Why you should leverage VBS as part of your church’s outreach strategy
It’s June, which means that right now it’s very likely that somewhere in your church a small team of folks are spastically scrambling around, trying to pull everything together everything they need to get ready for Vacation Bible School. VBS can be a bit of a monster, can’t it? It requires tons of preparation, volunteer coordination, and snacks (you can’t forget the goldfish!) to make it a success.
Upon reading the above three sentences, some of you just felt sick in the pit of your stomach at the thought of having to plan out another VBS. Others of you are the aforementioned small team currently running around like crazy trying to get ready for it. Whichever you are, I think we all agree that Vacation Bible School has proven to be an incredibly valuable ministry over the years. This is why so many churches continue to choose to engage in the madness each summer.
The Beginnings of VBS
According to a Christianity Today article, Vacation Bible School as we know it began in the 1890s, when Mrs. Walker Aylette Hawes piloted a program to reach immigrant children in New York City’s East Side. “Hawes structured her program around worship music, Bible stories and Scripture memorization, games, crafts, drawing, cooking, etc. The school caught on: Hawes was presiding over seven separate schools by the time she retired from her work in 1901.” The Baptist Mission Society soon picked up where Hawes left off, and the movement continued to grow. Bible School has now been going on for over 120 years and has spread all over the world. In the same CT article, Steven Gertz notes that VBS has made its way all the way to India and even Kuwait.
Getting VBS Back To Its Roots
Vacation Bible School means different things to different people in your church. For Sunday School teachers, it might mean that for one week their classroom is transformed into a jungle, or whatever the chosen theme is for that year’s VBS curriculum. For the custodian, it likely means lots of extra cleaning to make sure the goldfish crumbs (you can’t forget the goldfish!) get vacuumed. And for moms and dads, it means a week that kids are out of the house and cared for in a fun, safe environment – dare I say, free childcare!? For all involved its a meaningful investment in the children who belong to the church.
What if you leveraged Bible School as a key strategy to reach out to families in your community? This is how the program got started in the first place.
But what does VBS mean for those outside of the church? Most churches put a sign up outside of their building that advertises the dates of their program, and that’s good. But truthfully, many within the church still view it as a program for their own kids, or they at least functionally treat it that way. How much thought is put into planning Bible School for children who don’t go to the church? How much thought goes into inviting children outside of the church in?
What if you leveraged Bible School as a key strategy for outreach to families in your community? This is how the program got started in the first place. Mrs. Hawes saw large groups of immigrant children living in the slums being completely ignored. She saw an opportunity to reach out to children outside of the church. VBS began from a missional heart.
We often make an unnecessary division between programs for those inside the church verses outreach events aimed at those not in church. Instead, we should leverage everything that we do – even the stuff that is primarily aimed at “insiders” – for a missional purpose. If at this point, your VBS program is something that is generally for the kids inside your church, it doesn’t have to be limited to them; it shouldn’t be. You can and should find ways to invite other kids in.
Four Easy Steps To Leverage VBS For Outreach
How are you going to invite the community to join you for Vacation Bible School this year beyond putting a sign out in front of your building? Let me offer four simple steps to get the most out of your VBS this summer from a missional standpoint.
Invest some money in promoting it to your community. Set aside a little bit of your VBS budget to market it to those who otherwise wouldn’t know about it. One way you can reach out and invite is through direct mail. d2design would love to help you get the word out about your VBS.
Challenge your church members, especially families who are participating in VBS, to invite a friend from school or from the neighborhood to join them. If every kid in your church brought one friend with them, your building would be full of people who do not yet belong to your church, that you now have an opportunity to connect with and invite to a Sunday.
Welcome kids and parents when they show up. Let them know how excited you are that they came. Think through how you can go above and beyond to be hospitable. Be ready to answer questions that first timers will have. Consider having an area specifically for parents where they can get refreshments, connect with other parents, and find some information about your church.
And finally, even if your church’s VBS program has already flown by, you can still make strides in your outreach with this final idea:
Follow Up with every family. Personally call and invite them back for worship. Ask them how you can pray for them. Tell them how great it was to have their child at VBS.