Vacation Bible School

July 6, 2005 by

I think Vacation Bible School has to be one of the more interesting events churches do. In some circles it’s a no-brainer, an event that happens every year as if it were part of the church calendar. The idea itself is little more than 100 years old, though recently VBS has become more and more complicated, especially as publishers develop thematic curriculum.

But no matter the curriculum or format or the outlandishness of the theme, how can VBS best be used to bring people to God? After all, that’s the goal. It happens when kids come and hear about God, it happens when parents learn more about faith, and it happens when families start coming to church.

Here’s some ways to maximize the impact of VBS:

  • Getting kids to show up is the first step, and scheduling has a lot to do with that. It used to be that VBS was the only thing for kids to do in the summer, but now kids are completely overbooked. Consider a schedule that makes it easy for busy families. One night a week throughout the summer might be easier than one solid week. Also consider daytime vs. evening.
  • It’s awesome to have kids come to VBS who never come to church (again, that’s the idea, isn’t it?), but the ideal would be to have them start coming to church after VBS. What efforts do you have to encourage the VBS crowd to come on Sunday? This might include having children’s ministry leaders tell kids about the church’s normal offerings for kids or even structuring your VBS so it flows into your regular children’s programming.
  • A big part of getting the kids to come back is getting their parents to come. Try a special night of VBS for parents or even programming designed for parents at the same time as VBS. Make that special effort to reach out to families and introduce them to the rest of church. At the least send a brochure or invite card home with the kids.
  • In the competition for kids’ eyeballs the church is going to lose. Let’s be realistic. It’s not easy to outdo Sesame Street. So if you don’t have a charismatic emcee or a super fun theme, don’t try. Take a different approach and offer kids something more laidback and relaxed. Sometimes just giving kids attention is more important than any ritzy show.
Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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14 Responses to “Vacation Bible School”

  • brand1m
    July 7, 2005

    I think the competition poinnt is valid, but I would like to address it in a different way. I think one problem that many churches have is they advertise something that they are not. For example, if you create this incredible week long multimedia event for kids with games, prizes and fun stuff to do, thats great. The goal is to get them to come to your church, so if your regular children’s program is way less than that, or completely opposite, you can’t realistically expect to retain many of these kids.
    If you use something like this to attract kids, make sure that what you follow it up with has the same kind of feel to it. You could say the same thing about adults and the “Friend Day” services, youth outreach events – pretty much any other department within the church. Don’t show them the Ferrari only to give them the Beetle.

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  • Meghan Fife
    July 7, 2005

    “Sometimes just giving kids attention is more important than any ritzy show.”
    Very very true. And the comment by brand1m is also right on. “Don’t show them the Ferrari only to give them the Beetle.”
    One of my best friend’s who is 27 and the children’s director at our church has always had something against VBS because she never saw anything productive out of it. She said it felt like just another event that our senior pastor wanted the kids to do. But those tips are definitely some good stuff. I’m passing it along.

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  • JeffB
    July 8, 2005

    You’d think churches will eventually have to learn they can’t compete with secular entertainment for “fun and games.” And they shouldn’t, given Jesus’ attitude toward those who followed him for physical rather than spiritual reasons (John 6:26).
    What will draw and keep people of all ages isn’t raffles, games, and other secular entertainment dressed up to look like edification; it’s the compelling lessons and stories from the Bible. Interest a kid in those and he’ll be back; try to bribe him and he’ll be back playing X-box next week.

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    • Tim
      January 12, 2014

      There is alot of truth in what posters are saying in their replies. Church marketing of Jesus is often overdone and relied upon too heavily. Yet sometimes the way to reach the lost is to have a, “hook,” something to come and get.

      They are not going to come on their own to hear the Bible preached: “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:7). VBS themed purpose is use that hook to preach the Gospel. God’s Word does not return void ( Isaiah 55:11) and there are many people involved in the planting, watering and harvesting of a single seed. VBS is needed! Even the kid who went back to playing XBOX the next week has heard the Gospel and that is all that truly matters. God can take it from there.

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  • brand1m
    July 8, 2005

    I really hope that churches today don’t think they can compete with secular entertainment, but I do hope that they hold themselves to a high standard of relevance and quality. As for how Jesus would feel about this, I can see it both ways. What Jeff said is true, but we must also remember that Jesus met people at their level. He shared stories that they could relate to – He was relevant to them and made the Message relevant too. I don’t have a single problem with someone having a big event or offering xboxes for kids to play with weekly. It must be kept in perspective, and if you are using it to build a relationship with them and help them to be more open to the Gospel, then in my opinion, you are doing exactly what you should be doing.

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  • Michael
    July 8, 2005

    Maybe compete isn’t the right word, but what’s wrong with creating something that draws interest? If we aren’t to compete because we’re a church then does that mean throw out the concerts and special speakers?
    To me it is the drudgery that we are stuck in…the church shouldn’t do this, don’t try that…
    If it takes and x-box, get 10 of ’em. If it takes media, buy the biggest screen you can. Whatever it takes, draw them to Jesus, He’ll take care of the rest.
    I think that Christ would go over to the kids house, sit down and play a game with him. Christ went to the taxpayers house, he went where people lived. Why can’t the church do the same?

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  • JeffB
    July 8, 2005

    But did Christ ever use bait-and-switch tactics? Nowhere that I find.
    Bringing someone in for an activity that teaches the gospel strikes me as very different from bringing someone in for another reason and then trying to shoehorn in the gospel. As is teaching the gospel in an enjoyable way vs. entertaining in hopes of getting to teach the gospel.
    One is primarily spiritual with some physical appeal; the other is primarily physical with (maybe) some spiritual appeal. The former is the work of the church; the latter? Nowhere I can find.
    Myself, I’d rather trust the power of the gospel (properly and relevantly presented, of course) to draw people over the power of Sony and Microsoft. YMMV, as always.

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  • Michael
    July 9, 2005

    The gospel must be presented in it’s full truth, no one would argue that. This type of thing isn’t bait and switch though any more than Christ feeding people was bait and switch, sure people showed up for food but they heard the gospel and at times without Christ preaching at all.
    They will know us by our actions. A fun, energetic summer activity with people that love the lord and show that love to the children, often times that’s all it takes.
    My wife goes to a camp every year for neglect and abused children. The children don’t come to get preached to. They come to swim, to do crafts, have fun and be with people who show them love. The play throughout the day and at some point in the day they hear a message about Christ. Effective? You bet. Bait and switch, hardly.
    Christ didn’t say we have to be boring or ask that we not use fun relevant activities to draw people in…he just told us to draw them in. Don’t limit yourself, be bold, be fun and draw them in!

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  • M Squared T Blog
    July 11, 2005

    VBS as Outreach

    From Church Marketing Sucks:
    I think Vacation Bible School has to be one of the more interesting events churches do. In some circles it’s a no-brainer, an event that happens every year as if it were part of the church calendar. The idea itself is li…

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  • Pudge
    July 13, 2005

    WOW!! Great Post and Great Dialogue!
    I am the Elementary School Pastor at our church (New Spring Community Church — 4000 in attendance in just 5 years) and we have about 200-300 grade school kids every week.
    Can we compete with secular entertainment? YES! Let’s say I run into a few of my kids (meaning in the program) and they are watching any secular TV show you can think of. What do my kids do? They FORGET the TV show. If the church doesn’t have a goal to exceed the secular entertainment world then what is our goal as far as engaging, relevant, and engaging services (yes, I know to reach them for Christ
    However, I do agree that VBS has had its flaws and that you can’t offer an incredible week and then have normal Sundays. It’s not consistent and kids RUN from that.
    As far as kid’s enjoying the personal time more. YES! They do! Our kids LOVE it when a leader invests in them, talks to them, gets to know them! However, most kids don’t realize they do that. They can’t analyze their behavior to know that they love that most. KIDS WANT BANG, SPARKLE, and BOOM…in other words. THEY WANT A SHOW!
    I would agree. Jesus is enough to reach them. However, kids that have either not grown up in church or been exposed to Christ don’t know that. And you can’t possibly think that by you saying, “Hey kid, Christ ROCKS” that they will respond…”yeah, your right, I love church!”
    Also, there are the “other” kids. The ones that have grown up in church but their view of church has been severely damaged due to its hypocritical, boring, and monotonous state. SO, now they hear the word JESUS, they think…boring. How do you reach those? Change their impress!
    If a kid leaves your CM after five years and knows all the knowledge of Christ but hated it. They won’t come back. If they come for five years and had a blast…they will keep coming back to church! Is fun more important? Nope! But it is VITAL to know it’s the tool to teach and show them the best gift ever…Jesus!

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  • dale
    November 10, 2005

    the idea of comparing the feeding of the people and bait switch tactics aren’t even close.
    notice the people were following Jesus b4 the the food was given. they stopped following when the food wasn’t going to appear. church growth principle: you keep them by how you reach them. if you reach them with the circus then you better have a circus every week. to think that we need to be “engaged” by using media, technology, and “cool” staging is simply not true. this doesn’t engage people this entertains people. the Gospel is still the power and until the church wakes up and realizes the best we have to offer is Jesus then it will be a cyclical process of watching the latest trends come and go. i love VBS and every year we reach lots of kids with more than doo dads and games…we focus on the Gospel and let that be our net as we fish. community is still the best way to see more kids come–the more leaders involved, the more kids show up. the answer is not getting a bigger show, but rather getting the church to see VBS should be all year long (meaning the adults should participate in the children’s ministry more consistently). when we only get excited about the kids a few times a year then of course they won’t stay.

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    June 6, 2006

    i think vbs is great to reach out and spread the word of god last year was my frist time i was so worried if the kids was going to have alot of fun and just wanted them to come back but it was great we spent little money witch was great because we are a very small chruch everthing we did they love and the next day they would have a new kid with them most of the kids were frist time in chruch and now they are coming every sunday and all year they have talked about last year so now the presure is on praise god we are bless

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  • Kasey
    December 19, 2006

    I think that it is sad that we are arguing about this whole thing! It is obvous that different churches reach different groups, classes, races,etc, and what we have to remember is that while God’s MESSAGE stays the same- the METHODS by which we teach them may vary- look at the disciples and their personalities they were very different people and could relate differently to others.What works at your church in your state may not work for my church- but niether is wrong- As long as we are leading people to the Lord.
    Jesus said that we would do “greater things” and I don’t think that Jesus was a boring- “Do it the way that we have always done it” kind of person- Obvously not since His life revolutionized the world. As for the Boom, Sparkle,Bang remark- That’s it!! I’m sure that is what people said when they saw the miracles- When Jesus did them and the disciples did them too! Aren’t we disciples of Christ- Why don’t we start sharing ideas that work and do this thing together. Just remember- if you keep doing the same things- you get the same results.

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  • Tina
    July 18, 2010

    the information was very useful. Because I have been struggling with these issues with VBS Thanks!

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