For some churches, Vacation Bible School is still one of the most important and well-done events of the church year. But more churches should be asking, “Should we still be doing Vacation Bible School?” As the summer of 2015 comes to a close, this is the time to be asking that question. While change can be overwhelming, being open to birthing new ideas and possibilities can be an exciting time in the life of the church.
Each year I receive emails from churches, even from large churches, desperate for volunteers. At one church after I praised so many different volunteers helping, the children’s director lamented that while there were volunteers for VBS, it seemed to be take all of the volunteer energy for the year. Others have lamented over the cost and pressure of such a production and feeling like their churches don’t have a clear purpose and understanding of why they are doing VBS.
Why are you doing VBS?
The answer to that question should be more than, “Because we’ve always done it” or “We are Baptist/Presbyterian/Methodist, we have to do VBS.”
If your purpose is to reach out to the neighborhood, how are you doing that? If your purpose is to reach families that are not connected to another church, does your attendance reflect that?
If the reason you do VBS is to bring the church together in one project a year where everyone comes together, then maximize that. Plan opportunities for church members to really get to know each other.
If you want grandparents to have a way to connect their grandchildren to the church, then create opportunities to train the grandparents for discipleship and use VBS as a launching pad for a discipleship relationship that continues.
If your desire is to reach children who are not connected to church and introduce them to Jesus, what is the best way to do that? I have seen some churches that just want to get as many “decisions” made during the week of VBS as possible. Unfortunately, this often becomes more important than the much harder, but important work of beginning a discipling relationship that continues beyond the week of VBS.
How can you change the way you do VBS to better meet the reality of your church?
One church had historically done a huge block party the weekend before VBS to invite the neighborhood. As adult volunteers began dwindling, they decided volunteers would be better utilized preparing and working VBS, so they stopped doing the block party.
Some have shortened the length of their VBS, and one church went to a weekend celebration of VBS because it was too difficult to get enough volunteers to come all week. One children’s minister searches for craft supplies at better prices online throughout the spring, rather than paying so much to order it from the VBS publishing company. Many churches have joined forces with other churches to share resources.
What else could your church do instead of VBS?
It is exciting to see churches dream new ministries for children and families in the summer. Some churches have had great luck running sports camps or arts and music camps. One inner city ministry has literacy camps that run through the summer.
Brian Burnette, Minister of Children and Spiritual Formation at Grandin Court Baptist Church, Roanoke, watched VBS participation and volunteers drop over the last few years.
He noticed that other area churches were holding the same VBS as they were, and by the time Grandin Court’s week rolled around in late July, many of the kids had already gone through the curriculum.
“Our costs had gone up, mainly around the crafts, and our volunteers were burning out,” Burnette said. After doing some research and reading the book entitled, “Sabbath in the Suburbs,” Burnette introduced an alternative proposal to Church Council to run a Sabbath School. This summer’s theme was “Unleashing Your Faith and Creativity.” Brittany Riddle, Minister to Adults at Vinton Baptist Church, led the adults in creating mosaics. Church members came together for intergenerational activities to better get to know one another.
First Baptist Church of Albermarle, NC ran two weeks of a cooking school. The church’s food services director had the idea last year and she, along with volunteers from the church, hosted two groups for a cooking school, one for preschoolers and one for rising first through sixth graders.
Along with the cooking camp, the church hosted three weeks of day camp this year. Pastor Andy Jung, who came to the church last summer, said, “One of the things I wanted to do in my first year was to get the church’s name out into the community. As you know in a small community, every church has to find their niche and I think we are headed in the right direction.”
Look around at what skills are already present in your church. Give people space to dream. Look at what your community really needs. What are the needs of the young families and children inside and outside your church? What is your church’s niche? You never know what dreaming new dreams could birth.