by Jana Magruder, Director of Lifeway Kids
Churches across the world have embraced Vacation Bible School as a ministry strategy for over a century. The rich history of VBS points to why many churches continue to put the work and effort into what it takes to swing open the doors and invite an entire community to hear the gospel. Simply put, the opportunity for evangelism is the number one motivating factor and heartbeat behind VBS. But, is it also an opportunity for church revitalization? Analyze the stats, and the answer is clear — a “yes” to VBS could in fact be a “yes” to revival, growth and renewal in churches everywhere.
Millions of children participate in VBS every year—and while we only know what churches report—the number of decisions to follow Christ, go into ministry, and pursue a life in missions are staggering:
2.5 million participants enrolled in VBS (2017)
65,000 professions of faith (2017)
835 decisions for vocational ministry (2017)
These ministry results alone are evidence of the value and heartbeat behind Vacation Bible School. From its beginning, we can see the “why” behind VBS. Some of the first “schools” began for the sole purpose of Bible teaching and discipleship. Dedicated Sunday School teachers felt they did not have enough time with children to teach them the Bible only on Sundays, so they created summer programming built on an intensive time in God’s Word; enter VBS!
The beauty of VBS is that it is a two-fold strategy of evangelism and discipleship. There are kids, teens and adults who hear and respond to the gospel for the first time, but there are plenty who grow deeper in their faith through discipleship. Both strategies prime and prepare attendees for a continued relationship with Jesus through further discipleship in small groups or Sunday School.
Lifeway VBS is based on a discipleship framework called the Levels of Biblical Learning, which helps leaders understand what kids and teens can learn about ten different biblical concepts. In addition to VBS, the Bible Studies for Life curriculum for Kids and Students is also built on the same discipleship framework – the Levels of Biblical Learning. Together, the two provide a strong offering for leaders to disciple kids and students year-round.
Most of us would agree that teaching the Bible is what VBS is all about. We might also agree that VBS should have a missions component. In fact, the most current numbers say that over $7 million was given to mission organizations last year alone. Playing games and creating crafts allow for friendships to develop and strengthen, creating an environment where church community can develop and grow. Families are looking for these kinds of experiences for their children and youth.
A worthwhile VBS experience requires an “all hands on deck” mentality from the broader church congregation. This starts with the senior pastor and trickles down to the individual members. When everyone throws in their time and gifts to create something with the potential for such a large impact, the Lord will knit hearts together as the body of Christ works together for His glory. This is where church revitalization can truly begin to take root. Think of VBS as a kick-start to a larger vision for church growth and thriving engagement.
How do churches keep thriving? Keep doing what has stood the test of time:
Share the gospel with kids and families in the community
Teach the Bible in an intentional way
Foster friendships and memories that last a lifetime
Build a stronger church community
Together, let’s acknowledge that from a kingdom perspective, VBS can be an essential strategy for church revitalization — especially when followed by intentional discipleship. And while it takes the effort of many, It’s worth it because the souls of our kids and families are worth it – and the health of our churches are worth it!
Jana Magruder serves as the Director of Lifeway Kids. She is a Baylor graduate and offers a wealth of experience and passion for kids ministry, education, and publishing. She is the author of Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith and Kids Ministry that Nourishes. She and her husband, Michael, along with their three children reside in Nashville.