By Sam Luce
This past year has been one of the more difficult of our lifetimes. There has been much loss and much difficulty, but there have been some unexpected blessings as well. One of those blessings in disguise is the killing of church-as-usual and programs-as-tradition. It has caused us to think about why we do what we do.
This was a fruitful exercise because it can lay the groundwork for starting something new or evaluating something old and create a plan to start again. Twenty years ago, I led VBS because I thought that’s what I was supposed to do as a new kids pastor. I did it for about five years but didn’t get the buy-in or the traction that the effort required of me, my team, and our volunteers.
I’m also ashamed to admit that I fell into the school of thought that VBS was outdated; I was wrong! After a 12-year break, we started to do VBS again. Regardless of our opinions, most Americans are quite pro-VBS. Findings from Lifeway Research show that most (95%) American parents—regardless of how often they attend church—say their kids had a favorable experience at VBS.
What’s more, a similar number (94%) said VBS helped their child better understand the Bible, and 95% agreed VBS was one of the most meaningful church experiences for their child.
Here are a few reasons we started again and why it could be the most important item on your church calendar.
Your unchurched neighbors are open to it.
We live in a very pluralistic society that doesn’t value church but values traditions. Many parents have young kids who either don’t go to church or infrequently attend church but have great VBS memories. They want their kids to have those memories and put their kids in VBS before taking them to a church service on the weekend.
It’s an effective way to partner with parents.
Having 15 hours in the VBS week to speak new truths or reinforce what is being taught at home is invaluable. The new “regular attendees” standard is now 12 to 24 Sundays a year. VBS gives you a nice chunk of time to drill down into core truths kids need in the world we now live in.
Partnering with parents starts with equipping parents. Doing VBS with this in mind makes VBS more valuable than a simple stand-alone program.
It brings the church together.
VBS has to be a whole-church focus. It can’t be something only your department does, or an execution of the same handful of volunteers who do everything else in the church. I did a kids department-focused VBS years ago and just finished a church-driven VBS. The difference is night and day.
It’s a discipleship tool for the families in your church.
Reaching new families has to be a focus but not the whole focus. We want to reach new families, but we also need to build foundations for our families. Picking the right curriculum is essential. VBS is more than an outreach tool; it’s a gospel-shaping delivery device for the whole family.
Our church has changed. We still care about the weekend service, but we care more about intentional ways to help with spiritual formation and discipleship. The stats back this up. According to Lifeway’s research, a staggering 88% of respondents said VBS positively affected their spiritual growth as a child, and 96% feel it has positively affected their child’s spiritual growth.
If how and why we do VBS changes, it can be an effective tool to reinforce your entire church’s framework. I hope you pray about how you should do VBS.
Some ideas on how to rethink VBS in our current COVID world:
Backyard Bible School
This is a great option because it allows you to reach neighborhoods and kids you wouldn’t normally reach. It also allows you to be more flexible and keep groups smaller, which may be important depending on your state’s rules or the rate of infections in your area.
Regional Bible School
This is again a way to have a smaller setting in the communities that may attend your church but would be able to invite more neighbors. One of the things we have to look at in regard to our VBS being an outreach is how far people who don’t attend our church are willing to drive.
VBS Tent Edition
Rent tents and use them for more spacing or for complete outdoor VBS if indoor meeting is shut down again this year.
My encouragement for you is to do VBS this year. The kids in your church and community need connection, discipleship, and hope more than ever. Do VBS even if you don’t usually do it. Our world post-COVID has changed because people have changed.
We’re going to have to think smaller, be more intentional, and demonstrate more flexibility, not just now, but on the other side of the COVID crisis.
Sam lives in upstate New York with his wife and four children. He has served as the pastor of families at Redeemer Church for the past 23 years. Read more at his blog SamLuce.com.
This post originally appeared on lifewayresearch.com.