Pastor, why is VBS so important to you? That’s a good question, I’m glad you asked! Though there are many reasons, the one that sits right at the top has to do with an exciting and an alarming statistic. Barna research indicates nearly ½ of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. Additionally, the trajectory for a person’s lifetime habits and behaviors—including spiritual behaviors—are typically set in childhood. But we live in a time when each succeeding generation is less inclined than the previous one to make a commitment to the Lord Jesus.
What this means is that the window of opportunity is shrinking. Fewer people are even thinking of eternal things, much less considering that it may be a good thing to bring their children up in a church environment. So, has VBS always been held in the local church sanctuary, sing a few songs, play a game or two, make a craft, eat a cookie and go home? Goodness no!
Christians know this and its equivalents today as VBS, but in 1898, Walker Aylette Hawes of Epiphany Baptist Church in NY City simply saw it as a way to get children off the streets during the summer. So she rented a beer hall—the only space available she could find—began a summer Bible program and called it “Everyday Bible School.”
“VBS remains a key way for churches to minister to their community—and not just to the kids, but to the parents as well,” according to Clint Jenkins, Phd. “And VBS isn’t just summer Sunday school. It can be more focused on unchurched families and offer a more intensive program that allows for greater flexibility in content and delivery. Plus, it should be fun! It’s summer after all. One of the key ingredients in childhood is unstructured play. To the extent churches can provide this along with spiritual teaching, they are performing a valuable social function for the children in their neighborhood.
“VBS is also an opportunity to engage young adults in service,” Jenkins continues. “So many young adults lose their connection with a local church because they feel underutilized. Churches can give key VBS volunteer roles to young adults and college kids in their congregations. Colleges (or even large churches) could sponsor teams to travel the country and host VBS for churches that cannot afford or staff their own. Using young people as servants and not just consumers is an important way of establishing a faith that lasts.
These and other factors are why Vacation Bible School is so important to me. It is probably the greatest outreach event that we hold each year (if done right). People who may not consider coming to a Sunday morning service are often willing to let their kids come and play/be entertained/be taught. This is why I place such a high emphasis on making sure that we decorate (especially the main arrival/departure points) with excellence. The kids and parents walk in and are hopefully overwhelmed and transported to a new world, no longer a sanctuary/fellowship hall/gym, but instead to the world in the theme of this year’s VBS. It immediately captures their imagination and draws them in! The parents, unchurched, want to stick around to see what will happen during the opening skit and assembly! This world of “church” that was once foreign, now seems approachable and even desirable. They begin to realize that these folks care about them and about their children. They look around and understand that it took a lot of work for all this to happen, and it was all done for them! It touches their heart, and it opens the door for new relationships to form, leading to eternal ones.
THAT is why I love VBS. I have witnessed it time and time again. I love the long hours of painting and drawing before. I love the long hours and the fun during the week of VBS. I love the smiles during the commencement when the parents get to see what the kids have learned and what they’ve made. Most of all I love the newly formed relationships that have such great potential…eternal potential!
Won’t you join me in the fun?