Vacation Bible School is, for most churches, a big part of their planning for the year. If you are planning a Vacation Bible School and you want it to be successful, you have to work on it months in advance. It takes a lot of time, effort, and money to buy the curriculum, get the volunteers, prepare the decorations, find the crafts, get the proper snacks and so much more. However, if VBS is traditionally well attended in your area and it opens doors for outreach for your church, then it is time, money and effort well spent. If it is working at your church, keep it up. It can be an amazing tool to reach children and shouldn't be set aside if it is still connecting with the families in your area.
But what if it no longer seems to work at your church? What if it is like pulling teeth to get the volunteers, your budget is stretched thin, and the kids just don't seem interested? Don't beat yourself up. You are not alone. In fact, I have Children's Pastor friends all over the country and lots of us are beginning to face this issue. The numbers of attendees are down. The folks in the church simply can't help like they did in the past. And now, with so many schools going to a balanced calendar, the window of opportunity is very small to even hold a Bible School in the summer.
So, what can be done? In my opinion, we have to get out of the traditional five day VBS mindset and start focusing on what might work for our area. There are lots of alternatives if you are willing to make a few changes.
Use an existing service time
If you want to do a program in the summer, but you don't have a full week available, perhaps you could hold your VBS on Sunday Mornings, Sunday Nights, or Wednesday Nights. This doesn't work everywhere, but in some places, simply replacing an existing children's service with special Vacation Bible School Services is a fun way to change things up in the summer.
Pick a different time of year
In my area, because of the balanced school calendar, summer is about 8 weeks long. Four of those weeks are taken up with our District Family Camp, two Teen Camps, and three Children's Camps. One week on either end of the vacation is difficult to plan around because not all the schools begin or end on the same day. That leaves two weeks in the summer and often those weeks are difficult to plan big events around because of all the family vacations that people take. So, why not plan your big event at a different time of year? If you want to do a Vacation Bible School (either three day or five day), why not plan it during part of one of the other longer school breaks. For example, many families in our area travel during part of the Spring Break, but not so much during the Fall Break. And our Fall Break is two weeks long, so there are about 5-7 days that all the schools are out at the same time. For us, it could be a much better time to plan an outreach event.
Try a Sport Camp VBS
I am about as uncoordinated and athletically challenged as they come, but even I was able to pull off leading a Mega Sports Camp. It's totally different from your traditional Bible School in many ways, but there are some great Biblical lessons and in this program that the kids will love. If you want to do Bible School, but want to put a different spin on it, I highly recommend this one.
Do something different
If your town is full of churches, like mine is, there are probably 20 different Bible Schools going on during the summer. So why not plan something totally different? Perhaps a Family Concert or Bazaar. Maybe a Friday night/Saturday family camp out at a nearby lake or park would be well received. You could have a special family service right around the campfire. Look at your area and see what the families enjoy. It will be different everywhere, but if you can plan something really fun, but different than what everyone else is doing, you will automatically stand out.
Don't overload your volunteers
Your volunteers want to help. After all, that is why they volunteer, but be careful that you are not overloading them. If you are seeing that your team is getting pretty tired and are in need of a break, that is NOT the time to add something new to their plate. Part of our jobs as ministers is to take care of those who are working along side us. I read a great book not long ago by Barry Newton called "A Mile In These Shoes." I highly recommend it and there was a quote in it about how we work with others that hit me hard. He said, "If we are reaching the lost at the expense of those we already have, we are not saving the world. We are simply leaving a trail of burnt, broken people in our wake." (pg. 104) Programs and events are great, but if our schedule is so full that we are burning out our volunteers to present them, then the price is just too high. It might be that, for one summer, you don't do a big event so that they can rest and come back refreshed and renewed.
Don't be afraid to fail
Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want you to try something that you know will fail. But don't let the fear of failure prevent you from trying something new. If it doesn't work, you can still learn from the experience. If it does work, you may have just started something that will reach lots of new families in your community for the Lord.
Times continue to change and we have to change with them. But don't be afraid, change can be good...and the right change can revitalize your ministry.
Until next week...