Dear VBS Skeptic,
I was a VBS skeptic. I thought it was a lot of work with little return. From the outside looking in, it looked like glorified summer babysitting and free childcare. Every church in town hosts a VBS program so why should we bother? My jaded thoughts and perceptions went on and on without considering the impact VBS could have on our community.
My heart began to change a couple years ago when I helped plan our own VBS program. I became a firsthand witness to the goals, challenges and intricacies of "vacation bible school". Today, as our VBS nears, it is hard for me not to get overwhelmed with the tasks at hand, allowing my skepticism to resurface. But as we start to recruit volunteers and begin to promote VBS before the snow melts, I can see God’s hand in all the details. As we recruit, estimate, plead, beg, strategize, and PRAY, we also begin to plan the music, skits, snacks, lessons, décor, crafts, prizes, nursery, safety and security. In the midst of the chaos we can all tend to forget VBS is more than a tradition; it is a pillar of children’s ministry and a symptom of a healthy church.
VBS has been around since 1894 and was started in Hopedale, Illinois by D.T. Miles, a Sunday School teacher and public-school teacher. She felt that she didn’t have enough time to teach the Bible, so she started a daily Bible school to teach during the summer. A local school was used and a nearby park was used for recess. There were forty students enrolled tht first year. In 1898 Mrs. Walker from Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City started an “Everyday Bible School” for neighborhood children. She rented a beer parlor in New York’s East Side. Dr. Robert Boville of the Baptist Mission Society became aware of Mrs. Walker’s efforts and recommended summer Bible school to other Baptist churches. He established a handful of summer schools which were taught by students at the Union Theological Seminary. During one summer, one thousand students were enrolled in five different schools. In 1922 he founded the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible School.
Under the current format VBS has been a part evangelistic strategy since 1922. It’s one of the few kids programs with successful markers and results. There is strategy behind the VBS madness. In its early years VBS was run in a classical teaching format and was usually led by one bible teacher caring for a classroom full of students. Today VBS has turned into a week of fun with an army of volunteers shepherding the students. So much has changed about VBS since the early years and today, sadly, churches hosting VBS struggle to find the balance between evangelism and entertainment. That's why it's so easy to be a VBS skeptic.
When I joined the ABEFC team I could see the genuine reasons why our church continues to host VBS. It was so encouraging to know that our goals are Gospel-centered. We want to appeal to the unchurched community while maintaining our dedication to sharing the Gospel with our neighbors. During all the planning and logistics we remember the Lord uses unique means to bring children to Him. If one child comes to know Christ during VBS, it’s worth every hour of work we pour into it. We also see Christ moving in the hearts of our own churched children. VBS gives them a solid platform and the means to evangelize to their neighbors, peers and friends.
If you are a true cynic and need hard evidence, the following statistical graphic may help make you a VBS convert. But the real way to becoming a true believer is to witness Christ moving in our vacation bible school first hand. Join the team!
Amy Hanson, former skeptic