July 2011


At times I want to travel back to a more innocent day, a day in which we really understood society, and we knew all the songs at Vacation Bible School (“Only a Boy Named David”, “Zaccheus Was a Wee Little Man”, and the like), and Kool-aid® and graham crackers ruled the day. I wax nostalgic for those days when blue-haired ladies in orthopedic oxfords marched in with us and we knew what to day when the pianist played the “Stand-up” and “Sit-down” chords.

Those days are gone—with the two-week Vacation Bible Schools. And we are left shopping for VBS in a Box, focusing on this year’s theme and trying to make it work for our situation. We choose from the mountain of catalogs when selecting the back-pack, suitcase, canister, or other oddly-shaped bag that has the most creative theme (including craftily-named cartoon animal to guide our way). When our own LifeWay (Southern Baptist’s curriculum publisher and sales force) decided that if Southern Baptists were to keep all the VBS dollars in-house they would have to package Bible school around a theme rather than the Bible, I was skeptical.

But the switch has worked rather well. Children are latching onto the themes, so churches are buying into them. For fifteen years now, we have been treated to some really up-beat, theme-related, kid-friendly music that pounds out the thematic message and charms the soul. The cynic in me sometimes thinks that maybe the music is starting to sound pretty much the same—just the motions have been changed to confuse the workers.

I was also concerned last year when LifeWay announced that their theme would be “Big Apple Adventure” (centering all the activities and music around New York City). Will our kids go for it? The Ranch theme was right up our alley here in rural, cornfield America. The Hawaiian and Alaskan themes were kind of exotic. And the trip to China a few years ago was really enticing if not a little on the racist edge. But New York City? What were they thinking?

So, here’s how it went down for us: We opted to go with “Big Apple Adventure”, we recruited our helpers, and found a church who held their VBS a couple of weeks before ours and took advantage of their generous offer to take their exceptionally made decorations to festoon our church, and we had at it.

Our VBS results floored me. We averaged over 95 children for the week (never falling below 90—which is a record for the six years we’ve been doing VBS since I came to be pastor here). Ten children in the older classes turned their lives over to Christ—I’ll get to baptize the majority of them in the next few weeks (others have families who go to other local congregations in the area), and we collected over $300 in missions-related offering which will go to Illinois’ Baptist Childrens Home.

Why the success? I don’t think it has so much to do with the music or the theme as it does with a couple of other factors. First, we are one of the few churches in our area to do a week-long, morning-based VBS. Most have gone to either evenings or a Saturday, one-day effort because of difficulty in getting workers. At this point I would argue to get the workers, and do VBS in the day-time—parents like it, kids like it, and your church will have an opportunity to minister to a larger number, sharing the gospel in a kid-friendly way.

We also make a big deal of getting the word out, inviting anyone and everyone to bring their children. There are children in our community who opted to go to VBS over other fun summer activities for this week. One of the mothers shared that she had been taking her charges (some cousins are visiting for the summer) to a great reading program three days a week. The boys said they wanted to go to the reading club, but the girls wanted to go to VBS during this week. When the boys saw how much fun the girls had, they ditched the reading club the rest of the week and came to learn about the Bible.

I’ve always said Monday in VBS week is my favorite day of the year because of all the chaos and mayhem that goes on as we register and corral the children (some who don’t see the inside of a church building except during this special week), and it is also my least favorite day of the year because of all the chaos and mayhem that is involved in getting VBS started. Either way, it is always worth it!

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