Like many of you, I grew up participating in the annual summer event known as Vacation Bible School. After some recent reminiscing, my brother and I discovered that what we remember from VBS may not be what the church leaders had intended. He remembers a robust rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ Around the Mountain” sung in the church basement (seriously). I recall, quite vividly, the arrival of our trays of cookies and Styrofoam cups filled with orange Kool-aid. While these shared memories may evoke laughter, they are hardly the ones that influenced my decision to follow Jesus.
Like many children’s pastors, I’ve spent the last few weeks buried in VBS preparation and planning meetings. I’ve been praying that our VBS will be used by God to draw both children and adults closer to him. While leaving the results up to God, there are several things that a church can do to make this goal more attainable. Here’s what I recommend focusing on this summer:
1. Take advantage of this perfect opportunity to create a week of intergenerational ministry!
No age group is excluded from the church’s VBS project. Teenagers and young adults can help, grandparents can teach, and parents can provide transportation for new families. Even those who cannot be present can donate supplies, help with decorating, and be a part of the prayer team who remembers the needs of each child.
2. Embrace this opportunity to involve lay people who have never worked with children.
While some may experience great anxiety when asked to teach for a year, most will be open to helping when they know the task will end in a few short days. You’ll be surprised how many folks will discover a buried talent that can be used with the children in the future.
3. Consider VBS as one of your greatest missional projects.
Offer transportation, provide food, and go and visit un-churched children who you would like to see in attendance. Involve your church’s children in the preparation of VBS, so that they take full ownership in this church-wide mission. (The children from our church will spend one Sunday morning helping me pass out invitations in the neighborhood surrounding our church.)
4. Focus on formational relationships all week.
Teach volunteers about the different developmental needs of each age level, and the ways in which children understand and relate to God. Have some leaders focus solely on getting to know the children and their families. Children are “hard-wired to connect” with adults in loving and supportive communities, like the local church.
5. Create time and space during each day for the children to meet with God.
Vacation Bible School can quickly become loud and entertaining. However, if we do not provide the children with ways to meet with God, we will have failed them. The Italian teacher and Hebrew scholar, Sofia Cavalletti, so wisely reminds us that the child’s silent cry is “Help me to come closer to God by myself!”
6. Prepare specific ways to follow-up with the visiting children who attend VBS.
Without life-long discipleship, there will likely be little fruit from your evangelistic efforts.
7. Expect to learn from the children.
As Jesus said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never inherit the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 18:3)
The way I see it, VBS is a perfect opportunity for adults to spend some concentrated time being discipled by honest, loving children. Then, Lord-willing, we’ll all walk away from VBS remembering more than just the trays of Kool-aid and cookies.