors. Or host a drive-in service. Modifying your services can help you reach cautious travelers who are still seeking a worship experience.
Take This Opportunity to Build Up Your Year-Round Members
While the pandemic is causing great harm and strife, your church can choose to make the most of this situation. Take this opportunity to focus on local members who attend church year-round. They may have felt their needs were neglected during the vacation season in the past.
Also be sure to re-evaluate the service schedule, which may have been influenced by tourists. Consider how you can better serve your local members’ needs with new programs or fellowship opportunities, especially during the quieter off-season months.
Think Outside the Box
Churches can take inspiration from businesses in the tourism industry. Many of these companies are creating virtual experiences for would-be visitors. For example, museums are offering virtual tours. Your church can think outside the box and come up with a virtual experience that will draw an audience.
If you’re located near the ocean, you could livestream a praise and worship concert from the beach. Try to focus ideas on what makes the vacation destination unique, and what makes your church unique. Then, take a special offering at the end.
Increase Outreach to State Residents
People are not as comfortable traveling across state lines, but they may be willing to travel within their own state. Increase your outreach radius to state residents who are within a few hours’ drive.
You might consider partnering with a local business to create an advertising campaign for your town. This offers the opportunity to not only increase visitors but perhaps even exchange referrals. When tourists ask about churches in the area, your partner business can let them know about your services.
Be a Careful Steward of Whatever Money You Earn
While you may earn less money from the vacation season this year, you can make it go farther by being a good steward. Take a careful look at your yearly budget and decide what can be cut, what needs to stay, and what you can put off for later.
For example, you might decide to delay the remodel you had planned, but investing in more cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment is a must. Or you could cut your Vacation Bible School program this year, which would free up the money for other important areas that are struggling.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a constant struggle for churches all around the country. For a church in a vacation destination, missing out on the seasonal influx of visitors can be crippling. However, with careful planning, prudent decisions, some outside-the-box thinking, and plenty of prayers, your church can survive this season. This too shall pass.
About the Author:
Dr. Tom McElheny has served as an elder and director of Christian education for three Sarasota, Florida, churches, holds advanced degrees in business and education, and is CEO of his company, ChurchPlaza (www.churchplaza.com).