Editor’s Note: You can listen to Vicki Hulsey and Donna Blaydes discuss Vacation Bible School and Backyard Kids Clubs during Episode 9 of Radio B&R, the official news podcast of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
National statistics show that 25 percent of all baptisms reported by Southern Baptist Convention churches are a result of Vacation Bible School, said Vicki Hulsey, childhood specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“That’s very strong evidence that Vacation Bible School still works and that it’s one of the strongest, if not the strongest, evangelistic arms of the church,” she said.
Churches all across Tennessee will be conducting Vacation Bible School starting this week and continuing throughout the summer. Some will be of the traditional variety, but many churches are finding that the “day of putting a sign up in the yard” inviting kids to VBS doesn’t work anymore, said Donna Blaydes, preschool and Bible drill specialist for the TBMB.
Blaydes observed that Backyard Kids Clubs are changing the way some churches approach VBS. A Backyard Kids Club takes VBS outside the walls of the church into communities, she said. As a result, there are larger numbers of unchurched children who attend, she continued.
Like VBS, Backyard Kids Club is not a new concept. They have been around for years, Hulsey said, but they were used more as a one-time only event in mobile home parks or apartment complexes. As a result, no lasting relationships were built, she observed.
Churches that use Backyard Kids Club as a Vacation Bible School normally go into the same neighborhoods year after year, Hulsey said. “We see a difference when you go back to the same location over and over again.” In addition, you are reaching your own communities, she stressed.
Hulsey, a member of Hermitage Hills Baptist Church, Hermitage, speaks from experience. Several years ago HHBC thought they were doing a great job with VBS only to discover through research that there were “thousands of kids in our community that not only did not go to our VBS, but they weren’t going to any other VBS either.
“We realized we could not continue doing it the way we were doing it.” As a result the church held several Backyard Kids Clubs that year including one at her own house, she said. “I realized I had to find a way to impact my Jerusalem.” Nine years later, she is still doing them.
And, it does not have to be VBS or Backyard Kids Club, added Blaydes, who also serves as children’s minister for New Hopewell Baptist Church in Knoxville. It can be both. She said New Hopewell Baptist offers a traditional VBS at the church and conducts Backyard Kids Club in the community.
Taking VBS into the communities through the clubs helps build relationships that lead to other witnessing and ministry opportunities, the two women agreed. “Kids will come ring my doorbell to introduce me to a new kid in the neighborhood,” Hulsey said.
Through the years Hulsey began to realize that though she had built relationships with the children and their parents, it was still difficult to get them to attend the church for even special events like a fall festival. So she began to plan other special events throughout the year such as a cookout and holiday parties. Relationships that are built in these settings lead the people to contact her when they have prayer needs. That, in turn, can lead to ministry and witnessing opportunities, Hulsey said.
Regardless of whether a church does traditional VBS, Backyard Kids Club, or a combination of both, followup is imperative, both women agreed.
Blaydes said that at her church followup actually begins at registration. When the children register, parents also register, she said. “We need to make sure that we have the information we need to be able to get back in contact with these parents.
“We can begin to build relationships. Having their children in VBS for a week opens the door to that home,” Blaydes said.
Followup has to be intentional, she added. “Contacting and building relationships with those parents has to be part of your process to the extent that you plan and you enlist workers to greet them in the parking lot and take them to the registration table or classroom,” Blaydes said.
“We can’t forget them. We have to develop that relationship because that’s what’s going to help us continue their connection with our church,” she added.