Should I Cancel VBS Because of COVID?

No, I don’t think you should. I think we need to reimagine what VBS will look like. But I don’t think canceling VBS is a good idea. I used to be one of the #NeverVBSers. I have come to see the value of VBS to a church has never been greater.

Why Does VBS Still Matter?

When VBS started years ago the main purpose was evangelism. That is still a valid reason for doing VBS but the world has changed. In that period of the history of our nation, most people attended church, and those who did so regularly attended 4+ times a month. There were Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night service. Most committed members attended all three. VBS for them was outreach.

In modern America, the church has gone from being the pillar of the social and spiritual life of our nation to being deemed nonessential. If COVID-19 has done anything is awaken us to a reality that our country has changed and how people view the church has changed. We see it in how often people attend. In previous generations, people were thought to be regular attenders when they attended four times or more a month. Today regular attendance is when you attend once to twice a month. VBS in a climate of low church attendance must be more about discipleship than outreach.

VBS is not just something we do it is something we must do. The numbers are staggering. LifeWay did a survey of Southern Baptist churches and found that 2.5 million kids attend VBS annually, over 70,000 choose to follow Christ and nearly 1,500 felt called to fulltime missions. That is only data from the Southern Baptists. In an age of declining church attendance VBS is an indispensable tool to disciple kids. You have 15 hours with kids in one week that equivalent to 7 MONTHS of regular church attendance! 7 MONTHS!

Lastly, I would argue that there is definite value in maintaining habitual practices. This spiritual muscle memory, if you will, is essential for the longterm health of the church. Kids who don’t go to VBS this year are more likely not to go next year. What I find with most people who stop attending church is they fill their time with other things.

I hope I have convinced you not to cancel VBS because of COVID. So how are we supposed to do VBS with the current social distance limitations? I sat down with Tony Kummer a kids pastor and blogger from Kentucky and David Rausch a former kids pastor and currently a curriculum developer of Go! Curriculum and Bolt! Digital VBS curriculum to discuss what COVID VBS could look like.

What are My Options for VBS During COVID?

In thinking through COVID, there seem to be two options for VBS, either Backyard Vacation Bible Schools or Digital VBS. I asked David what his thoughts were.

He said, “From church to church you have to decide what your kids and what your community has an appetite for. There might be many communities that are still looking for a digital option (or because of state regulations digital is your only option) or virtual VBS. I know that many families are starting to have screen fatigue because of digital learning…but I am more of a fan of the backyard VBS where you can send home VBS for families” to do at home with their kids and their friends and neighbors.

With traditional VBS, not an option this year it’s a great opportunity to try something new something like David is suggesting a digitally delivered VBS for individual families or a digitally-driven VBS that families can use to host VBS at their home in their backyard for neighbors and friends.

Our church has created a digital version that we show as part of the curriculum we have written for our church that we are hoping to adapt this year for our families. This isn’t a reality for most churches so David and his team created an option for you no matter your church size or budget. It’s called Bolt. It a digitally delivered VBS solution for your church that is perfect for this season when traditional VBS’s are not an option for most of us.

The reason David likes the digitally-driven Backyard Bible School model better than just a digital delivered option is the fact it preserves a couple of the important directivities of VBS. It allows for evangelism reaching out to kids who may never come to your church building in the context of relationships.

The most important thing that happens in VBS is the relationships, the video is really just the vehicle, it tells people here is what you do, press pause and go do that thing.

My Plea to You as a Pastor or Ministry Leader.

Don’t cancel VBS think differently about VBS. Create your own content, tweak the VBS curriculum your church already bought or try out Bolt.

I don’t think there is a better tool in children’s ministry to intensely disciple kids and to intentionally reach kids than VBS. You have kids for the equivalent of 7 months of church attendance. The question you are probably asking is all the effort to tweak VBS worth it? My answer is yes.

One of the things that cemented the value of VBS in my mind was many years ago we put on a VBS it was a lot of work. We were exhausted at the end. We had bussed in kids from a poorer section of town and one of the kids who rode that bus every day named Michael decided to trust Christ with his whole heart. Several weeks after VBS someone came to me and told me that the following week our VBS Michael was attending another day camp and had drowned in the lake. I was devastated and shaken because I realized the fragility of life and the importance of the gospel.

Is Bolt the only solution? No, but it’s a good one. We aren’t using Bolt because we make our own VBS but not every church can do that so give Bolt a try. I’m not getting anything from Bolt but I do believe in what they are doing. I don’t understand why God chooses to use the foolishness of preaching the foolishness of events like VBS. But he does. I pray that in this cultural moment we will not fail to proclaim the gospel to those like Michael so desperately need to hear it. Please don’t cancel VBS.

Motherhood and Loss.

Mothers day is a bittersweet day. It is filled with sweet memories of moms who daily listen and selflessly give of themselves in the middle of the mundane. Mother’s day is also a painful reminder of loss. The loss felt when observing those celebrating around you, the mothers you wish your mom always was. The mothers being honored by the kids you will never have.

Family is God’s idea. Mothers are a necessary reflection of who God is and what God is like. Jesus wept over his people and wanted to gather Jerusalem under his protective wing like a mother hen. There is a protective self-giving love that we all long to know. For many of us, we found that in our mothers. Our fathers told us to get up and get back on our bike as they should have. Our mothers bandage our knees and kiss our imaginary wounds.

Motherhood is not easy in a world that continues to push the value of things that are shiny then rust. What our culture doesn’t value but desperately needs is the love security and safety of moms who have learned to trust God in the mundane.

I remember when I was young. I didn’t understand loss. I didn’t understand why moms would tear up on mother’s day. Sandra and I lost our first baby. It was devastating. I think of our baby girl often. I used to think when mom’s lost a baby, they can try again. I now know that each of those babies has a name. Each of those babies is a loss. Mothers day reminds us of what we have but also of what we have lost.

If mother’s day is hard for you. If you have lost a mother or never had one. The gospel gives you hope. You are loved by God with such brilliant love such that even the love of the best mother is only a shadow in His brilliance. The love we experience on earth is but a foretaste. The loss we experience on earth creates a longing for a better world. A world where all the sad things about this world become untrue.

The song “Always” by JJ Heller is a beautiful lament of the joys and losses the fill and break a mother’s heart.


You are the answer to the prayers I prayed.
And the hope in childhood games I played.
Pushing baby dolls in strollers
And dreaming of who you would be

You are the news I celebrated
That little blue line exclamation
Got me dancing in my bare feet
And I couldn’t help but sing.

You will always be my baby
You will always have my love
I will always, always be your mother
Always

You are the reason I was holding on.
Somehow I knew you were already gone.
So many questions without answers
‘Cause only God knows why

Now I think I’ve cried a million tears.
For all the laughter, we will never hear.
We lost you in the silence.
Before you had a chance to cry

You will always be my baby
You will always have my love
I will always, always be your mother
Always

And I would…

JJ Heller

To mothers and the motherless on this mother’s day. May you find in Christ what no mother on earth could provide. Run to Jesus. He is more than enough.

How to Reopen Your Children’s Ministry after COVID

You have to start with the understanding that this situation is unlike any we have faced as a church and as a nation. Never in the history of the Church has there been 6-8 weeks where the church has not gathered. How do we go from online services to meeting in person again?

How you come back will depend on your state regulations, your church policies, and your leadership team. What I am suggesting here are steps our church is planning on implementing in the coming days.

We stopped church quickly but we have to have a plan to come back slowly.

Phase 1 – Families worshiping together.

This phase is a good way to ease families back to church. For most churches, you will need to find out how many kids will return and how many volunteers are planning on coming back. For us, this phase will be one to four weeks.

Phase 2 – Families sing together

This phase is how we can deal with more kids coming back and restarting kid’s ministry even with a smaller volunteer base.

How phase 2 will work in our church. We will dismiss kids after we sing songs. In a large room, we will show our Kids TV show. Videos we have made that follow the theme of the lesson. We will keep producing these as well at least through the end of the year for families who can not or will not come to church. This allows us to have kids learn together in an age-appropriate way with a smaller group of volunteers.

Phase 3 – Combine classes and set room limits.

This phase will account for a greater amount of kids coming and more volunteers coming but limiting the number of kids in a room to keep social distancing standards for kids. I know that politicians are asking three-year-olds to wear masks but I am pretty sure most politicians don’t have three-year-old because that isn’t going to happen. Three-year-olds are beautiful little tornados.

Questions you might have.

How do I enforce social distancing with kids?
I don’t know that you can. For us, we are going to try and do it through limiting class sizes but I don’t know if you can and I’m not sure the long term ramifications of drilling social distancing into kids is good for them or society in the long term. You can see in your own kids that they are struggling with isolation and you can read about it online.

When a person is socially isolated, as it is a basic human need, the body will perceive the situation as a threat. During the time of the active stress response, the brain will release multiple stress hormones to protect the body from danger. The release of these hormones is needed for the person to react towards the current stress factor, and resist the possible harm. However, the body cannot release these stress hormones and protect the body from stressful situations for unlimited time. Having an active stress response over an extended period has been proven to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, elevated blood pressure, infectious illness, cognitive deterioration, and mortality. These are physiological consequences of being prone to stress over time, and they are typically experienced in adulthood.

NoIsolation.com

What can we do to help kids that come to church?
Love them. Clean surfaces before they come and after they leave. Give them normality in a world of stress-filled chaos. Kids need to know that there is life after COVID, Zoom isn’t forever. Kids need a place that is safe but they also need hope and they need the church to do what the church has done for 1800 years, run to the hurting. We want to make sure we do everything to take this seriously but as we reopen we must ask ourselves what is the price that kids are paying? A generation of kids growing up with more anxiety than ever. How can the church serve kids? We can point them to Jesus. We can remind them what scripture teaches and what the Heidelberg Catechism so beautifully states.

Q: What is our only comfort in life and death?
A: That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood and has set me free from all the power of the devil. 5He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

We can teach them to cast their cares on Him because he cares for them. This isn’t an oversimplification of a complex issue. It’s the heart of the Christian faith. In 2 Chronicles 20 Jehoshaphat was facing certain death. The Bible says he was afraid.

“Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah, they came to seek the Lord….O our God, will you not execute judgment on them? For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

2 Chronicles 20:3-4, 12

The greatest gift we can give our kids in the middle of a crisis like nothing we have seen in over 100 years is the gift of prayerful dependence on God. We must whatever we do teach our kids that it’s ok to be afraid. We must show our kids where we turn when we are afraid. Finally when all else fails when we reach the end of our good ideas and what we can do, and admit we don’t know what to do and confess to God that our eyes are on Him.

“We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”

3 Strategies Family Ministry Leaders Should Adopt During the COVID Crisis.

When the COVID crisis first hit, it felt surreal and like an awful dream. We realized that in a moment, everything can change. The question for us is, how will we respond, and what are we willing to change?


In my previous post, I share things we need to avoid as family ministry leaders during the COVID crisis. This post is aimed to evaluate the things we should adopt in our kids and youth ministries.

When this hit, I had several conversations with our team. I told them we need to be equipping parents, providing content, and making our interactions as personal as possible. 

Start by empowering and equipping parents.

During this crisis, we have an opportunity to evaluate what really matters. We have the time and are forced by law and nature to rethink how the church is done. The past two decades of the church have looked different than the church has looked historically. Events have been the driving force of the church. I have heard many church leaders refer to Sunday as the “Superbowl.” I understand what they mean, but I’m not sure attendance to events is the most significant driver of discipleship in adults and certainly not for kids.

In this season, every parent is effectively homeschooling their own kids. They have a lot on their plates and are out of their comfort zone. I have heard lots of people say, “We should not give parents more things to do. I understand what they are saying; I just disagree with the approach. Parents don’t need a pass on the spiritual formation of their kids; they need a plan.

For our church, we believe that family worship is the best way for parents to disciple their kids. Our plan is this: Read one chapter of the Bible and explain it to the best of your ability, Sign one Hymn, and Pray. This should only take ten minutes. Below is a link to download a family worship guide that we create for our parents.

I had a conversation with my friend Jenny Funderburk Smith a fellow blogger and kids pastor. I wanted to see how other church tackles these three crucial components to reaching kids in general but are so vital during mass quarantine. I asked her what do you empower parents to lead their kids at home in a time when families are literally stuck at home.

She responded by saying that she asked the question, “What would I do differently if I could go back before the COVID crisis began?” She said that she realized that we had not done a good job of preparing our parents to lead worship from home. We talk about it a lot, but we haven’t been doing it.

She challenges her parents, saying, “It is not an accident that you have all this time, sports, school, and church are all gone. It’s not an accident that God has given us this time lets really use it to build a habit of family worship.”

I couldn’t agree more. All our excesses have been forcibly removed, we must invest the time we have to grow deeper with our kids create new habits and rhythms we are going to need going forward. Our family does this with in conjunction with our Pastor’s Bible reading plan and the help of Joel Beeke’s Family Worship Bible Guide. Jenny uses her pastor’s sermons as the basis for the content for their church’s family worship. How you do family worship isn’t as important as actually doing it.

4 Actions Family Ministry Leaders Should Avoid During the COVID Crisis.

This is my twenty-second year of doing kids and youth ministry and it is like none other I have experienced so far. It seems that we are all, no matter how long you have been doing ministry, trying to find our footing. It seems each day brings new realities to adjust to. The church has done much better than I could have imagined. It’s so exciting to see pastors and leaders innovate and create in ways they never thought they could have as a result of the COVID crisis.

We are only a couple of weeks into this and here are some of the things I believe we need to avoid as ministry leaders in the midst of a crisis like no other we have faced. It is so great to see the church rise to meet the unique challenges we are facing now. Yet I think we meet those challenges with both wisdom and prayer.

Here are a few suggestions I have about things we are avoiding in our kids and youth ministries during the COVID crisis.

1. Don’t talk about fear each week

This can be a huge challenge because it is low hanging fruit. For teens but especially kids, they need to be reminded of who God is. This is the greatest tool to fight any fears they may have.

I remember when my kids were little when they fell down and skinned their knees we would pick them up brush them off and tell them they were going to be fine. Their reaction was much different than when we made a big deal out of their bobo. Kids are connected and consume media first and second hand like no other generation before them. Rather than address it in our videos skits and stories we need to empower parents and caregivers so they will be able to help their kids better than us trying to comfort kids through a screen. Teach parents simple things to say. Give parents resources to say those things. Find or produce resources for parents to talk about fear with their kids but lets as the church keep disciplining kids as you normally do.

2. Don’t show curriculum videos unless you have no option

I’m not anti-curriculum. There are so many great options. I wrote an ebook to help you decide which curriculum is right for your church. But in this unique time we are in, kids need to see familiar faces. They need to see the church being the church to them.

Given the pervasiveness of editing software and the amount of free time, you or some youth or college kid has now. You should be able to produce something that is decent. It just has to be good because it is you. Kids want to see you not some stranger. Don’t sacrifice comfort for your kids of seeing you and your team because you feel it won’t be excellent. The American church has bought into the CEO lie that everything we do has to be Disney or it is not worth doing. Kids would trade excellent for human, personal, and normal any day. Kids don’t remember the amazing vacation you took them on what they do remember is the fort you built them out of cardboard. Excellence is a good goal but a bad god.

3. Don’t just disseminate content

The easier thing to do right now is to go on Facebook Live to make videos on YouTube. Those platforms have their usefulness to be sure. But don’t fall into the trap that you are pastoring someone because you are making videos about God. Pastors find a way to show up personally. In the times we are now living through may require some creativity it may require old school methods like making phone calls, sending texts or cards it may even some creative new school ways through zoom or by playing video games with kids.

I met with our volunteers and asked them to still volunteer. We ask them to call or send notes to their kids on the weeks they serve. I can’t reach all of our kids myself but we can as a family, if we all do our part we can together.

4. Don’t go back to the way things were

This crisis will change our world, is changing the church and must change us. If we think we can go back to business, as usual, we are wrong. We need to be more digital and more personal than ever. How are you going to do that? We need to start to create virtual ways to bring kids into our actual doors. We need to think of ways to leave our studios and walk through their actual doors.

If we don’t change how we work, who we trust, how we pray. We will have waisted this crisis. We can’t waste this crisis.

The bad news is we won’t be back for several weeks. The good news is we have several weeks to figure out what our new normal of reaching kids and teens is going to look like. Let’s work together to build the church. Let’s push each other to be more like Christ.