“And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.’ ” Luke 10:2
One thing is for sure: If you’ve spent any time in a Southern Baptist church, you know the strong feelings associated with Vacation Bible School. Some churches focus on the program throughout the year, while others haven’t even offered VBS since the church’s long-time volunteer champion left or passed on the reins.
In still other cases, there is a certain amount of support for VBS from at least the mothers who know how their kids would benefit. But the program doesn’t get much help from staff. In fact, the pastors in some churches even plan their vacations for that week.
It is against this cultural backdrop that Vacation Bible School became a big topic of conversation at the recent evangelism conferences put on by the Florida Baptist Convention in Daytona Beach and Bonifay.
Now, before your eyes start to glaze over and you mutter something about VBS not being your “thing” while looking for something else to read on this page, let me give you a few facts and figures about what you’ve given up on, and then you can let your conscience be your guide when it comes to what you do with this information.
More than 25 percent of all salvation experiences reported in Southern Baptist churches takes place in Vacation Bible School settings. Easter services certainly don’t pull those kind of numbers. Nor does Christmas or even revival services, for those churches that still have them.
Are you more interested now?
Got any ideas?
If your church is already doing something that works, please share. Send me your best thoughts and ideas about what works—or doesn’t work–via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would also love to hear from those who would tell me why they aren’t doing VBS, and do they have an alternative.As always, you can reach me by email, phone at 904.596.3171, on Twitter @FBWdreamchaser or on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ under my given name.
Think about this: 52 percent of all SBC pastors who were saved as a child were saved during a VBS.
But, alas, all the numbers are not good. Consider that last year, 63,980 children attended a Vacation Bible School at a Southern Baptist church in Florida. That sounds like a pretty impressive number, until you get this final fact: Of the 2,920 Southern Baptist churches in Florida, only 419 reported holding a Vacation Bible School in 2013.
More churches most assuredly held VBSes last year, but failed to report their data. Even so, it is doubtful that all of Florida’s Southern Baptist churches are taking part in the most effective evangelism tool we’ve ever created for reaching our communities for Christ.
Ginger Owens is minister of childhood education for First Baptist Church in Panama City and a VBS champion. A decade ago, her church was reaching about a hundred kids a year through VBS. That’s a good number. But, since they’ve gotten serious about their efforts, that number has gone to 900.
But be prepared, if you do VBS correctly your church has to be open and receptive to kids who don’t know how to behave in church.
“From the get-go, I said: ‘You’re going to see some things you’ve never seen because we’re going to reach kids who have never been in church,’” Owens told her workers. “For a whole year, our church has been looking for kids who are unchurched.”
So what’s it take to put together the critical infrastructure at your church to grow a healthy VBS culture?
Rich Kincl, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Tallahassee, said the first thing is your church has to have a culture where members expect people to be saved. VBS is, after all, an evangelism event. And, Kincl added, there has to be a strong commitment to the program that starts with the senior pastor.
How strong? Well, Kincl said the pastor should consider himself to be the pastor of the VBS, and it is certainly no time for staff to take vacation.
What follows is a list of tips offered by Kincl and Owens during different times at the evangelism conferences. Take what works for you, ask them questions if you’re unsure and add your own ideas that personalize the event for your community in your part of the state. But, by all means, if your church hasn’t had a VBS program in a while, get back in the game. There are literally lost souls depending on it.
►There’s no perfect time for VBS, but you should try to avoid obvious scheduling conflicts. Put the date on the calendar a year in advance.
►Get youth, older adults and all church staff involved. Everyone has a role to play when it comes to evangelism.
►Should you consider a daytime or nighttime program? Both can be successful, but daytime programs always draw more students.
►How long should it run? Week long is still the norm, but some churches hold them all day on a Friday and Saturday, and other churches start on Sunday and go through Wednesday.
►Educate your adults about the purpose of VBS—to expose unchurched kids to the saving power of Jesus Christ. And make sure it’s fun.
►Biggest mistake: Assuming everyone in your church loves kids. Some can develop a passion when they see the results, but others won’t. And those people shouldn’t have direct contact with students. Their lack of enthusiasm will rub off.
►Train counselors in child evangelism, and these people are typically not going to be teachers.
The primary invitation to respond to Jesus is typically held on Day Four for those programs that run five days. The pastor should lead the worship rally service, and counselors should be on hand expecting to lead boys and girls to Christ. Someone at your church should be ready to make follow-up calls with the family before the family night, which is typically the next day.
On family night, churches have the opportunity to connect with the adults who have been dropping off their kids all week and often explain the gospel to them on the spot. If their kids made decisions, expect parents to have questions.
So where can you go for help? Ginger Owens can be reached via email at email@example.com, and Rich Kincl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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