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Taking VBS Home

June 28, 2013 — Leave a comment

El Capitan State BeachWhen I was six years old my family lived in a camp ground called El Capitan in Goleta, California.  There were several families who lived there at the time.  Enough that the local school district made the entrance to the campground a bus stop. In 1982 a local church decided to do a VBS for the kids who lived there. I remember very little about the VBS. I don’t remember the games, or the crafts or the music. All I remember was that I went with my friend Ricky. My parents hired his mom to watch my infant sister while they went to work. Ricky’s mom used to dip her pacifier in jalepeno juice and put it in my sister’s mouth.  (Explains a lot–that’s a shout out to my sister.)

The most important thing I remember about that VBS was it was the place I made the decision to follow Jesus. I’m really grateful to the small Baptist church in Goleta for taking VBS outside the walls of the church.

After 15 years of family ministry–I wonder what would have happened if they had invited my family into the process. Would my father have decided to follow Jesus 6 years earlier?

At our church we do a baptism class for kids and their parents. In the class we present the Gospel and what it means to take the first step in following Jesus. Then we send parents home with homework. Their homework is to review what was shared and then pray with their children. Nearly every time we do the class not only do we see children decide to follow Jesus, but sometimes their parents too. We just think parents should be a part of the most important decisions their kids will ever make.  Especially since they are likely to be there for all of the others.

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Acts 16:31-34

Nearly 23 million kids will go to Vacation Bible Schools across the country.  Several million will attend camp. Several million more kids will decide to follow Jesus this summer.  Many of their parents would decide to follow Jesus if we invited them into the process. What would happen if we invited parents into the most important decision their children will ever make?

Five considerations for gauging VBS attendance.

1. The more people you have involved in making the event happen the more kids will come. One, because they bring their own kids and, two, people who are involved are more likely to invite. This why the best VBS programs are whole church events. Get everyone involved no matter how small the task. Even if the only thing a person does is cut shapes out of construction paper, they are much more likely to tell a friend than a person who only receives a flier in the church bulletin.

2. On any given Sunday probably only 1/3 of people who attend your church will be there. However, on Easter and Mother’s Day you will see closer to 3/4 of the people who attend your church show up. It’s also the reason why the Sunday after Easter or Mother’s Day is the most poorly attended service. Everyone who attends once a month came on Easter. VBS is kind of like this. People who are irregular in attendance are more likely to show up to VBS. (This also means that you may not see the fruit of VBS the week after it is over but over the few months after VBS) So if you have been able to get the word out to everyone who has ever come to your church that year, you should anticipate seeing about double your Sunday morning children’s attendance–maybe more depending on the next consideration.

3. If your church didn’t do a VBS last year, or it’s been a few years since you have done a VBS, you need to give yourself permission to have a “building” year. People like to be involved in things that are successful. If you haven’t done a VBS in a while, it’s an unknown for a lot of people. It may take the first year to reignite a strong interest in it, or for people to develop the trust to invite their friends. You may even see people inviting their friends after the first day of VBS after they have had a chance to taste the goods, so plan for better attendance each day. In fact, encourage people to invite their friends throughout the VBS week.

4. However many children show up–knock it out of the park. Still have the best small groups, the best crafts, the best skit, the best Bible time. God will honor your efforts to provide the best place to send kids to meet Jesus. And, you will lay a strong foundation for the next year. This is how we doubled from year to year.

5. I also think that God honors outreach efforts when we have created an effective weekly Sunday morning environment that people can go to after VBS. This probably deserves a whole post. Bottomline: Sunday morning should be as good or better than your VBS program. If it isn’t, maybe you should start with Sunday morning.

In my last post I promised some best practices for charging a registration fee for Vacation Bible School.

Here are my TOP 6:

1. Make sure that paying is not an obstacle for anyone by offering scholarships.

2. Make it a policy that no one will ever be turned away because they can’t afford it.

3. Alert your church and volunteers to listen for people that cannot afford VBS, but might not tell you.  In other words employ several “narks with love” who will rat out the people who may really be considering not attending for financial reasons.  Then let those families know, in a discreet, honoring way that they don’t need to pay the registration fee.

4. Make the fee nominal. Our fees never covered the total expense. And you certainly don’t want people to feel that the church is making money off of VBS–unless you are supporting a worthy cause–like sending supplies to children in Haiti. I wouldn’t recommend making VBS a fundraiser for a church building, or even your own children’s ministry, make it outsider focused. Support the local rescue mission or crisis pregnancy center.

5. Have a family rate in addition to individual rates (i.e. $10 per kid, $30 for family of 3 or more)

6. Use charging as a way to incentivize outreach.  We all talk about VBS as an outreach, but do we really know how many unchurched kids we are really reaching?  Incentivize reaching out. (Yes, I know that incentivize sounds  . . . well like . . . marketing language–but do it any way.)  Put some teeth in your systems.  I feel another post coming on.  Here are a few ways to put some teeth in your systems: Consider discounting or “free admission” for the unchurched friend who is invited by a church member.  Or, only allow church members register for VBS if they co-register a friend they invited.  I think Craig Jutila implemented this during their summer camps(VBS) at Saddleback.

Anyone else have some best practices?

Nothing can put you in hot water with people in your church like deciding to charge a registration fee for VBS. Except maybe roping off the back pews. Here’s a short list of the things that I have been called: unloving, uncaring, exclusive. Basically the same things you might get called when trying to change the color of the carpet in the auditorium.

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