[Ministry Spotlight] Vacation Bible School

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“Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.” Deuteronomy 11:19-20   

Contributing to the spiritual growth of kids takes a commitment of time and an investment of energy. The writer of Deuteronomy emphasized the importance of communicating spiritual truths during ordinary daily (kid) things. Doesn’t that sound a lot like VBS? Talking about biblical truths while you play games and when you sit down to have a snack. While you sing songs and when you make crafts. (Am I the only one who reads “write them on the doorposts of your house” and sees a multitude of refrigerator magnets?)   

Vacation Bible School (or Daily Bible School or a summer opportunity for kids by a myriad of names) was the direct result of adults who saw kids who needed to know about Jesus and the life-changing truths in God’s Word. You may have heard of Virginia Hawes who, in 1898, recognized this need for kids on the East Side of New York City. She also realized that many of the kids who needed to know about God would never trek across town to a church building. So, she found space to meet with them in their neighborhood. The space was a beer parlor that was available during the day. Virginia saw it as an opportunity and a summer effort to teach kids about Jesus began.   

About three years after Virginia began her “Daily Vacation Bible School,” the baton was taken up by Robert G. Boville and, during the next twelve years, Vacation Bible School grew from five schools to dozens with over 50,000 kids enrolled. This fantastic idea spread into Canada, China, Japan, and countries around the world.   

Fast forward a few years and a few hundred miles south to Washington, Georgia. A young pastor by the name of Homer Grice heard about this growing VBS trend. He and his wife, Ethel, looked at their church’s new education building and knew their space and VBS were a perfect combination to reach the kids in their community. They held their first VBS in 1922. Grice learned by doing and in 1924 the Baptist Sunday School Board (now Lifeway) hired Grice to envision and develop resources that would help a growing number of churches reach the kids in their own towns and cities with the gospel message through Vacation Bible School.   

Times have changed, but many of us share the same burden Virginia, Homer, and countless others have experienced. We feel the same deep sense of passion when we think about the kids we know and the world these kids are growing up in. A lot has changed since Virginia’s beer parlor day school to the educational space at Homer’s Georgia church to the myriad of styles, locations, and congregations of our churches. But those of us in kids ministry still look at the kids we know and think, “How can we help them know Jesus? How can we share the gospel with them?”   

Vacation Bible School continues to be the largest church-wide effort that focuses significantly on kids. It is an opportunity to create a sense of togetherness as everyone in the church can find a place to contribute–from decorations, to food, to teaching, to playing games, to security, to prayer support. A huge bonus is the amount of concentrated time we have with the kids who attend. Think about how many hours of biblical education and spiritual guidance the average kid in your ministry has in a month. Regardless of what you offer (one, two, or three hours a week), how much does the average kid attend? How long does it take to add up to the 12 to 15 hours that kids will have in one week of Vacation Bible School? And, because the VBS hours are consecutive, understanding and retention is increased.   

As one kids ministry leader said, “VBS is unique in that it provides a concentrated dose of biblical teaching to our own children, as well as the opportunity to reach the lost in our community with the gospel of Christ. As someone who has a heart for reaching children, VBS is like the Super Bowl of children’s ministry events.”   

The heartbeat of VBS is shared by people across the decades and around the world who know the joy of a relationship with Jesus and burn with a desire to share that joy with kids and their families. It is a place kids can enjoy being kids while hearing that God, and the adults who tell them about God, love them and want them to know about Him.   

The psalmist emphasized the importance of passing on spiritual knowledge to kids. “We … will tell a future generation the praiseworthy acts of the Lord, his might, and the wonderous works he has performed. So that a future generation – children yet to be born – might know. They were to rise and tell their children so that they might put their confidence in God.” (Psalm 78:4,6-7)   

This article was written by Rhonda Vancleave and originally published at Lifeway.com.

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