It’s called Vacation Bible School.
Remarkably, very little has changed about VBS. It’s more tech-savvy than it used to be, there is pre-recorded music, power point slides, video clips for Bible study and missions, the music is more upbeat and the piano tones indicating when to sit down and when to stand up are gone, but the format is still pretty much intact, and the kids still show up, and bring their friends, and love every minute of it. Red koolaide and peanut butter cookies are now out, due to allergies, and we do snow cones and popcorn at the end of the day, but VBS is still VBS.
When I was a kid, it seemed that my mother’s goal was to keep me in VBS for as much of the summer as was possible to schedule. The three Baptist churches in the area, one conservative, two Southern, staggered their VBS so that it didn’t interfere with the others. Until I was in third grade, the SBC version lasted two weeks, leaving time to hit all three Baptist churches, plus the church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church, which both did one week. For the most part, the same kids were in the same classes at each church, since most other parents did the same thing. The “visitors” were the kids that didn’t go to any church, or that went to the ones which didn’t have VBS, and it was a real coup if you could get one of your Catholic friends to come with you. In my hometown, in Cochise County, Arizona, the Mormons were the most numerous religious group, but their kids avoided VBS like the plague, of course, and they had their own version of it which ran concurrently with the Protestant churches.
Our church has its own unique spin which it puts on VBS. One year, we invested in several large, blow-up toys that required the use of water, and had a water park in the parking lot. There is still some sand in a few spots in the driveway where we hauled in a man-made beach. This year, we resorted to a couple of kid-friendly traditions in the form of a snow cone machine and a popcorn machine.
Lifeway’s “Boomerang Express” curriculum materials are excellent! They are kid friendly, right on the level, and the Bible content is thorough and complete. We are doing Bible study and evangelism in two different sessions, with our children’s minister taking time in the opening assembly for the evangelistic emphasis, followed by the missions education. Considering the fact that most of our churches no longer do church training, or have missions education, the five short sessions included in the VBS are extremely important times.
I’ve noticed that two old standards, from the days when I was in Bible study, seem to really draw and hold the attention of the kids. Our children’s minister has brought back the flannel graph board to use in her evangelistic illustrations and the kids are absolutely captivated by it. It defies all explanation, in this day of high tech computers and video equipment, but when she is using it, they are quiet, attentive, slightly forward in their seats and watching in breathless anticipation. The other is craft time. Kids are still in love with cutting, pasting, painting, gluing, molding, shaping and doing something with their hands. The crafts are related to the Bible study themes, so all the hand work helps reinforce the objectives of the lessons. I remember the outcry several years back when crafts were taken out of the lesson plan. The thinking was that perhaps, with the video games and high tech toys available, more time could be spent in Bible study. Most churches went ahead and did them anyway, and it wasn’t long before they became part of the day again. The simple things often turn out to be the best things.
I’ve heard that, from an evangelistic perspective, Vacation Bible School is statistically still one of the leading programs in terms of winning people to Christ. There are those who would say that’s because kids are vulnerable. I prefer to think of it in terms of faith formation, not that they are vulnerable, but that, as Jesus said, they are open and willing to give the gospel message a fair hearing, without the interfering bias of the world’s thinking. There are some things that just resonate in people’s lives, and VBS is one of those things.