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.

How to Evaluate Large Events

At our church, we have just completed two large events with a couple more staring us down. One of the things I try to do after each event is to evaluate the events effectiveness and my and my team’s competence. I realize that for each church this may look different, but I also realize that we sometimes need a starting point to get us going.

I break those questions down into three categories. People. Church. Me.

People

Did the right people come?
Who was missing that should have been at this event?
Who came that I didn’t expect to come?
Where were their opportunities for God to move in the lives of our kids?
Did we create memories that will last a lifetime?

Church

Did this event help build the church?
Did this event point people beyond their own need?
Did we preach Christ Crucified?
Did we as a ministry represent the values and vision of the church? Or did we do our own thing?
Was the Church fully aware of what took place?

Me

Did I do what only I could have done at this event?
What did I do that someone else can do next time?
Did my team learn something from this event?
Did I grow in my dependence on Christ through this event?

It’s very easy to measure the effectiveness of what we do by how many people came or how much money we earned both are valid and helpful but not ultimate. We are a church, not a Chic-fil-a our aim is to primarily pastor and love people not to be a CEO’s. We are more interested in helping those God has brought into our care to maintain a long obedience in the same direction. Large events to the extent they build the church and deepen our dependence on God are helpful. To the extent, they are a spectacle they are unhelpful. Let us by God’s grace create events that drive us deeper into God’s heart for our good and His glory.

Why a Successful VBS Has to be a Church Wide Event

In an earlier blog post, one of a the points that I got the most questions about was why a VBS has to be a church-wide event. My reasoning behind this statement was because I have done VBS as a departmental event and a church-wide event. VBS is such a large event that it either adds to the life of the church or it drains life from the children’s ministry department within the church. Here are a few of the differences I have found between a departmental VBS and a church-wide VBS.

A department VBS is lost in the sea of summer promotions. A church-wide VBS every department feels the pressure so they each push its importance. We canceled our worship team practice because we needed the space but it said to worship team that we are in this together. It served as a reminder that they should register their kids and invite others to come. We canceled our regular programming for youth ministry the week of VBS because of space and because so many of our youth are involved in making VBS a reality.

Why we changed our mind on VBS

Why you should start doing VBS next year!

We did VBS for 5 years in a row and stopped doing them for the past 12 years because we weren’t accomplishing what we set out to accomplish with them. Last year we started to do them again here is why we started again and why you should do VBS as well.

  1. We live in a very pluralistic society that doesn’t value church but values traditions. There are many parents who have young kids who either don’t go to church or infrequently attend church but have great memories of VBS. They want their kids to have those some memories and will put their kids in VBS before taking them on the weekend.
  2. Having 15 hours in the VBS week to speak new truth or reinforce what is being taught at home is invaluable. The new regular attendees standard is now 12 to 24 Sundays a year. VBS gives you a nice chunk of time to drill down into core truth that kids need in the world we now live in.
  3. Partnering with parents starts with equipping parents. Doing VBS with this in mind makes VBS more valuable than a simple stand alone program.

Looking for a Christ Centered VBS?

the rizers vbs

One of the things I have talked about many times on my blog is how I get frustrated by content that is produced that everyone will like. I believe that often times in trying to produce something everyone will like and everyone will buy you rob the gospel of it’s essence and it’s power. One of the things that bothers me about much of curriculum for children is that we simplify the message of the gospel. We teach our kids that Jesus is pleased by our behavior and that we need to do this and not that. In our attempt for simplicity we end up teaching a very “moral” gospel. Should our kids be moral? Emphatically yes! How we teach mortality makes all the difference. I strongly believe we need to teach our kids virtues but those virtues need to be taught through the cross not something that leads to the cross. If you want to be a Christian you must be loving, sounds good but it is misleading  We are hopeless without the love God showed us in Christ, we can love only because He first loved us. We are able to live a life of virtue because of who Jesus is and what he has done not out of some sort of trying to be good enough to earn his favor to earn his love.

It is so important that we constantly look to Christ for strength to live a life that pleases him because we are grateful for a life of forgiveness through Christ and what he did for us on Calvary. I am always on the lookout for curriculum that makes much of Jesus. That proclaims what he did that constantly points my kids back to someone much greater than them. I am always looking for curriculum that makes the hero of every story Jesus not me, not david, not daniel but the God who empowers each of us through His sacrificial example.

Enter the Rizers. My team and I were able to partner with the rizers to create a VBS that truly makes much of Jesus. I tested it in a couple churches last summer and am more than thrilled to be able to share it with all of you. I know that many people are starting to make plans for VBS right now. Do yourself and your church a favor take your kids on the Tour of a lifetime. They will be changed not by cleaver games or funny skits but by the greatest message of the greatest God man that ever lived. I love that each story is saturated with Jesus. I love that each lesson brings kids and your team to a place of worship and wonder that we desperately need.

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