Less than a week from now, our church will be packed with kids and youth – all expecting one of the best weeks of their entire year. At our church, VBS isn’t simply a fun week where kids spend time away from video games and television for a week. Instead, it’s a rock concert, it’s Bible stories brought to life, it’s water slides, crafts, games and time when kids learn that there are people in their lives that love them and there’s a God who created them on purpose and for a purpose. It’s such an amazing experience for kids that we have a handful who travel from out of state in order to spend the week with us. Here’s a quick video of what last year looked like:
When I have a chance to talk with other ministry leaders about why and how our VBS has tripled in size since my friend, Staci Travisano, and I took the helm I often point to three things I think have worked in our favor:
Our Community Trusts our Church
We have a Senior Pastor who believes that our church should function as a resource center for lost and broken families in our surrounding communities. Because of that, we’ve been able to launch after school clubs at local elementary schools that reach out to kids and families who may have never stepped foot onto a church campus before. By bringing our programming to them, and doing so in a way that shows that we care more about those families feeling loved than pushing kids into crisis conversion moments, we’ve built trust in our community.
Now, when a Glenkirk family invites a friend to church or VBS, there’s less hesitation on the part of families who aren’t connected to our church – and that, my friends, is priceless.
Our VBS is Youth Driven, Church Supported
Today, 400 Middle School and High School students will begin arriving for a week of intense training as they prepare to be VBS counselors next week. All in all, they’ll spend around 30 hours getting ready for their chance to lead a group of campers through VBS. Every year, that number grows and I believe that our VBS grows because of it.
If you spend just a few minutes watching Nick or Disney this week, you’ll discover that programming aimed at elementary aged kids is primarily dominated by characters who are in Middle School and High School. I know a ton of 3rd grade boys who are reading the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books – a series that documents a boy’s experiences in Middle School.
By running a VBS that’s Youth Driven, we provide our campers a week in a program that feels like a show you’d watch on the Disney Channel… and we get to talk about Jesus, which is something that makes what we do a little more lasting than Disney.
If you want to get a sense of what our leader roles look like at VBS, check out this post http://westcoastcm.wordpress.com/2009/07/05/to-be-a-leader/
We Keep Unchurched Families in Mind
I cannot stress this idea enough – many VBS programs only pull in churched kids because they only program with churched kids in mind. This philosophy starts from the top of our church – our Senior Pastor is constantly reminding us that what we do is not about us… we run programs and gather as a community in order to show lost people who Jesus is.
This frees us up to do all sorts of cool things.
Our church’s “Sanctuary” is transformed during the weeks leading up to and following VBS. And, I’m not just talking about a backdrop that we purchased from Oriental Trading Company. I’m talking all out transformation – we’ve built pirate ships, castles, science labs, swamps, full-size swinging rope ladders, larger-than life Swiss Family Robinson-esque tree houses – all in order to create a space where kids feel like they’re in a whole new world. Church kids are (sometimes) comfortable in a church’s sanctuary… but, for an unchurched kid, churches often feel a little stuffy. For about a month every summer, our main adult worship space on campus is the least “church-y” room at our church.
We also never assume that kids have heard a Bible story before – we never begin with phrases like, “We all know who Peter was…” because we expect that not everyone knows what we’re talking about. We spend twice as much time playing games than we spend doing any other one thing – because we know that kids like games and don’t spend NEARLY enough time playing outside in the summer.
And we tell our church families, over and over and over, that VBS isn’t just for their kids – it’s for their friends. We have families who are out of town for VBS inviting their friends because they know that it’s an experience that’s been created in order to change lives. And it does.
As much as I can over the next week, I’ll be posting more thoughts and updates on VBS at Glenkirk. It’s one of my favorite seasons of the year – and I can hardly wait.