I’ll confess – VBS is a struggle for me.
I love working with kids – always have, always will. I get real joy hanging out with them, telling stories, singing songs, forming friendships.
But there’s something about VBS that has always sort of left me baffled.
Why are we doing this? What’s its purpose? Does it succeed in meeting its intended purpose?
**PROCEED WITH CAUTION – Cynicism ahead**
Outreach?: I’ve heard people in congregations I’ve served say, “if we have a really good VBS, maybe we’ll get more kids coming to church.” But that’s never been my experience in VBS from the time I was a kid. When I was a kid, every church kid in town went to multiple VBS programs, while unchurched kids stayed home or went to the local pool or to scout camp. At its best, VBS could succeed in attracting kids to one church from another, failing as an outreach plan but succeeding in perpetuating the membership shuffle.
Christian Education?: others say, “we do VBS so kids can learn more about the Bible.” Fine, but honestly, didn’t the kids just get out of school? Isn’t “no school” the thing they’ve been looking forward to since Christmas? In my experience, the ratio of teaching to behavior management is pretty low. Many kids are far more interested in acting up than sitting through something with “school” in the name. And too often the volunteers’ behavior management strategies are ineffective.
Activity?: some folks operate under the “doing something is better than doing nothing” paradigm. If we don’t have VBS, then it looks like we’re just shutting down. Better to have an ineffective, counterproductive VBS than nothing at all. Is this attitude healthy?
It’s good for the church?: I’ve heard some pastors and active laypersons say, “it doesn’t matter whether we’re reaching any kids. What matters is that our adults are engaging with the kids and young parents in our church family.” I don’t know how it is in your church, but in the places I’ve served I run into an abundance of volunteers who are happy to help in ways that don’t involve working directly with the kids. Getting people to build props and backgrounds, work in the kitchen, donate money and food, design crafts, and clean up – no problem. Getting them to work a teaching station, work on crafts with kids, lead music, and help manage behavior – different story. And (deep cynicism warning) far too often those who sign up with no intention of working directly with children are the ones who are most insistent that we hold VBS and are critical of the way it’s being run by those who are with the kids.
It gives parents of young children a break?: Give ME a break! Again, in my experience It’s usually the parents of young children who are working hardest at VBS.
So if VBS is often ineffective as an outreach program, an education program, and a break for young families, what is it for?
The only reason I can think of is the best one: LOVE.
The one and only purpose of VBS is to communicate to the children of our church and our community that we love them.
We love them even when they don’t pay attention in class. We love them even when their behaviors are difficult to manage. We love them even when they’re more interested in clowning around than in making a doorknob hanger. We love them even when they miss mommy and cry to go home. We love them even when they sing off-key and get the song motions wrong – and even when they do it on purpose.
I think the very best we can hope for at VBS is to give the kids a sense that they are loved. Perhaps one day when they’re older – maybe when they’ve got kids of their own and are looking for a church home – they’ll remember. “That church loved me even when I acted like a turd.”
So this summer, don’t worry about getting through the lessons or getting all the crafts done or getting the songs right. Get the love part right. When you do that, VBS is a success.