Churches across the world have embraced Vacation Bible School as a ministry strategy for over a century. The rich history of VBS points to why many churches continue to put the work and effort into what it takes to swing open the doors and invite an entire community to hear the gospel. Simply put, the opportunity for evangelism is the number one motivating factor and heartbeat behind VBS.
Millions of children participate in VBS every year—and while we only know what churches report—the number of decisions to follow Christ, go into ministry, and pursue a life in missions are staggering:
2.5 million participants enrolled in VBS (2017)
65,000 professions of faith (2017)
835 decisions for vocational ministry (2017)
These statistics alone are evidence of the value and heartbeat behind VBS.
From its beginning, we can see the “why” behind VBS. Some of the first “schools” began for the sole purpose of Bible teaching. Dedicated teachers felt they did not have enough time with children to teach them the Bible only on Sundays, so they created summer programming built on an intensive time in God’s Word.
Some of the earliest daily schedules on record show the school activities as:
Stories from Church History
I dare say that VBS has morphed into a more fun and exciting version of this historical schedule, but you can still see the thumbprints and motivation behind the “why.”
Most of us would agree that teaching the Bible is what VBS is all about—including memory verses. We might also agree that VBS should have a missions component. In fact, the most current numbers say that over $7 million was given to mission organizations last year alone. And though “recess” is usually more organized into games and crafts, the idea that kids need to move and have fun is still baked into a typical VBS day. This allows for friendships to develop and strengthen, creating an environment where church community can develop and grow.
Whether in 1919 or 2019, a worthwhile VBS experience requires an “all hands on deck” mentality from the broader church congregation. This starts with the senior pastor and trickles down to the individual members. When everyone throws in their time and gifts to create something with the potential for such a large impact, the Lord will knit hearts together as the body of Christ works together for His glory. This too is the heartbeat behind VBS.
By looking back at the history of VBS while taking the time to evaluate why VBS is worth doing today, it’s important to recognize that the original heartbeat has not changed.
How do we keep it thriving? Keep doing what has stood the test of time:
Share the gospel with kids and families in the community
Teach the Bible in an intentional way
Foster friendships and memories that last a lifetime
Build a stronger church community
Together, let’s acknowledge that from a kingdom perspective, VBS is worth it because the souls of our kids and families are worth it.
Jana Magruder serves as the Director of Lifeway Kids. She is a Baylor graduate and offers a wealth of experience and passion for kids ministry, education, and publishing. She is the author of Nothing Less, Kids Ministry that Nourishes, and Life Verse Creative Journal, which she co-authored with her teenage daughter. She and her husband, Michael, along with their three children reside in Nashville.