Is VBS Broken?
The very first VBS I directed was the summer of 2007. I had just been hired to my first ministry job in May and the day of my hire the only thing that had been planned were the dates – June 24th-27th. In six short weeks me and the incredible team of volunteers put together an under-water themed Vacation Bible School experience called “Splash Down” complete with a life-sized giant squid hanging from the ceiling and 60 foot inflatable whale. The kids could actually go inside the whale and meet Jonah face to face for a close encounter with the living Word. The following year we kicked it up a notch and did an authentic Jerusalem Marketplace. Only this year we decided that kids did not want to go to school during the summer so we changed it to “Vacation Bible Experience.” By the third year of “VBX” there were enough people calling it Vacation Bible Experience that people actually knew what we were talking about. The Jerusalem Marketplace was another huge hit. Thanks to a decision to renovate beginning just days after VBX ended, we were able to have a live camel INSIDE THE FELLOWSHIP hall. “Humphrey” brought his friends with him – a few miniature horses, goats and even chickens.
VBX was the main event but was it really effective? Entering children’s ministry I was told over and over that VBS was a major deal and that we go all out. They certainly did and I have never experienced a VBS program like the ones put together my first 3 years of ministry but all along, usually the week before when most VBS directors are experiencing burnout, I questioned just what we were accomplishing each summer. Without even considering the number of children participating I came to a few conclusions which I noticed in a number of churches. 1) VBS was considered a sacred cow in most churches. What this usually means is that there are a number of people who would like to slaughter it, but the event is too precious. Phrases like, “But we have always done it…” and others geared at making one feel like going forward during the altar call were used to try and keep it alive. 2) What one church offered for a week each summer was just one entrée item at the Vacation Bible School Buffet. Drive down any street in Nashville for more than 10 minutes in June and you will have more VBS options than a Chinese buffet has scary looking chicken dishes. And possibly the worst conclusion 3) VBS offered another chance for kids to go and learn exciting Bible lessons in creative ways without leading to significant life change or engagement within the family.
Because of these conclusions, I decided to spend some time thinking about what a Vacation Bible School program needed to look like. Each church has it’s own approach to Vacation Bible School and each approach will fit right in line with what it’s vision is for the children’s ministry. As Children’s Minister for my church, I cannot justify investing the financial, volunteer and time resources to an event like VBS unless it meets three very specific criteria. It MUST be: 1) Outreach Oriented, 2) Family Focused & 3) Designed for Decisions. I will spend some time blogging about each of these separately over the next few days. This summer will be the first one that we actually try to live these out in our events. I would say there are some serious growing pains as we try to be true to them.