By Melita Thomas
In this strange season of unprecedented circumstances, we’ve all found ourselves needing to get creative with different aspects of church ministry. Programming needs and methods have shifted, but the mission of the church has not changed. The gospel has not changed, nor has our desperate need of it.
I am convinced (and convicted!) that we cannot afford to wait until things “return to normal” to resume ministry. We can’t afford to wait for kids and families to come back to church. We have to actively, urgently, seek out new ways to meet them wherever they are and make disciples. Our mission is too important. The gospel is too urgent.
Enter Vacation Bible School—perhaps the most well-known and prolific evangelism strategy employed by the church in the last century and a half. Many churches point to VBS as the single largest evangelistic outreach of the year, not just for their children’s ministry, but for their entire congregation!
It is estimated that 22 percent of children who participate in VBS do not attend any church and that 69% of all American parents would allow their child to attend VBS if invited by a friend.
These are pre-COVID numbers (2019), but they illustrate a great need and a huge open door for outreach into our communities. They also point to an almost universal acceptance of VBS as a “good thing” for children to attend.
In fact, this same 2019 research study from LifeWay found that 6 out of 10 American adults attended some sort of VBS as children themselves. And 9 out of 10 who attended VBS while growing up reported having positive memories of those experiences.
What’s more—the perception of VBS is overwhelming positive even among those who never attended themselves! It’s something the vast majority of Americans have experience with, it’s something they view as positive overall, and it has the kind of brand recognition a Fortune 500 company would pay big bucks to achieve.
That’s great news for churches! When we do VBS, we don’t have to explain to our community what it is or why people should come. We don’t have to convince people it’s going to be fun for kids. We don’t have to sell people on its merits. This puts us in a really good place as we begin to look ahead to the summer of 2021.
You might be tempted to think, “But wait a minute, that was all pre-COVID. The world has changed now.”
VBS is no stranger to challenging times. It’s been around since 1898 and is still going strong. It has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, the turbulent 60s, and, yes, even a pandemic or two. So, there is absolutely no reason to think that VBS will not continue to be an effective strategy moving forward.
In each of these past crises, God was faithful and blessed the efforts of creative and resourceful Christ-followers who pressed onward with the Great Commission and shared the gospel with boys and girls through Vacation Bible School.
Even in 2020, an estimated 60-70% of churches found a way to do some form of VBS. That’s incredible and inspiring! So now as we are poised to (gladly) turn the page on 2020 and look ahead to 2021, we’ve learned some things that can help us do an even better job of reaching and ministering to our communities.
Let me encourage you to begin planning now. Don’t wait until spring to begin strategizing for VBS. Choose a gospel-centered curriculum from a provider you trust. Go ahead and order the resources you’ll need and begin planning with your lead team. Make a Plan A and a Plan B. The more lead time and the more options you have in place, the easier it will be to pivot if required. You may even want to attend a VBS training event with your team to help you strategize and plan effectively.
Pick a format for your VBS. You may choose one format as your Plan A and another as a backup plan just in case. If you chose an alternate format for VBS in 2020, evaluate what worked well and what didn’t. What elements would you like to include again in 2021? (For example, will you continue to livestream your Worship Rally even with an in-person VBS next summer?)
There are limitless possibilities when it comes to the format of VBS. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
This is the ‘VBS as usual’ approach. Go all in and all out! It may well be that, by the time summer 2021 rolls around, VBS can happen as it always has. You might even experience record-breaking attendance as families are more than ready to have something fun to do!
Conduct driveway, front porch, backyard, or cul-de-sac neighborhood gatherings. This approach utilizes church-member “hosts” in multiple neighborhoods throughout your community to conduct a small-scale VBS at their homes. This is a great solution if you want to meet in smaller groups of 10-20.
Embrace a creative approach using alternative timetables such as conducting VBS over five consecutive weeks (e.g. Wednesday nights, Sunday nights, Saturdays), as a back-to-school kick-off, or over Labor Day weekend or Fall Break. This approach allows you to still do VBS, but in a low-maintenance, low-prep manner.
Deliver VBS directly to the home. Post or livestream media-driven Worship Rallies to engage kids as viewers and utilize home delivery methods to equip parents to facilitate Bible study, rec, and crafts at home.
It really doesn’t matter the format you choose, the time of day, or even the theme of your VBS. What matters is finding creative solutions that work for your church that allow you to effectively—and safely—reach your community with the gospel.
That’s why we do VBS. No matter what it looks like.
VBS is worth doing because the gospel is worth sharing! I’m looking forward to what God is going to do through VBS 2021!
Melita Thomas serves as the VBS and Kids Ministry Specialist for Lifeway, www.lifeway.com.