For the majority of this week the local church I serve has been conducting its annual Vacation Bible School. For many this activity was a rite of passage sort of event in the establishment and development of their Christian walk, for me it was not. As a matter of fact, before I was blessed to serve as the Pastor of my local church I had never attended nor served in a Vacation Bible School (VBS) – EVER! So it is natural that you might be thinking this is the point I begin my diatribe detailing what I believe to be the “evils” of VBS and frankly four years ago you may have been correct. The problem is four years ago, as previously stated, I had no experience with this particular aspect of Children’s and Youth Ministry. Therefore, what you are going to get instead is summary of some things I have learned about executing a faithful, safe, and fun VBS event.
The first thing I learned is hosting a successful VBS has nothing to do with the number of children who attend. Rather, success is rightfully determined by whether your team of workers is given ample training and opportunity to teach the children the Gospel. Directly related to this I have learned along with the folks in the local church here is we should always involve the parents in any questions the children have concerning the Gospel, including responding to it. We have jointly discovered addressing the child’s questions in this way opens even more doors to evangelism. This is because we explain the context in which the question was raised before answering it in the presence of the parent. A correlating reason we address questions in this manner has to do with the area in which we minister, we do not want to give the impression we are “stealing” the children of the predominate religious group in our region.
A second area in which we can all pay heed is safety. As I reviewed all the handbooks for conducting VBS and other Children’s Ministry events the safety of the children was always found near the top of the list of priorities. In every instance I found myself in complete agreement with the folks who prioritized the safety of the children just below the communication of the Gospel. If we are honest what we are asking is that the people in our community trust us with their most prized possession outside their presence in most cases. So I learned it is imperative to have a comprehensive safety program in place to regulate pick-up, drop-off, dealing with injuries, and sundry emergencies to ensure the well-being of the children and volunteers alike. 1
Although some would not treat “fun” as a metric of success, I can tell you if the children are not having fun you will likely fail to reach the goal of teaching them the Gospel. Now before you get ready to call me a pragmatist, let me beat you to the punch and say yes, I am in this particular area. I have learned this week and in various other venues that if you
want to hold someone’s attention you either have to have them already completely interested in your message or you have to make hearing your message fun. This is more important with children than any other audience, in my opinion. And by the way the more fun you make it for the kids the more opportunities are opened to meet your Gospel teaching goal. Likewise, having a fun event is also a boon for the tireless servants who volunteer their time to make VBS possible in local churches everywhere.
Speaking of fun, I learned to NEVER underestimate the power of music to assist the teaching of Scripture to children. This week I observed children from ages 4 through 12, both churched and unchurched, learn at least three different Bible verses through songs they were taught each day. As a matter of fact, I was amazed when the children in the group I was leading were spontaneously singing (and doing the accompanying hand motions) the theme verse of our VBS (Genesis 6:8 “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” KJV) as they moved from station to station.
I also learned VBS is a wonderful opportunity to provide folks a taste of missions type work. In the case of my own local church it has been a time of hosting a Short Term Ministry Team from a sister church in San Diego, California. These younger people have had the opportunity to travel to a place similar enough to not be scary but different enough to allow for a bit of culture shock in order to engage in Gospel ministry all for the cost of some gasoline.
Finally, I learned hosting a VBS is as much about the folks who volunteer as it is the children. Frankly, in a smaller local church there are only so many needs to be met at any given time and while this is a good thing it also has a tendency to naturally limit ministry opportunities. However, the VBS hosted this year provided a chance for every family in our congregation to participate in some way, shape, or form. Some families have had a representative present each evening teaching, serving snacks, leading music, etc. While others have served as host homes, provided our STM workers with meals, supplied snacks for the children, or made a special gift to the church to ease the burden of financing the event. In other words, in my opinion if you want to get folks involved in ministry hosting a VBS is a good way of getting it done.
- The safety program should also include the process for performing background checks on all volunteers. ↩