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. Click To Tweet
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