Editor’s note: This week we’re featuring a special Vacation Bible School series at Facts & Trends. Learn more about this year’s theme, “In the Wild.”
By Rhonda VanCleave
You understand the crisis. You agree that sharing the gospel is worth it.
But, quite frankly, you still have some resistance to Vacation Bible School (VBS). You keep thinking of those “Yes, but …” statements that people are quick to toss your way when the subject of VBS is mentioned.
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room and call these myths (or excuses) on the carpet.
1. People are just using us for free childcare.
First, according to LifeWay Research, only 12 percent of parents say they are interested in VBS as a form of inexpensive childcare. So if 60 families participate in your VBS, only seven of those families chose your VBS for free childcare. However, the good news is—they came!
The parents are willing for their kids to be there and to hear what you have to teach them. They trust your church enough to bring their kids. Some may begin to attend your church and worship with you. Every summer we hear stories of kids who came to VBS and, before the week ended, one of their parents trusted Jesus as Savior.
On the other hand, some may not return until next year’s VBS. Be patient. Plant seeds. Trust God for the increase. Think of it this way—even if you are just getting this one chance to plant the message of the gospel in a child’s heart, isn’t it worth it? “Let the little children come!” (Mark 10:14)
2. We don’t have enough workers. No one volunteers.
This is usually a great time to step back and look at two things. First, how are you structuring your VBS? How many key leaders do you have? What would a VBS designed with just those leaders in position look like? Then begin to incorporate less experienced leaders and teenagers as “leaders in training.”
Second, how are you enlisting them? “All call” announcements rarely work. Ask God to point out people to you, then ask them one-on-one.
Give them simple but clear expectations of the role and give them time to think and pray (but set a deadline for an answer). I have lost count of the times I’ve asked someone to help teach and received a fearful or skeptical response.
But, if God led me to that person, I honestly can’t remember a single time they said, “Never again!” In fact the responses have been, “Thank you so much! I had no idea I’d enjoy it that much!” or “Put me down for next year if I can be with the same age group.”
And many, many times those same people eventually became part of the faithful ongoing team of teachers in other areas of kids ministry.
For more read “6 Ideas for Recruiting VBS Volunteers.”
3. Every church in town is doing that VBS. No one will come to ours. (or “We want to be different.” or “We want to stand out.”)
LifeWay research shows that Research found that 79 percent of parents have no problem with a VBS theme being the same as other churches, nor did 78 percent of kids. Usually the problem is the perception of either the leadership or, possibly, the volunteers.
Maybe the solution involves just a bit of rethinking. Kids learn best through repetition. Kids never tire of singing songs they love (ask parents who live with the VBS music blaring in their car all summer!).
Except for the sign out front, your VBS will be unique to you because the people leading it are different. And, not to be flippant, but there are no new Bible stories.
However, we are teaching from God’s Word which is “living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12). Trust the Master Teacher, God’s Spirit, to equip your teachers.
If you’ve taught kids for very long, you know you can tell a Bible story for the 100th time and suddenly you’ll see the light go on! That child may have heard the story at the church across town last week, but today you are there to witness when the seed takes root.
4. VBS is too expensive! We have to buy too much stuff.
When I go to the grocery store to buy food for my family, I don’t buy everything on the shelves. However, everything on the shelves is bought by someone. That’s because our needs and preferences are different. VBS resource providers are like those grocery stores, making every effort to provide everything someone needs.
By the same token, just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean it’s better. I have learned the hard way that there are a few grocery items that will go to waste if they are less desirable. The better brand is worth it.
Trustworthy VBS resources should do more than just pick five Bible stories. The content should be carefully crafted to share the gospel and help kids grow in their faith.
Once you’ve selected the resources with the content you feel best meets that criteria, then decide what other elements are most important to you. Snacks, crafts, and decorations can be areas to look for savings either through donations or adaptations.
5. The only kids who come are our church kids.
According to LifeWay Research, children’s ministry leaders indicate that VBS attendance consistently is double any other ongoing kids ministry. About half attending VBS are not kids from that church—29 percent attend another church and the rest of the kids (fully 22 percent) do not attend church at all.
So, in most cases those who attend your VBS will be both regular attending church kids and guests.
But, I have to get on my soapbox about this misconception for just a moment. What if no one comes but “our church kids?” Aren’t they worth it? God has placed those kids in our church. If we send the message they’re not worth the trouble, could this result in attitudes when they’re older that church is not worth the trouble?
What does VBS do for the kids who call your church “home?” It tells them you value them. You care about their spiritual growth. You believe God’s plans for them so much, you want them to have an experience that says, “Our church thinks you are worth it!” We want them to experience Christian fellowship that is fun and Bible study that is valuable.
Over the years I’ve seen our churches spend lots of money paying for ads, handing out scores of flyers, putting up signs, and bombarding social media. But, hands down, the most effective way to get kids to VBS is when “our” kids invite their friends (or when VBS volunteers bring kids from their families or neighborhoods).
Don’t forget, one of our strongest takeaways from LifeWay’s VBS research is that 69 percent of parents said they would encourage their child to participate in a VBS event at a church they don’t attend if invited by one of their friends.
6. All our kids are already Christians. VBS is not about discipleship.
A disciple is “one who learns from another.” Consider these VBS discipleship opportunities:
- Kids who are already Christians affirm their faith. Each time believers review the plan of salvation, their foundation of faith is strengthened and they are better equipped to share that message with others.
- Bible study is a key component of discipleship. During VBS, participants of all ages are tutored in using their Bibles and challenged to make Bible reading a part of their daily lives.
- Leaders mentor new leaders. Training up future leaders is discipleship!
- Kids get to know Christian adults and learn from them how important following God is in their lives.
- Remember what we said in chapter two? The Great Commission tells us to “Disciple!” Teaching, sharing the gospel, and helping kids know more about Jesus is true discipleship.
The bottom line is we have a choice. We can believe the myths and make the excuses. We can plan lots of social events and field trips and fill calendars. Building relationships is important.
But, if we fail to make an effort to reach people with the gospel, then that fail is eternal. Is VBS the only way? No. But it is one way that has a proven track record. It is flexible enough to change with the times, yet focused enough to deliver a consistent message. It’s worth it!
RHONDA VANCLEAVE (@RhondaVanCleave) serves as publishing team leader for Vacation Bible School at LifeWay Christian Resources. She has been active in children’s ministry for over 40 years serving in churches were her husband has served as pastor. This article was excerpted by permission from It’s Worth It: Uncovering How One Week Can Transform Your Church.