Wanda Ruiz expected that serving as director of fifth and sixth graders for
her church's annual Vacation Bible School (VBS) would be rewarding--if not
exhausting--work, but she never expected quite such an exciting week.
The day that we explained the gospel to the kids was the most important day
of the week for me," she said. "I was nervous and excited all at once."
Ruiz, who drives a school bus, had helped out at VBS with preschoolers in
years past, but this was her first time to teach older kids at Jersey Baptist Church near Columbus,
"The teachers and I prayed together before class, and then I led the
children through the lesson," Ruiz explains. "We gave all of the children
response cards and three of them indicated they wanted to talk more. One was a
young girl who attended because her foster parents are members of our church.
We found a quiet place, and I talked more with her. I was nervous and scared
when I first started, because I wanted to say things right and I wanted to be
sure she understood everything. She said she did understand and wanted to pray
to receive Christ. I was overwhelmed and excited. We are part of each others'
lives forever now."
Stories like that are not uncommon at Jersey Baptist. Debbie Zachariah, the
church's children and preschool director, can take a quick look around on
Sunday mornings at Jersey Baptist and see the difference VBS has made. A fourth
grader from a family that didn't attend church accepted Christ last year and
now everyone in the family is an active member. A fifth grader who invited
Jesus into his heart at VBS was later followed by his entire family.
"We're not seeker-driven, but children are an important part of our church,"
says Zachariah. "Parents can tell when people really do care about their
Zachariah says there's something about VBS that doesn't intimidate parents
as much as Sunday morning church. That's what can make VBS such a good first
step toward regular church attendance and, often, salvation.
"If you create an environment in which parents feel their children are safe
and children feel they'll have fun, then that will give you plenty of
opportunities to share the gospel," Zachariah says. Her church's VBS includes
gospel presentations in each classroom during the week and another on parents'
night. Follow-up, Zachariah believes, is one of the biggest factors for making
"If you can do it within two weeks in all the homes of those who don't have
a church, that really shows the family that you care."
Some 30,000 Southern Baptist churches and missions will conduct Vacation
Bible Schools this summer, and for many it will be the most effective
evangelistic outreach of the year. If current trends hold, 3.3 million
people--primarily elementary school-age children--will enroll in Southern
Baptist VBS, and more than 94,000 will accept Christ as Savior.
Becky Martin is a VBS consultant for LifeWay Christian Resources, the
Southern Baptist agency that produces the curriculum used in most Southern
Baptist Vacation Bible Schools. Martin says VBS curriculum was intentionally
changed a few years ago to better accommodate children with little or no church
"We start by helping children know who Jesus is," says Martin. "There's no
longer the assumption that everyone in the classroom grew up attending Sunday
Other changes in VBS materials acknowledge the challenges churches face in attracting and
keeping children's attention. Each year's curriculum is built around a
theme--this year's is Mt. Extreme--that helps churches decorate and promote the
program to their community in exciting ways. Class time moves at a faster pace
to hold the interest of children with shrinking attention spans. VBS materials
also offer churches advice for promoting and for following up with children who
attended VBS but don't normally come to church (see "Principles
for Effective VBS Promotion," and "Reaching
your community with VBS" ).
"We want kids to have a good time, but the main thing is the message--we're
here to teach about Jesus," says Martin.
Attracting the crowd
Before church members can share Christ with unchurched children--or
parents--there needs to be a plan for attracting them. Wedgwood Baptist Church
in Fort Worth, Texas, strives to create a VBS setting that attracts unchurched
"We try to find creative ways to draw people in so we can teach them about
Jesus," says Kim Herron, the church's director of childhood education.
Recruiting for VBS starts many months in advance at the church's annual Fall
Festival. More than 1,000 people from the surrounding community typically
attend the festival to enjoy a bowl of free chili and make the rounds playing
dozens of games, listening to live music and participating in activities. Each
child attending the festival is invited to VBS the following summer. But the
work is just beginning.
In February Herron pulls together her core leaders for VBS to begin
brainstorming program ideas and promotions. In past years the church has used
direct mail to blanket the surrounding neighborhoods with information about
VBS. A huge sign in front of the church assures that no passerby will miss the
message that VBS time is drawing near. And Herron is always sure to produce
promotional fliers early enough to allow children to distribute them to
friends while school is still in session.
The promoting isn't over once Bible school starts. The church encourages
parents to attend a special event on the last night of VBS, and children start
hearing about it on the first day.
"On closing night we invite the parents to join their children in the
classrooms to meet teachers and see what the kids have done during the week,"
says Herron. Next it's off to the worship center where attendees--parent and
child together--hear a clear gospel presentation.
"Then it's time for our carnival," says Herron.
It's just what every child would want: Hot dogs, cotton candy, a dunking
booth, a moonwalk, games, and everything is free. Game and food stands are
staffed by VBS teachers, so children feel right at home and parents can mingle
and interact with church members. Parents and children are invited to come back
Sunday night to watch videotaped highlights of the week's events.
VBS follow-up teams spring into action when the carnival is over and the
children go home. In the week or two following VBS, the family of every new
child who attended gets a personal visit from someone in the church who shares
information about children's programs and other ministries in which the family
might be interested.
It's an all-out effort to let first-time visitors know they are welcome and
that church members really care about them and their children.
Bonnie Fine of Wichita, Kansas, has also seen that VBS follow-up can make
the difference in building bridges to unchurched families.
"If it's possible for us to begin follow-up during VBS week, we do that,"
says Fine, director of Education and Administration for Tyler Road Southern Baptist Church. "That
way we can directly share with parents what their children are learning and
what else our church has to offer their family."
To initially connect with unchurched families, Tyler Road mails about 6,000
letters to families around the church to promote the upcoming VBS. "We make the
promo mailing as interesting as we can," says Fine. "The idea is to get them to
open it up."
Back at Jersey Baptist Church, Wanda Ruiz is looking forward to another
summer helping out with her church's VBS.
"I've already been asked and have said yes. And I'm already praying for the
children who will be there."
Michael Ebert is publishing director for On Mission magazine.
A Southern Baptist Convention entity supported by the Cooperative Program and theAnnie Armstrong Easter Offering® ©Copyright 2013 North American Mission Board, SBC