April 23, 2021
Written by Craig Cable, American Church Group of Colorado
If your church is anything like mine, Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a big deal. Not just because it is central to our ministry’s outreach to young families, but because of the important role that VBS plays in the spiritual formation of children. According to a 2015 study by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), 63% of the respondents said they accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior between the ages of 4 and 14. If you compare the NAE study to a 2019 Pew Research study measuring the decline of Christianity in the U.S., you will see that millennials, the parents of children that would attend VBS, make up the largest segment of the “religiously unaffiliated” at 40%. The results of this research may suggest that VBS may be one of the ways these religiously disenfranchised families can be reconnected to the local church.
I recently sat down and had a conversation about the future of VBS programs with my friend and former colleague Jody Brolsma. Jody is the VBS Executive Editor/Champion for Group Publishing in Loveland, Colorado, which is one of the leading providers of VBS programming in the U.S.
CRAIG: Looking back at 2020, do you have a sense of how many churches held a VBS?
JODY: Based on my estimations, I think somewhere around 50% of churches did some form of VBS. Overall, I feel like last year caught people off guard. We tried to encourage people to hold off and see what was going to happen as more information became available. I think our VBS directors just didn’t want to do the wrong thing. Even though they could not fathom a summer without VBS, they didn’t want to make a mistake and put children at risk.
CRAIG: Do you have any predictions for the 2021 VBS season?
JODY: We have been surveying people since early 2020. A recent survey revealed that approximately 38% of those surveyed are planning a 100% in-person VBS program this year. Around 35% are planning VBS but haven’t decided if it will be in-person, virtual, or a hybrid of the two. Only 5% of churches are planning a virtual-only experience. I think a lot of the churches that are currently on the fence will make their decision in April or May once they have a better feel for what, if any, restrictions are in place.
CRAIG: What are you hearing from churches?
JODY: I think, for the most part, ministry leaders have cautious optimism. Last year produced a lot of amazing success stories because virtual VBS experiences created opportunities to reach audiences that they would not have been able to reach otherwise. That said, the overwhelming sentiment is that churches want children to experience all that VBS has to offer. The good news is that churches are planning and preparing for what could be one of our biggest years yet.
CRAIG: How has Group prepared for this year?
JODY: Group has modified its VBS programming to accommodate both in-person and virtual experiences. We have modified director’s manuals to afford a lot of flexibility. When it comes to training volunteers, we have put all of the training online to make it more accessible. We have also recorded all of the daily Bible Adventures (stories) so the kids will have a great experience regardless of the setting. Our focus is to provide an amazing VBS experience that could easily adjust to every ministry’s needs.
CRAIG: Beyond general uncertainty, what other challenges are ministries running into?
JODY: I think the biggest challenge centers around the recruitment of volunteers. VBS often draws volunteers from more mature members of the congregation. If you’re wondering how receptive your senior volunteers are to serving this year, we’re finding that the most successful way to gauge their receptivity is to simply ask. With increased vaccinations for at-risk populations, you may find that they’re not only willing to serve, but excited to serve. Another age group that you’ll want to tap in to for volunteers is youth and young adults. We are seeing a lot of interest from our younger people. When it comes to volunteers, it’s important to not cut corners on following safety protocols such as criminal background checks, checking references, the two-adult rule, etc.
*Special Note: Make child safety a priority with these free articles, checklists, guidebooks, and more from Brotherhood Mutual.
CRAIG: Is there anything else that churches need to be prepared for this year?
JODY: For areas that were hardest hit by COVID restrictions, you may find that preschoolers that have been socially isolated for the past year may experience heightened degrees of separation anxiety. For elementary kids, they may be very excited but potentially more distracted. You may also encounter signs of abuse that would have normally been caught in a school setting.
CRAIG: What are some positive things that this year may hold?
JODY: Some positives for this year are that kids have a lot to talk about, so we’re anticipating that kids are going to be highly engaged and ready to rejoin their old friends and meet new friends. We also think that outdoor VBS will provide a much-needed non-screen experience to counteract the screen fatigue that many kids have had to deal with. Another huge positive that we’re seeing in the area of children’s ministry is that fewer kids coming into our classrooms are creating greater opportunities to know these children on a deeper, more personal level.
CRAIG: Do you have any final recommendations?
JODY: This year is a great year to connect with other churches in your area that are offering VBS. Whether that is meeting with another church down the street or connecting on social media, find out how they’re navigating challenges and look for ways to work together. I think the key for this year is to be flexible and have a “can-do” attitude. We are truly all in this together!
If you would like to know more about Group’s VBS or any other ministry resources that Group offers, visit http://www.group.com.
Our agency has the privilege of serving more than 1,800 ministries across Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and the Dakotas. Whether you operate a church, school, camp, or related ministry, please know that our love, care, and commitment to your ministry goes far beyond simply being your insurance provider. We consider ourselves your partner in ministry and want to be your resource for the unique challenges your ministry may be facing. Please feel free to contact me at CCable@AmericanChurchGroup.com or 303-590-9657.
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National Association of Evangelicals. https://www.nae.net/when-americans-become-christians/?inf_contact_key=3fe6d503a91e14eb09034cd02b6b233081cb00e0c63e6f917e88c5746d3481dd
Pew Research. https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/
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