Questioning VBS.


Well now that most of our Christmas programs are done, 2009 is almost here and because most of us will start getting mass junk mail from all 4 of the people who make VBS curriculum. So needless to say most of us are starting to think about Summer outreach.

I to have been thinking about Summer outreach and came across this article by Larry “VBS and the Economy”.

Larry has some great points that should make us reconsider doing what we have always done. I stopped doing VBS 3 years ago for a number of reasons and will not be doing this year for the following reasons.

1. When we did VBS we didn’t see many new guests. This being the whole point of VBS “outreach”.
2. VBS took time, money and energy away from our weekend experience.
3. We live in a very traditional area and EVERY church does VBS.  Doing  VBS were we live is white noise.
4. I find that VBS doesn’t engage families. It encourages families to drop off and pick up without being involved in the process.
5. VBS wasn’t doing what we wanted it to do so we cut it.

For the record I am not a VBS hater I am just a huge fan of effectiveness. We as kids workers need to think what can we do where we are in the culture of our church to use what God has given us to reach those God has called us to reach.

18 thoughts on “Questioning VBS.”

  1. Hi Sam, love your reasons for not doing vbs and it is so true that every church around us does vbs. This past summer I was able to help with a small church’s vbs program where the majority of the kids were unchurched. I thought that was great. It wasn’t the optimal situation in that, as you said, parents weren’t engaged, but it was great in that the gospel was presented in a fun engaging way to the kids.

  2. The day VBS is no longer effective for us, I’ll be happy to try something new.
    Any suggestions? 😉
    My biggest frustration with our VBS is that the other churches in town resent us for the amount of time/energy/money we put into our program. There are children’s pastors/directors who won’t sit around a table with me or my staff because they feel that we run our VBS the way we do to show them up.
    I yearn for the day when churches in my neck of the woods seek out collaborative relationships with each other… unfortunately, people around here like their castles.

  3. Hey Sam,

    we did a program that we called Adventure Week last year. It worked more as a day camp rather than a traditional VBS. We bought the Power Lab theme and the characters and rewrote all of the stuff minus the Bible Story. We did our own music and large group production (used the auditorium and had run of the church for a week)! It was nothing like anything the kids had ever seen and was an incredible experience for alot of kids’ first time in church.

    The Cons:

    kids had to pay: an all day program and lunch with before and after care options. It captured the parents that are dual income and single family. So in order to make budget families had to pay. And that was met with some opposition from traditional VBS families. After the buy in of this year we don’t anticipate as much opposition but with the economy in the shape it’s in now it’s gonna be another tough thing to do.

    time: it was a giant production that we have never done before. I had only been on the job for about a couple months and alot of video and graphic work. However, I think alot of that time is going to be distributed much better than it was last year because we recognized it as a problem. And we don’t write our own stuff, YET. so alot of that work that some people have on Sunday we don’t have that problem, YET!

    But overall we couldn’t be more excited about our program for next year. It was an incredible event for our kids and we hope to develop a new stage of worship for our kids. More than just the upbeat stuff more reflective stuff. And also alot more communication to those outside of the church. It’s going to be incredible.

    Just my $0.02


  4. Hannah – Thanks. One thing I thought was fantastic was that many people from our church help other churches with their VBS. I am very glad that so many unchurched kids came. VBS is a very neighborhood outreach. It is much easier to go down the street. To many people from our church drive a long ways so VBS is tough for us. BTW I took Gianni to the Trees church. They did an amazing job!


    I am very saddened by your comment. There are few things that tick me off faster than churches who do not reflect the character of Christ. We should rejoice with those who rejoice and cry with those who cry. If VBS works for you brother by all means do it. Again I am not a hater just a lover of what works. I hope you have tons of success there are so many families who need to hear the gospel. The one caution I would give you is not to bait and switch. Churches are famous for this. They have an amazing VBS and their weekend service sucks. New kids get all excited at VBS only to be let down every week after.

    What do we do in place of VBS?
    1. Work on making our weekend service amazing – Families are thinking church on the weekends and come together it is a shared experience.
    2. At the end of the Summer we do a huge back to school family service where our kids church does the service for the adults. Again families are sharing an experience together. And parents get a taste of what goes on each week in the kids service. We also get huge volunteer boost because people can’t believe what we do each week.

    Anthony, I pray God’s best for you and your church keep the first things first. If VBS works for you make it amazing but not at the cost of the weekend.

    Thanks brother I will.

  5. I agree wholeheartedly with your reasons for not doing VBS. I also agree that VBS does work for different churches and communities, it just wasn’t the most effective for the church I was at. I felt the best use of our volunteers time and of our bottom line was to focus our energies toward our weekend experience. I also saw volunteers who helped other churches with their VBS. We all serve the same God and are on the same team so it’s a wonderful way to support the community.

  6. I all but canned VBS when I came on board a few years ago. It was a big deal and everybody said they wanted it to happen, but here’s what I found:
    – although folks said they wanted it, they wouldn’t work it. VBS needs everyone’s help.
    – no one seemed to have an idea of what the “win” was for VBS, and therefore it tried to be too many things to too many people.
    – it was more of a tradition that a true outreach
    – most of our visitors were churched kids, whose parents were trying to find something for their kids to do, which isn’t bad, unless you are aiming at an unchurched audience. Frankly, if folks have a church, I don’t want them. I don’t care to steal sheep, or even to “borrow” them for a while.
    – we’re a small church who runs a big production every week. I am committed to letting my very large volunteer base have the summer off to recoup. If I give them the summer off, but them make them do the VBS thing, then are they really “off”?
    – it lets us put our energy and money into more creative, more focused activities in the summer, and allows us to make those programs better.

    Even if you don’t permanently cancel a VBS, take a Sabbath year to sit back and reflect on what you’re trying to accomplish, and to let your busy church rest. It’s VERY helpful.

    My thoughts on VBS.

  7. Sam!
    Of course we throw a ton of weight behind our weekend services!
    With regard to networking – I’ve found that many of the women who run children’s ministries in the area network together and have a bit of a “girl’s club” that I can’t quite break into. I once showed up to one of their tea parties and was informed that I could not attend because I was a male (and under 30 at that!).
    So, slowly but surely, I’ve connected with the few men in the area running children’s ministries that I dig.

    I’m not entirely sure that charging for an event is a CON.
    We charge $30 for our VBS (we figure it costs us $2/kid/hour to run a top-notch program… VBS or otherwise). By charging, parents value the week enough that they make sure their children attend every day. $30 for a week of programming is WAY cheaper than paying for childcare and is an easy sell for the parents in our community. Any children who cannot afford the $30 are scholarship-ed into the camp.

  8. Anthony – I may have come across wrong I have no way of judging what you to on a weekend. Please forgive me if I came across that way. It was not intended. I Am in your corner and am very happy for you I look forward to continuing our conversation in the future. I am very sorry to hear about your exclusion from the CP’s in your area that’s not right. I to found it hard to find “like minded” CP. Thank God for the Internet.


  9. I,too, minister in an area saturated with VBS in the summer. Mostly for tradition’s sake. i love the idea of VBS… but on a smaller scale and in the hands of our attenders. Here is something that eats at me a little…

    If I were to move from my neighborhood, would my presence be missed? What can I do to draw people in and initiate relationships with those around me? Maybe a ‘do-it-yourself’ VBS-type set of tools that equips people to directly ‘touch’ their neighbors?

    What if we got past the idea of hosting something in our church building and entertained the thought of hosting mini-VBS’s throughout the community via our church members? Using their homes… their neighborhoods… their hands… their hearts?

    My two-cents

  10. Maybe you’ve hit a nerve, huh?

    Have I told you yet? I’ve slayed the VBS monster this year. David’s comments above have told our story as well. Just trying some different ways to make a connection, and drive kids (and families) to our weekend experiences.

    It’s amazing the criticism that comes with killing something that’s a tradition, but sacred cows make the best hamburgers, right?!?

  11. JC – I am very glad VBS is working for you keep it up. Keep doing whatever it takes to reach kids.

    Stacy And David – thanks for your comments. You both had some excellent points.

    Gina – It is crazy how much we think alike. I have always wanted to do some sort of backyard VBS where we give a kit to a family and the put on VBS for their neighbors. We just may have to work on something.

    Jonathan – I am very happy for you. I think you and your church will see lots of fruit from putting your energy behind Vision, values and not just tradition.


  12. I was once on staff at Lake Avenue church in Pasadena, CA ( and for years they ran multiple Backyard Camps out of homes rather than a traditional VBS on campus.
    If you’re seriously considering moving in that direction… you may want to contact them.

  13. Anthony,

    I would love to hear your take. I have never heard of anyone doing this. It is only a idea rolling around in my head. Would like to do something like this. Let me know what you think.

  14. Sam!
    Backyard camps CAN be great… but they have some things you’ll have to overcome.

    I’ll just jump into the issues you might face (most of the PROS are pretty clear).

    1. The “creepy” factor. You may find yourself wanting to screen families who want to host camp. If you don’t have some sort of filter – you may have a family who hosts a backyard camp and creeps people out with a) bad theology b) bad philosophy of ministry c) bad smells (this CANNOT be overrated… if someone owns 14 cats, you don’t want them hosting an event – trust me) or d) anything else that may leave a neighborhood family thinking, “this is exactly why I don’t hang out with ‘church’ people.”

    2. You’ll have to cope with “losing” control. You won’t be able to be everywhere at once. You can’t handle emergencies in person. You won’t be making contact with everyone attending your camp… read as: you and/or your staff will not be the face of the program.

    3. Judging and evaluating “success” becomes a little tougher. With one VBS site, success can be evaluated a little easier than figuring out what “success” looks like at multiple sites. Let’s say you have 10 backyard camps… some sites will pull mostly church kids, others will pull non-church kids, others might pull NO kids – that’s a harder thing to then judge. Do you figure out a way to score a camp based on who’s in attendance? Are you evaluating success or are the site leaders? Being able to define a “win” or success is important if you’re looking at ever running a similar program again… as I’m sure you’re well aware.

    4. Legal issues. You’re hosting multiple church events off campus. Is your insurance willing to take this on? Are your host families aware that they may be liable in the event of an accident? If there’s a local emergency (here in the LA area, earthquakes and fires are always HUGE on our radar) what does your evacuation/pick-up process look like? – I put that here because your insurance company may want these plans on file if they give you a green light.

    Those are a couple of the big ones.

    Now, a couple of them can obviously be flipped into PROS. Maybe you don’t want to be the “face” of your programs and you want families to have a bigger buy-in to your church’s success at outreach. Maybe you want a program that will have “layers” of success and will take some group think-tank work in evaluating. Maybe you run off campus events all the time and have the insurance thing worked out (to be honest, a lot of churches overlook this one and are in the clear 90% of the time… this only comes into play in the event of an accident, but it can blindside you and put your ministry in real jeopardy).

    Again, if our VBS wasn’t pulling the numbers of unreached kids as it is, I’d be tinkering with ideas like this myself. I’m not sure what your city’s Parks and Recreation dept. has going on in the summer, but you may be able to partner with them and run assisting or complimentary programs at parks in town during the summer rather than use backyards. Summer school programs are often looking for lunchtime and afterschool programing that you may be able to sneak a VBS-esque type program into.
    Whatever route you go down, you probably aren’t going to try something BRAND NEW, so make sure you find other churches who’ve done similar things and learn from their mistakes and success.

    oh, and Merry Christmas… hope the new year treats your ministry well.


  15. Just keep in mind that Christian families need some events too and our churches can be outreach focused while teaching our own flock. There has to be a balance What are the other advantages to VBS? Building workers, leaders, teams for your weekly program, blessing families and moms with a break (in my area they need this) building a great pr rep for your church, building community among your church, etc. Also, I don't see a lot of unsaved kids at our VBS or church but I do see children from Christian families who do not know anything about Christ, from families who live with one foot in faith and the other in the world, etc

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