I have memories going to VBS when I was a kid. My church never did VBS, so I only remember going to VBS at other churches. What I do remember was the giant Ice Cream Sunday my team won for bringing in the biggest offering. It was literally a 10 foot gutter filled with ice cream and topping for 20 or 30 boys to enjoy.
As a Kid’s Pastor, I organized and executed VBS at three different churches for seven years. I have to say that it was one of my favorite ministry events to pull off. I have fond memories of VBS, but I haven’t done VBS for the past 8 years and it’s doubtful I’ll do VBS again (at least anytime soon). In evaluating all the things that we do, it really didn’t make sense to do VBS.
I don’t think VBS is bad. I’ve always been a big fan of the event. However, I think that every church really should evaluate why they do VBS and have rational conversations about whether it adds or detracts from what they really want to do. Sometimes when I talk to people who do VBS, I hear statements like this:
- I couldn’t not do VBS
- VBS is something we’ve done for decades… its the biggest thing we do
- I can’t imagine a summer without doing VBS
These kinds of statements tell me that strategic conversations aren’t being had. These kinds of statements tell me that it’s a program that has taken on a life of it’s own. Ultimately, I think every church should ask these three questions about their VBS program:
Do you know why you do VBS?
What is your true and honest compelling reason for executing VBS? Is it to lead kids to faith and connect them and their families to your church? Is it a week long “discipleship” program where you’re going to teach kids beyond what you can normally do on Sundays? Is it an event for families to connect with each other in a fun and safe environment? How is your VBS intentionally doing that and be honest with yourself. 90% of the VBS programs in my area are free/cheap daytime childcare opportunities and if you plan it right, you can have your kid in a different one every week of the summer. If you’re going to do VBS, are you being intentional so that it’s not just a “churchy” childcare program? If it is, are you being honest about that? I know that I didn’t want to spend thousands of dollars to simply be drop-in childcare.
Does your VBS conflict with your mission?
I did VBS for seven years (and let me remind you, I loved VBS). What I know about VBS is that it is super expensive. It is time consuming (we had a VBS leadership/planning team that would start planning in November/December every year). It required a TON of volunteers. In the end, this is what happened EVERY. SINGLE. YEAR.
Sunday programs took a hit. The weeks leading up to VBS and the weeks following VBS, Sunday mornings were not as good. Why? Because so much of our focus and resources were pointed toward something else. Volunteers were exhausted that we’d have many more out the weeks following VBS compared to normal.
We have tons of visitors every Sunday and if we offer a really great experience on Sunday and connect every visiting kid to an adult leader who cares about them, it’s likely that they’ll come back. VBS would reach TONS of visitors, but very few ever came back on a Sunday and if they did come the next Sunday or two, it wasn’t a prime experienced compared to normal or compared to the week of VBS.
Is your VBS really doing what you want it to do?
This is closely connected to the first question.
If your VBS is community outreach with the intention of connecting new people to your church, how many people start coming to your church because of VBS? If your VBS is all about discipleship, how do you know it’s really doing what you hope? And if it is doing it, is it doing it in a way that is effective/efficient? In other words, does it require the energy and hoopla of VBS to attain the same results?
I think it’s really important to ask these questions related to results:
- Is it producing the results we want?
- Are the results we’re getting worth it?
- Is there and easier/more efficient way to get the same results?
Honestly, I couldn’t reconcile these answers with a decision to continue VBS. What we do on Sundays is far too important and VBS was more of a distraction than something that provided momentum toward our vision/mission. What about you? Is it time to have hard/rational conversation about why you do VBS?
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