To VBS or Not To VBS

vbsWe just got done with our Vacation Bible School for the year. I counted them up. I’ve done seven on my own, and led key parts of five others. I make notes at the end of each year of what to do differently next time. I know that as I prepare there will be moments filled with anxiety. There will also be moments I have to stop controlling and rely on the Holy Spirit.

This year has been different for me. I have had a very unsettled feeling through the whole process. I’ve been evaluating a bit differently. I would love to start a conversation around these thoughts.

First, what is the why? Why are we doing this? Of course it’s for Jesus and to share the Good News. That should be the driving force of all we do. But why is a Vacation Bible School the best way to do this? Is it still relevant to our culture? These programs have become bigger and bigger productions that cost more and more. Is this the best stewardship of funds? Is it meeting our goals of connecting families? Why do we continue?

The next question I’ve been asking is who? Who are we doing this for? Traditionally this is a huge outreach to unchurched children and families. Is that happening? Do we have children who have never heard about Jesus attending? In the past I have experienced very few children in this category. I find a lot of children who attend other churches regularly and church hop VBS programs in the summer. It’s something inexpensive for them to do. Or is this a big program / celebration to motivate and encourage the kids currently in our ministry? What is the rate of attendance to VBS compared to kids in our ministry? Are we leading them to something? Are we engaging them in a new, fresh way? Or are we just putting on a show and entertaining them? One Pastor told me the who for his VBS was the teen helpers. It was a time to train and equip them to be servants. That was his whole goal of VBS. Interesting approach.

The when has been a topic of consideration the last few years for me as well. When is the best time? Many of my years have been spent with a traditional five day morning program. I’m not a morning person and by day four neither are the kids or volunteers. I was quite intrigued at my current church to learn they have done an evening program for only four days. The data showed there were more dads able to help out. My first year showed great involvement. The second year–not so much. I also heard many younger families say it was too hard for them. What’s the right answer? A middle of the day program, somewhere between lunch and nap time? Three days? Earlier in the summer before everyone is on vacation? Later in the summer when they’ve all returned?

As I’m evaluating I’m also going to consider the how. How is the best way to run a VBS? The onsite rotational model has become the norm. I find that there is not a lot of deep interaction. Are the mentors (guides) really building a relationship in this style? What do we really want that to look like? Is it enough to just know a child’s name after the week? Do kids have time to really apply the lesson each day to their life? Do they have time to learn each memory verse? Are they connecting what they’ve learned at church with what they do at home?

If we’re really going to shake things up, then I have to consider the where. Where is the best place to hold a VBS? Is it still best to have an onsite program? I’m completely intrigued by the smaller scale offsite programs. That just takes a different level of volunteer support. Is it going to be a rotational model that we’ve just taken outside? Where are people already gathering? A park? A small town center area? A local library? Can we engage new kids and families in an offsite setting? Will our current families join us there?

I don’t claim to have the answers to any of these questions. I’m wrestling with all of them. I have made very intentional changes over the last several years that can be considered a “success”. Are we measuring success with the right tools? Are we viewing it with the correct lenses? I am not feeling at peace with the status quo. I feel a great tension that something needs to change. I know with certainty we can not stay where we’ve been. I’m dreaming of what the future may hold for our families.

I would love to hear what has worked well for you. Or have you been feeling the tension too? Please leave a comment with your wins, dreams, experiences or suggestions. Let’s keep the conversation going!

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