I was four months old when I attended my first Vacation Bible School. In case you don’t believe me, I have the certificate to prove it. Mounted right next to it in my baby book is a second certificate from exactly twelve months later when I attended my second VBS. That one even has five gold stars for a week of perfect attendance! The summers that followed were filled with all sorts of wonderful, carefree childhood adventures—and every single one of those summers included a VBS.
I grew up in the dark ages before VBS had themes. (Maybe you remember those days too.) So I can’t sing you a theme song. I don’t remember any motions. No crafts survived the decades. I can’t even tell you which Bible verses I memorized during VBS. Instead, what remains are the impressions VBS made on me and my burgeoning faith. I remember teachers who loved me and who made learning fun. I remember being excited to go to church. I remember how I felt when I was chosen to hold the Bible during the pledges of allegiance in the opening assembly. I was so proud to get to carry the Bible because it was “the most important one!”
These memories are important. These experiences are important—not just for me but for all children. They are the foundational bricks of faith development and built upon year after year. These early impressions are critically important to how a child will feel about God, faith, Jesus, the church, and Christians later in life. It’s an important part of our “spiritual upbringing.”
Perhaps you had a similar experience and equally memorable memories. We’re not alone. VBS is a shared experience for a majority of Americans. In fact, a 2018 study by Lifeway Research found that six out of ten Americans attended VBS as a child.1 (Is there anything these days that nearly two-thirds of the entire American adult population have in common, except maybe drinking water?)
VBS isn’t just about fun and games (and crafts and snacks). Its primary purpose is to lead people to experience the life-transforming power of the gospel. When viewed through the lens of the gospel, VBS takes on a renewed purpose. If you can volunteer, I strongly encourage you to find a place to serve in your church’s VBS this summer. It is one hundred percent kingdom work!
I love VBS because it’s unlike anything else my church does all year. Sure there are back-to-school bashes and fall festivals and other fun events throughout the year, but nothing compares to VBS. There’s something special about coming together for several hours every single day for a week. It’s a highlight of summer and something kids will look back on and remember fondly even when they’re grown. And after a year and a half of being isolated from one another, we all are going to need VBS this year. Kids are ready for it. Parents are ready to send their kids to it. (Can I get an amen from all the moms out there?) We’re all craving community, and VBS is the perfect opportunity to come back together again.
Let me paint you a picture of where we are as the church of 2021. Before the pandemic, we witnessed a big culture shift in church attendance. Thirty years ago, it was pretty common for families to be at church three times per week. Now it’s pretty rare for families to be at church three times a month! With that kind of shift, it becomes more difficult to build relationships at church with children and their families. COVID-19 has only magnified the problem. But during VBS, leaders get two to three hours per day with the same kids for five days straight. That kind of face-to-face, relationship-building time might ordinarily take months to accrue during traditional church programming settings. So serving in VBS has never been more important! Kids need to build healthy relationships with Christian adults outside their immediate family. They need to feel loved, valued, listened to, and safe as part of their healthy physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual development. The relationships formed at VBS can be a part of that. And that’s a huge thing!
VBS is unique in that every aspect is intentionally designed to provide opportunities for age-appropriate evangelism. Every activity, every rotation, every song is specially crafted to fit the point of the day, making it possible for every person the child encounters throughout his/her VBS day to “live out” the gospel in front of him/her. That makes every job important. Snack ladies are no longer “just snack ladies.” Recreation leaders are not just responsible for wearing kids out so that they can sit still and listen longer during Bible study. Each point of engagement becomes an opportunity to talk to a child about what the Bible teaches and about what the Holy Spirit might be saying to him or her.
I’m so excited to see what God is going to do this summer through VBS! He never fails to show up and show off. I’ve heard stories of entire families coming to faith in Christ as a result of sending their kids to VBS. I’ve seen grandparents saved on VBS Family Night. I’ve even heard of a church that sent their teenagers to volunteer at the VBS of another church who needed more help—and that entire youth group was saved. I’m telling you, VBS is exciting stuff! Volunteer in yours. Send your kids. Invite your neighbors. You don’t want to miss out on what God is going to do!
What is your VBS story? We’d love to hear it. Share your story in the comments below!
Melita Thomas serves as LifeWay’s VBS and Kids Ministry Specialist. She holds a masters degree in Christian education and is a passionate advocate for children’s ministry in the local church. Melita enjoys teaching kindergartners at her church, spending time with her two wonderful nephews (5- and 8-years-old), and cheering on the Nashville Predators hockey team.
1. Lifeway Research, “Even if They Don’t Go to Church, Americans Still Love VBS,” Lifeway, May 24, 2018, https://lifewayresearch.com/2018/05/24/even-if-they-dont-go-to-church-americans-still-love-vbs/.