Vacation Bible School connects churches to families, children statewidecomment (0)
August 15, 2013
By Grace Thornton
If Hillcrest Baptist Church, Enterprise, decided to stop having Vacation Bible School (VBS), “the kids would tar and feather me,” said Annette Whitton, director of children’s ministries. “They absolutely love it.”
For the last seven years, Hillcrest has made VBS an all-day affair with traditional VBS in the morning, lunch then afternoon sports camps.
“We started doing it this way the year Game Day Central came out as the LifeWay VBS theme (2007), and it all went together so well that we decided to keep doing it,” Whitton said. “It gives men an opportunity to work their schedules and participate in VBS. If they love football or are a coach, or have something else that’s really their love, they can use it to pour into the kids.”
This year, Hillcrest offered tracks in football, baseball, softball, basketball, tennis, volleyball, soccer and cheerleading, as well as options like taekwondo, cooking, painting and lyrical worship.
Each track breaks halfway through for a devotional time to talk about what they learned that morning in VBS or hear a testimony from a coach.
“Sometimes it sticks even better in that context. I know with my own son, if you could teach it to him on a baseball diamond, you were golden,” Whitton said. “You can teach truth and say, ‘This is how to take it to your Christian life.’”
After VBS was over, Hillcrest baptized six children on family night, two the following Sunday and several more in the weeks following.
“It was amazing,” she said. VBS week, she said, is all about “speaking Jesus into some kids.”
It’s an effort that’s still got a lot of traction among Alabama Baptist churches — and gets a lot of results, said James Blakeney, an associate in the office of Sunday School and discipleship of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“It’s the largest evangelistic outreach we have,” he said.
While numbers for this summer’s VBS are still rolling in — 1,184 Alabama Baptist churches have reported a total enrollment of 135,934 so far — the final numbers for 2012 were up from the year before, Blakeney said. In 2012, more than 2,900 Alabama Baptist churches reported 255,431 children attending and 7,241 making professions of faith in Jesus Christ.
That’s a figure up from 15 years prior, too — something that’s against the national average, according to a recent Barna poll, “The State of Vacation Bible School.”
Eighty-one percent of American churches held VBS in 1997, but that figure dropped to 67 percent in 2012.
But according to Barna, that might not necessarily mean it’s losing ground as a staple summer outreach.
“In recent years, Christians have been somewhat anxious about the continued tradition of VBS,” the Barna study read. “And while the national offering of VBS has dipped slightly since 1997, when eight out of 10 churches were hosting VBS, six to seven out of 10 churches has been the steady rate since then. Such consistency indicates the summer spiritual education of children isn’t going away anytime soon.”
And it continues to be a mainstay of Southern Baptist churches even if it’s declining across other denominations. Nine out of 10 Southern Baptist churches held VBS in 2012, according to Barna.
It’s an effort that has seen a massive harvest over the years, Blakeney said.
“More professions of faith are made as a result of Vacation Bible School than most anything we do,” he said.
And Barna reports that VBS may also hold some sway over whether or not children stay connected to a church as young adults, an age when many fall away.
“It’s not just fun and games,” the Barna study reads.
“Today these kids might be gluing popsicle sticks together in a church classroom, but in the near future, these will be the next wave of emerging adults on the Church’s doorstep — deciding whether to step in or out for a lifetime.”
And VBS can even help keep them involved as young adults, said Clint Jenkin, vice president of research at Barna Group.
“VBS is also an opportunity to engage young adults in service,” he said.
“So many young adults lose their connection with a local church because they feel underutilized.”
Young adults and college students can fill important VBS roles at their churches, Jenkin said.
“Using young people as servants and not just consumers is an important way of establishing a faith that lasts,” he said.
It also combats what Barna notes as one of the top reasons churches choose to stop having VBS — lack of volunteers.
Whitton said one thing that has helped with that issue at Hillcrest is to utilize a different set of people for the morning VBS and the afternoon sports camps. They also choose their dates to fall so that schoolteachers have ample rest time between when school breaks for summer and VBS begins.
They also try not to drag out the responsibilities — they do much of their follow-up while VBS is still going on, using the evenings to visit the families of the children who make decisions, she said.
“It really connects with the children and the families to show that we care enough to visit while VBS is going on,” Whitton said.
For more information about the Barna study, visit www.barna.org. To submit your church’s VBS report, contact your association’s director of missions, or Blakeney at 1-800-264-1225, Ext. 286.