This post was written by Jeremy O’Neill, a member of the INCM Blog team.
Over the years, I have heard lots of reasons why NOT to do a Vacation Bible School (VBS).
It costs too much. It’s old school. It only reaches church kids. It won’t work for large churches.
The list goes on.
VBS may not be a trendy new idea, but it is still effective outreach because it is tried and true.
Here are four reasons why our church continues to invest valuable time, energy, and resources into VBS every year, and why yours should, too.
1. Reach Families
In the early days of my kid’s ministry career, I heard lots of voices saying that VBS was no longer a viable way of reaching new families. The prevailing wisdom seemed to be that VBS was for “churched” people and would not attract brand new people to your church.
The two main demographics interested in a VBS would be 1) families from your own church and 2) VBS-hoppers looking for something their kids could do during the summer months.
For a while, I actually believed that. Until I started digging deeper.
For example, when my church hosted a VBS last year for the first time since we reopened, almost a third of the kids who signed up had never been to our church. Another 27% were people who had been attending our church for less than a year.
That means that less than half of the kids who attended our VBS were “churched”.
Don’t get me wrong. If you are not careful, a VBS can easily turn into a holy huddle where people outside your church do not feel welcome.
If you want to reach new families, you need to be strategic about how you position your VBS, who you invite, how you talk about it, where you highlight it and how you invite them back afterwards.
2. Drive Growth
One of the most powerful opportunities to teach kids God’s story and share the gospel is at events like VBS.
When you host kids for a multi-day event, it offers a unique opportunity that you cannot replicate on a Sunday morning or midweek service. It gives you the chance to create an intentional experience for kids that allows them to go a little deeper and teach them something new about God.
For our church, VBS is one of a handful of times throughout the year where we share the gospel with kids and invite them to start a relationship with Jesus. Unlike a Sunday morning or a one-off event, a VBS allows you to 1) build each day so that kids are prepared for a gospel opportunity and 2) control the environment so that you can have a conversation with each individual child.
VBS offers the perfect environment to share the gospel with kids.
3. Build Relationships
Most churches I interact with struggle with the same challenge we do: irregular attendance. People just do not come as often as they used to.
When I was a kid, being a “regular” at church meant you showed up every Sunday. Today, people consider themselves “regulars” if they attend once a month.
With kids attending less and less often, it creates a challenge for ministry leaders to build meaningful relationships with kids. If we truly believe that life change happens best in the context of relationships, then we need to find creative ways to help kids connect with their leaders and each other. That’s where a VBS can help!
I once heard someone say that VBS is like a year’s worth of ministry in one week.
If you structure your event around small groups, then kids get to see the same kids and the same leaders every day for a week. Not only that, they play together every day, they compete as a team together every day, and they open up to talk about their faith every day. All of those elements lead toward meaningful relationships.
4. Mobilize People
One of my favorite things about events like VBS is that it provides an onramp for new volunteers. After all, asking someone to serve for one week often feels less intimidating than committing to every Sunday.
It is not uncommon for brand new VBS volunteers to get to the end of the week and say, “I want to do more of this.” Turns out working with kids isn’t so scary after all! Before you know it, they will be volunteering on Sunday mornings.
Ephesians 4:12 tells us that our responsibility is to “equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church.” That means your job is to engage people with the mission of your church. To move them from consumer to contributor.
Before you start using that last line in your next recruiting campaign, it is important to do a quick heart check first. Be honest with yourself. Why are you asking people to serve? Is it because you want something from them or for them?
People want to know that they matter more to you as a person than the spot they fill on your roster.
My life changed forever the day I started volunteering. I found community, I grew in my faith, and I gained fulfillment in using my gifts to serve others.
The same can, and should, be true for the people you are recruiting for your next VBS.
VBS is still a valuable outreach event. Your investment in the planning and the people who put it on matters! And your community will see the benefit as you execute it this year.
Jeremy O’Neill is the Children’s Pastor at Skyline Church. Jeremy is a speaker, writer, and kid’s ministry coach. He and his wife, Kendall, are based out of San Diego, California.