Vacation Bible School is a major event. VBS is as part of the American summer as swimming pools and lemonade. In 1894, an Illinois Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Miles, wanted more time to teach the Bible to children, so she began a daily Bible school lasting four weeks during the summer. In 1898, Ms. Hawes started an Everyday Bible School in New York City for slum children in a saloon which was the only place available for rent. She added music, memory verses, games, crafts, drawing, cooking, and more to an array of Bible stories. She kept at it for seven years so that by the time she retired, she supervised at least seven separate schools.
Yet it is Dr. Robert Boville who is credited with establishing VBS as a movement recommending other churches do what Hawes was doing. He eventually established a handful of summer schools which were led by Union Theological Seminary students. By 1923, Dr. Boville was promoting VBS internationally and founded the World Association of Vacation Bible Schools. Standard Publishing would take the credit for popularizing Vacation Bible School by creating a full scale VBS program in 1923, dividing it by grade level in 1948, introduced the single-theme concept in 1952, and offered more than 120 tools to equip local churches to host their own VBS by 1987. By 1998, Standard reported that more than 5 million kids attended VBS programs each year.
We started our VBS on Sunday night and these were my first thoughts the morning after…
Good call on not serving food – More than 15% of our student’s registered reported various allergies on their VBS registration forms. Most were food allergies, but one has a glitter allergy and another a watermelon allergy. Students are with us for just a couple of hours. I’ve never dealt personally with allergies, but it must scare the daylights out of a parent to entrust their child with a community. Our community is not food scarce so we don’t need to offer food. We can serve water and lots of it.
The secret sauce of any VBS is the volunteers – The best way for kids to know and love Jesus is to be with people who know and love Jesus. At VBS training I remind our servant-leaders that this is the week they can get their Jesus freak on and they must. The kingdom depends on it! Think: What if every follower of Jesus was just like you, would kids want to become a follower of Jesus? Their YES to VBS means they will sing, dance, smile; high five, play games, and dress up. I tell them not to be concerned with decorating; we have a fabulous team for that. Just be ready to build relationships with their students and with one another. We even have personal post cards the travel guides will write to each student which I will address, stamp, and mail the following week. I don’t like the trash of lots of paper and plastic, so our decorating team builds VBS vignettes in strategic places around campus made up of a few large items. This makes it easier for us to pass along our decorations to other churches the morning after our last night. We can be the Jesus freak and do it every day.
It’s OK if someone didn’t get the information – Even if I overwhelm families and volunteers with emails, texts, social media posts, bulletin notices, fliers, posters, banners, and face-to-face, I still can’t reach everyone and folks are going to be surprised when they arrive. Smile and let it go, let it go…yes, I’m breaking into song. VBS and ministry with children is what I live and breathe, but not everyone else. Families are just finishing the school year, attending awards ceremonies, juggling summer camps, sleepovers, and adjusting to a new normal of late mornings and late nights. Just the change in a daily routine can turn families for a loop. We can serve grace and lots of it.
According to the latest Lifeway Research: Most parents (95 percent) say VBS was a positive experience for their child. A similar number say VBS helped their child better understand the Bible (94 percent) and influenced their child’s spiritual growth (95 percent). Most (95 percent) also say that VBS is one of their child’s most meaningful church experiences. “People still believe Vacation Bible School is good for kids. Even parents who don’t go to church want their kids to go to VBS.”
Sending you great VBS vibes for an ext-ROAR-dinary week! For those of us in the trenches, we know that VBS is not about a week, it’s about eternity.
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8