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.

Why Gospel Centered Curriculum Matters

Filtering everything we tell our kids though God's story.

The Bible is not a story about heroes we should emulate, but about a Savior we are to adore. JD Greer

Is the Gospel clearly articulated? – The big mistake we make here in our teaching, and our curriculum is we limit the gospel to an event. We very easily limit the gospel both actively and passively shrink the gospel to something that is a box to be checked rather than as sustaining truth that continues to shape, empower and sustain or lives.

Love how John Piper puts it.
Parents teach your kids the gospel is not just something that begins the Christian life but empowers it, shapes it and sustains it. Pray, love, correct and demonstrate the love of God to your kids until he draws them they respond and He becomes their treasure and their great reward. John Piper

For a curriculum to be life transforming it has be centered around the gospel. I remember In 1989 Rick Moranis entered into the vernacular of our culture the words “honey I shrunk the kids” Moranis portrays a wacky inventor who accidentally shrinks his kids and the neighbor kids with his shrink ray he invented. Moranis’ character is unaware that his kids were shrunk by the very invention he destroys because he thinks it doesn’t work. There were multiple spin-offs of the movie and “honey I shrunk the (fill in the blank with something witty)” became a staple of sitcoms and watercolors alike for most of the 90’s.

Growing up in the 80’s has created a passion in me for all things 80’s. I love 80’s music, and 80’s movies and like it or not 80’s fashion is coming back full force. Being a fan of the 80’s it’s only natural that the analogy I will use for how we at times treat the gospel was born out of a movie from the 1980’s.

One of the problems that are very real and very dangerous in the church today is the fact that we have simplified, truncated and have made the gospel powerless in our churches and in our homes. Honey we have shrunk the gospel.

What is the gospel? Terms matter and many people refer to the gospel, but I’m not sure that we are always talking about the same thing. The gospel is the good news. It’s the good news that we have been longing to hear since God created a perfect world that we messed up when we introduced sin to this perfect world. Because we have sinned and have broken God’s perfect world, He had to send His sinless son to live the life we could not live die a death we should have died. Jesus came back to life, ascended into heaven, and will come back to us to make right all the things that are wrong about our world. That is the good news in a nutshell. We don’t have to be good enough because Jesus is, was and continues to be our spotless sacrifice.

So how have we shrunk the gospel?

What you need to know about Disciplr

Below is an interview I did with from Jeffery Kranz from Disciplr. Jeffrey blogs and speaks about the Bible, ministry, and technology. He’s the guy responsible for getting the word out about Disciplr (hence this blog!), and spends his time trying to write words, drink coffee, and eat pizza as much as possible. Check out Disciplr. .

Why should a kids’ pastor invest part of their limited budget in Disciplr?
Fair question—most children’s pastors don’t get a great deal of room in their budget. That’s actually one reason we made Disciplr: to give you more budget to work with!

Here’s how that works:
Disciplr is a free platform. It doesn’t cost you a dime to create an account or play with all the sample lessons inside. All you pay for is the curriculum you use (and some of that is free, too). And since the lessons are in an interactive, digital format, you’re not paying for publishers to print and ship it to you. Since curriculum in Disciplr is built to live digitally, you’re also not eating the cost of printing out lessons yourself. (And toner ain’t cheap!)

In fact, curriculum in Disciplr costs as much as 30% less than the equivalent print version of the same curriculum.

What other curriculum formats will be coming out for this?  
At launch, Disciplr is focused on offering curriculum for Sunday mornings: both traditional Sunday School and Large Group/Small Group formats as well as supplemental curriculum that can be used in a variety of setting such as Children’s Church and mid-week settings. Down the road Disciplr will look to increase its breadth focusing on other discipleship resources for the church.

Is Disciplr mostly a David C Cook platform or can other curriculums be added?
Disciplr was created with the support of David C Cook and Christian technology firm HelloMogo, Inc. but it was built for the church, and we believe that churches love choices. So while our store has many of David C Cook’s popular curriculum lines, because that is what we had immediate access to prior to launch, our content team is currently working with a number of curriculum publishers whose products will be added to our store as fast as we can move them through the process from print to interactive, and that is quite a chore!

And just in case any of your readers want to get their curriculum in Disciplr: they should talk to Michael Covington. It’s best to get a hold of him at [email protected]

How does Disciplr make the day to day job of a Kids or Youth Pastor easier?

In several ways:
1. The thing our users (or as we like to call them, “disciplrs”) are most excited about is how much it simplifies the curriculum shopping process. There are a few places where you can buy curriculum from multiple publishers online, but that curriculum is mostly print or digital-download, not interactive. (I wrote an article on the differences between digital-download and interactive curriculum here, if you want to know more about that.) Disciplr gives people one place to find interactive curriculum from multiple publishers—which saves pastors the time it takes to Google their options!

2. The lesson prep experience is far more human-friendly. We’re used to having our phones around us at any given moment—we don’t do that with print curriculum! That means Disciplr’s lessons are always available for quick recaps—you can familiarize yourself with your teaching material or do a quick refresher on Sunday’s lesson wherever you are. You won’t need to download a PDF to your work computer, home computer, and smart phone, either: your lessons all live in the cloud, so you can access them from any device with an Internet connection.

3. There’s also the teacher management piece. Disciplr unites the curriculum and the leaders: you can invite leaders to teach from curriculum, and a (fast-approaching!) feature will let you align lessons with dates and assign them to teachers. This model gives all your teachers access to view all the lessons—which really comes in handy if your volunteers want to swap Sundays (or if someone comes down with a last-minute stomach bug)!

4. Disciplr can also help kid and youth pastors by giving their volunteers a better experience, too. When I was a KidMin volunteer, I had to hunt down email attachments, help out with a few last-minute shopping runs, and download those PDFs to both my computer and smart phone. (AROOOOOO!) I wanted to help out with the church, but I had to reserve more time every week for handling this sort of stuff.

Why Disciplr over your competitors?
That’s a tricky one—it depends on who you see as a “competitor.”

It’s true; some publishers have mobile app versions of their own curriculum. What sets Disciplr apart is the fact that one publisher-agnostic app brings together a curriculum storefront, lesson prep and planning, and teacher management. You learn one system, instead of a new system with new logins and a new setup and a new learning curve.

But I suppose the real “competitor” is more about format: you wouldn’t want to pay for both Disciplr AND a print version of the same curriculum! If you look at it that way, there are plenty of reasons to choose Disciplr:

  • You can access curriculum on the We
  • You can access it from any Web-connected device (instead of downloading it to multiple computers)
  • It doesn’t get lost (like file downloads tend to do) or coffee-stained (like print curriculum)
  • It’s less expensive than print
  • You don’t get as many annoying emails from volunteers asking, “Hey, could you re-send me that file?”

Is this a church-specific application?
Yes, for now. Disciplr is a tool for the leaders in local churches: the folks who are teaching from curriculum. But we have some pretty cool plans for expanding it to be a tool for everyone in local churches who makes discipleship resource. So keep your eyes peeled. 😉

New curriculum you need to check out!

Go! Curriculum Review

Go! is a new player in the kids curriculum scene. (Go! will release fully this August.) They have what looks like a great mix of what you would expect from a “Large Group/Small Group” curriculum and fresh ideas. Here is how they describe themselves.

GO! lessons, you’ll probably notice that every section of the lesson is designed to help kids engage with God through their minds, hearts or hands.  Some sections are designed to help kids learn about God and His Word.  Some sections are designed to help kids experience, reflect on and respond to the love and grace of their Savior.  And some sections are designed to equip kids to live their faith in the real world.  A well-rounded approach to children’s spiritual formation should have elements of each of these.  One of the wonderful things about the GO! curriculum is that it can so easily be adapted to fit the needs and time restraints of your ministry.  As you make additions or substructions, though, be sure to keep in mind the balanced approach that’s inherent in the lessons and important in the spiritual development of the kids in your ministry.

Love the idea of heart, mind and active engagement of kids.

What I liked 

Devotions – Devotions for your leaders to help them grow and connect personally to what they are going to teach either in small group or large group.