Vacation Bible School

Why We Stopped Doing Vacation Bible School

Vacation Bible School (VBS) was born out of an evangelistic passion of Mrs. Walter Aylett Hawes, a doctor’s wife. Her goal was to get children off the streets of New York and teach them the gospel. In 1898 and 1899 Mrs. Hawes rented a beer hall in New York’s East Side to conduct her Everyday Bible School. In 1900 Mrs. Hawes’ pastor, Howard Lee Jones, insisted that the Bible school move to the church building, Epiphany Baptist Church. After two weeks it became clear that children from the East Side would not attend the church, so Mrs. Hawes moved the school back to a site near the beer hall.

Today, VBS is an interdenominational staple hosted in thousands of churches every summer. God has used VBS over the years to reach thousands of children with the gospel.

Like nearly every other church in our town, Oak Ridge hosted VBS every year until 2006. That year we decided to examine the data and see how evangelistically effective our VBS really was.

After carefully examining several years worth of data, we discovered two critical truths that played into our decision to “discontinue” our standard VBS summer program.

What were those critical truths?


1) We were not really reaching unchurched kids.

We carefully examined exactly who we were reaching with our VBS. We found that about 75% of the attendees were our own children, approximately 20% were solid members of another church, and less than 5% were genuine evangelistic prospects.

Why were there so many kids from other churches?

Because Christian parents have learned to schedule their kids in as many VBS programs in town as possible in order to fill up their summer.  I actually spoke to one woman who said she keeps a summer calendar on the fridge and fills it up with every VBS she sees advertised.

Bottom line: What started out as an incredibly strategic evangelistic tool has morphed to become a free day camp for Christian kids.

As a church for the unchurched, we felt we could do better.

2) The second critical truth we discovered was what made VBS great.

The second reflection we had was to diagnose what made VBS so darn good. We found that VBS was a great program because, 1) it has a fantastic curriculum that integrates great media, music and activities, 2) it utilizes a focused and committed volunteer army!

Vacation Bible School has measurable objectives divided into focused teams comprised of committed volunteers with clear roles.

Vacation Bible School has measurable objectives divided into focused teams comprised of committed volunteers with clear roles. Share on X

With a recipe like that, you can storm hell!

So why not move “VBS” to a Sunday morning?

Based on these truths we decided to move the power of VBS into the weekend programming. As a result, Oak Ridge does VBS 52 times a year!!

Please understand, I am not saying summer Vacation Bible School is a bad thing. Nor am I saying that other churches should not do it. I am only stating why we decided to move away from doing VBS as a one-week summer program, and instead decided to channel that energy into a high-octane weekend program targeting unchurched families running 52 times a year!

What are your thoughts?

Originally published on May 2, 2015

  • Chris Huff
    Posted at 16:46h, 25 February Reply

    I think it’s great that you’ve done this. I’m considering leading my church to do the same. My question for you, since you’ve already done it, is this: how do you keep the Sunday morning “VBS” evangelistic, targeting unchurched families? Because while we don’t get a great percentage of unchurched families at our summer VBS, at least we get a few, which is more than we get on Sunday morning.

    • Brian Moss
      Posted at 05:52h, 27 February Reply

      Hey Chris!

      Sorry it took me so long to respond. I am in Rwanda at the moment and my internet access is limited.

      I would highly encourage you to come out to our DREAM church conference where we train church leaders to transform their churches to become evangelistically effective.

      Check out for more info!



  • Renee Parsons
    Posted at 15:48h, 18 June Reply

    I would love to use this, or interview you for the documentary we are doing on the history and purpose of VBS. Please let me know if you would be interested in participating!
    Renee Parsons
    Handsoap and Manna Productions

    • Brian Moss
      Posted at 16:33h, 18 June Reply

      Hi Renee!
      THANK YOU for contacting me!
      You have my permission to use this or any other article on my blog site as long as it is distributed in full. I don’t think I’d be available for an interview, but thanks for all you do for Him! Blessings…Brian

  • Danielle V
    Posted at 22:04h, 23 October Reply

    What are you currently doing to get these unchurched kids to come on Sunday mornings?

    • Brian Moss
      Posted at 18:24h, 24 October Reply

      Hi Danielle!

      Actually, to quote the blog post, “Based on these truths we decided to move the power of VBS into the weekend programming.”

      The threefold combo of great environments, engaging curriculum, and committed volunteers packs a powerful punch that keeps kids coming.

  • Alvin
    Posted at 05:31h, 20 March Reply

    I’m speaking as an outsider because I’m not a pastor or church leader, so I can’t comment with any authority to your concerns that your prior VBS efforts weren’t reaching enough unchurched kids. That being said, I was an unruly unchurched street urchin who found the Gospel at the Southside Baptist Church in Columbus, Ohio. It changed my life, but I was, and still mad disappointed when I see kids who grow up in the church leave the fold, possibly because they weren’t firmly rooted. There’s a special summer ingredient in summer VBS that gives the experience a different flavor than regular Sunday services. For one thing, we’re at church with our peers, but without our parents, so we’re able engage with the program on a more intimate level. I think summertime VBS gives young Christians a firmer foundation that nurtures our youth as they run into confusing or perhaps even dangerous waters of the modern society outside of their church friends, Maybe from the perspective of growth, or, “new seats in the pews,” your dat clearly shows that VBS isn’t the best tool from an evangelistic approach. But for keeping the “already-churched congregants engaged throughout their lives, summer VBS provides a wonderful foundation.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Brian
      Posted at 12:29h, 20 March Reply

      Thanks Alvin! I totally agree with you. VBS really is a GREAT program that does a lot of good. It wasn’t an easy decision for our church and may not even be a permanent one. The hardest thing to do in a church is to choose great over good.

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