June is traditionally Vacation Bible School season, but with the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, VBS is looking a lot different in 2020. In this episode, we are joined by TBMB children’s ministry specialists Vicki Hulsey and Donna Blaydes to discuss how VBS is being approached this year.
Vicki Hulsey: We’re seeing four main ways that people are looking at. One, the traditional VBS, virtual VBS neighborhood VBS, and then alternate schedules, whether it may be one day VBS on a Saturday or a weekend or delaying into fall break. We’ve even got one church that’s doing Christmas break. So that’s a lot of ways, but there are still some church situations that none of that fits.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome into this edition of Radio B&R. I’m your host, Chris Turner, director of communications at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. And today we’re talking all things VBS and children’s ministries and churches. Our guests today are both childhood ministry specialists with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. We have Vicki Hulsey and Donna Blaydes. Y’all, thanks so much for being with us.
Vicki Hulsey: We’re glad to be here.
Donna Blaydes: Excited to be here today.
Chris Turner: Well, this obviously is a season that you guys would be raring to go and out there and helping churches and really, really driving VBS. June is traditionally and historically a big VBS month for churches across the state. But unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic this year, things are looking a lot different for churches, and that’s kind of what we want to talk about. I think where we want to start though is you guys have been involved with VBS for years and years and see the importance of it. But just talk a little bit about what VBS means to a church and the impact that it can have, not only in the church, but in the community where that church is hosting a VBS.
Vicki Hulsey: Well, our churches, many of them look at VBS as their main evangelistic event, if you want to call it an event, for the year, their main strategy for the year. And even when we have seen baptisms decline both statewide and nationally, that has not happened with VBS. VBS, we’re still seeing 25% of baptisms across the SBC coming through Vacation Bible School. So that’s something that has been on the hearts and minds of our churches from the time this all started. That’s been one of the concerns because we can’t see that stop. We’ve got to figure out how not just if we do VBS, but how we do VBS. That’s the most important thing.
Donna Blaydes: Well, one thing I love about VBS is the way it brings the church together, because you oftentimes have certain people who are consistent volunteers in your children’s ministry, but when VBS comes around, it becomes all hands on deck. And your senior adults find a way that they can plug in, your teams oftentimes find a way that they can plug in. And it becomes a church family focus, which really helps the community to see that this is really, really important to us because it’s not just a few people that are handling Vacation Bible School, it is the church.
Chris Turner: Yeah. And as you guys, I’m sure you’ve talked to churches and children’s ministers across the state. I’m sure some of them are struggling with just this being a big time for them and really this being an opportunity for children’s ministry to shine and in many way lead the churches. How are some of them dealing with this? Are there still churches that are going to be able to do an in person versus a virtual type of VBS?
Vicki Hulsey: There are some that are doing that. Most of those are smaller churches because they have a better opportunity to be able to do more social distancing. Although we do have one of our larger churches in East Tennessee that is still planning to do a traditional VBS, but they’re just taking a lot of precautions and setting up some things differently than they would have in the past to make sure that it’s safe.
Chris Turner: Are there some, maybe a couple of just general things that churches, if they are going to do an in-person VBS, that they really need to keep in mind with the way that they’re going to execute that from just a very practical standpoint?
Vicki Hulsey: Well, one of the things would be just from the get go thinking about your leadership because many of our churches, especially our smaller churches, they may have that their leadership is all in the senior adult category, or at least the majority of them are, which fall into that at risk category. And so some of them, that’s the first thing they’re having to look at is what are we, and that’s not just VBS, that’s children’s ministry across the board, is how we’re going to make that happen because we may have to have a leadership shift in that.
Donna Blaydes: And as we have that leadership shift, we have to do so with grace, for our senior adults because we want them to know, above anything, that they are valued, they are loved, they are needed, and then this is just a season in time when we’re asking them to care for themselves, and to make sure that they are able to continue to serve, and that we are not in any way saying to them, “Your time of service is done,” because we couldn’t do it without them. So we’re having to find ways to include them, maybe in other avenues of VBS where they’re not physically present for those that are doing it on traditional ways.
Chris Turner: Yeah. I would imagine like craft prep and some other things that they might be able to help with. It was also just-
Vicki Hulsey: [crosstalk 00:05:48] is huge too.
Chris Turner: Yeah, I was also just thinking about how many of those folks give a kid a hug, and not only receive that hug and enjoy being able to do that, but especially for those older adults. Man, it’s like having a bunch of little grandkids running around and just that affirming hug that they give a kid and maybe just show some love to that child, unfortunately not really going to be able to do that this year.
Donna Blaydes: And kids have no boundaries, so they are not going to understand why they’re not getting those hugs and those personal touches from the people.
Chris Turner: Yeah, it’s going to be tough. So it sounds like just some of those practical things that we’ve been saying about washing hands, which be challenging with children, and those other things. But then we kind of shift to the other side and there’s all those churches that are now going to do something virtual through some medium. Just talk a little bit about, first, what VBS even looks like from a virtual standpoint, how in the world do you do a virtual VBS? And we’ll talk a little bit about the logistics behind that.
Donna Blaydes: Well, I’m excited about virtual VBS. Actually this year, the church where I’m a member, that is how we are handling VBS. And so they have been, for a couple of weeks now, videoing Bible lessons where they’ve had people come in and actually teach the Bible truths. I’m going tomorrow to video music rotation. They’re adding missions into the worship rally. So things that can be put on our platforms such as YouTube, that parents can utilize, but that they can actually participate with their kids is exciting. But one thing we’re doing, we’re doing actually a live stream of our worship rally every morning, and then everything else has been pre-videoed so that they can go and do that at the time. Of course, a lot of stream they can do at a later time, but it will be available live streamed at nine o’clock each morning of VBS. And so it’s kind of a mixture of using technology, but actually having the materials in the hands of the people.
Chris Turner: Yeah, it’s still very much a way to incorporate and include parents in that morning. That morning getting ready time, that opening sessions.
Donna Blaydes: Without overwhelming parents.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Vicki Hulsey: Probably more including parents than we ever have before when it comes to virtual VBS, because they’re a part of getting the kids on there. And I’ve seen some of our churches, in fact, a couple of them started today that I know of, and they very much geared at and encouraged parents to be involved. One of them even has a challenge to families of things to do. Some of these churches are preparing boxes that they have a drive-through where the families can come and pick up the box for their children. Each child has a box that has, even the down to snacks, they have snacks put in the box, they have craft supplies, they have teaching pictures, those kinds of things. So they have things that they actually will have in their hand, even though they are not physically in the classroom with the teacher.
Donna Blaydes: And the challenge that that’s presenting is advanced registration.
Vicki Hulsey: Yeah.
Donna Blaydes: Because they are needing to know who’s going to be needing the materials. We’re doing the same thing. We are providing the boxes that have those materials, and so we have a deadline of the day to register for next week’s VBS, which typically we would not have that type of deadline for traditional VBS. Now, they can participate in anything if they don’t register by the day, it’s just that the box of materials will not be available. So it’s making parents even rethink their approach to VBS. So they’re having to plan ahead and get registered so those materials are available.
Chris Turner: Yeah. So we’ve got churches on all ends of the technology continuum here. What are some of the ways, the delivery ways, through technology that some of the churches are doing? I know some of the ones are like larger churches or big productions and all those kinds of things, but what are things that churches are doing to deliver a virtual VBS?
Vicki Hulsey: Some are doing platforms like Zoom and YouTube, that kind of thing. Some of our smaller churches that don’t feel like they have the capability of doing some of those things are actually partnering with churches that do have that. And so they could still provide the boxes to their kids, but they might not have been able to tape the sessions and the worship rallies and that kind of thing. But churches can combine with those kinds of things, and so it’s a great effort, I think, of seeing our churches work together like that.
Chris Turner: Yeah, I was going to say that’s an interesting twist. I had not heard that myself, but you think about even maybe a larger church that could help several smaller churches with that, allow them to participate in their content. But even that smaller church be able to minister directly to their community and their kids and those kinds of things.
Donna Blaydes: And they’ve done that in the past with decorations. A lot of our larger churches have been gracious through the years to share decorations and materials with smaller churches. This is just a new way, a new avenue, to be able to share and to partner together.
Chris Turner: Yeah. So as you kind of think about the virtual VBS, these are so much of what we’ve learned over the past two months, it’s transformed church in so many ways. It’s forced people to think differently about the way they use small groups or way they even do online worship or online ministry. What do you see coming out of this time that may benefit children’s ministers moving forward, whether it’s a future VBS or just children’s ministry full time, year round, minus the pandemic, what are some takeaways that you’re seeing that, that really have come about? Not just over the past couple of months, but as people have really focused in on delivering VBS that churches really could put in their repertoire for ministry moving forward.
Donna Blaydes: [crosstalk 00:12:27] Go ahead, Vicki.
Vicki Hulsey: I was just going to say one of those things that has been most exciting through the past few months has been the involvement of parents and seeing parents actually sitting down and having to be involved in their child’s spiritual growth, which is biblical. That’s something children’s ministers had dreamed of for years, but now they’re actually seeing it happen. And so they’re really trying to figure out ways to make sure that that continues to happen even when they’re back on campus together.
Chris Turner: That’s awesome. Donna, what were you going to add to that?
Donna Blaydes: That same thing, is that we have seen somewhat of a shift where children’s ministers are becoming more about resourcing parents with materials that they can use to help disciple their own children. And it’s been exciting to hear parents share how they led their child to Christ through this pandemic. And we had a child baptized yesterday morning who had become a Christian during this pandemic, that her parents were able to lead her to Christ. And it’s because children’s ministers are resourcing them and not doing that work for them. And so I’m excited to see where it goes from here that. Hopefully that that’s going to continue, that parents are just going to see the value of it and they’re going to continue to help be the primary discipler of their child.
Chris Turner: Well, when you think about the byproduct of that, is the discipleship aspect of the church to that parent because for the parents to be able to teach it, the parent has to know what it is that they’re teaching and be able to be equipped to answer those questions for their child. So we’re kind of getting a double bang here where the church is discipling the parent who’s discipling the child, which is actually really probably the best, equipping the saints for ministry. The parents are being equipped.
Vicki Hulsey: One of the other things with the virtual VBS has kind of gone, I’ve seen some churches take it into one of the other avenues that we’re seeing really strong right now, is neighborhood VBS like a backyard kid’s club. And so more, especially our largest churches, are looking at that model very heavily and because they can’t gather on campus. But one of the things that I have seen over the past couple of weeks are some churches that are giving parents an option of they can do the virtual VBS with their family, or they could use that and invite kids in their neighborhood to come to their home in their backyard, and the parents do the backyard neighborhood VBS kind of thing. Not the church going into the neighborhood, but the parents doing it with their neighbors. And so, what an awesome thing for those kids to see their parents reach out in that way into their neighborhood.
Chris Turner: Yeah. It’s like in my neighborhood, I didn’t know we had this many kids on my street until they were all home. And so, I’ve got a couple of ministers that live around here, so they’ve got some things going. But there is with kids, with parents needing kids to do something right now, and then with kids needing something to do, this goes back to a thing, something you guys have said for a long time, there’s really no reason why a church of any size couldn’t do a VBS or some kind of summer program where kids are discipled, evangelized and those types of things. And it sounds like it just takes an adjustment in thinking more so than anything else, but to just kind of see and think through some of those tools that are available out there.
Vicki Hulsey: And sometimes you’ve really had to think outside the box. We’re seeing four main ways that people are looking at. One, the traditional VBS, virtual VBS, neighborhood VBS, and then alternate schedules, whether it may be a one day VBS on a Saturday or a weekend or delaying into fall break. We’ve even got one church that’s doing Christmas break. And so, that’s a lot of ways, but there are still some church situations that none of that fits. We have one church in Nashville that they bus all of their kids in and they’re from different ethnic backgrounds, and so they’re just, none of these work for them so they’ve really worked to create what they call VBS in a box because virtual, because of the language barrier, wasn’t working for them. And so they had put together some of the coolest things to put in a box to go and deliver to those ethnic communities. So I’m so excited to see churches like that, that don’t give up and they keep looking, what is a way that we can do this, but because we can’t afford not to do it.
Chris Turner: It really sounds like that it comes down to the church’s passion to reach kids in their community and really, by extension, their parents and their community. And VBS has always been a critical way for churches to connect through that type of ministry.
Donna Blaydes: Some have said, I’ve heard comments, “Well, they’ll just be our church kids if we do virtual.” I’ll say for our church, we have a large percentage that have registered that are not church members that have seen that we’re doing virtual VBS. They’re not members necessarily anywhere, or they’ve joined us online during this pandemic time and they’re going to join us for VBS. And so, it’s exciting to see that even though it looks different, it doesn’t mean that the mission and what we can accomplish is going to be totally different, and we can still reach boys and girls for Christ.
Chris Turner: Well, that’s awesome because it really does sound like what I hear you saying is don’t limit the possibility of how the Lord can work through an effort to reach people for Christ, is really what I would sum up.
Vicki Hulsey: One of the things we’ve seen through our churches that have done streaming of their services on Sunday, they’ve been just amazed at how many more people have attended that virtual service than they have when they normally have in-person services. Well, we’re seeing some of the same things with Vacation Bible School. I’ve even had a couple of people from out of state that friends of mine they’ve said, “Hey, is there any way we could attend? My kids could attend one of your church’s virtual VBS because my church is not doing VBS.” I know of another church that they couldn’t go on their mission trip. They have churches that they’ve adopted in other countries that they normally go and do VBS, but they figured out how to connect those two virtually, and so their people in the other countries are actually going to attend virtual VBS. So the reach could be wider than it’s ever been.
Donna Blaydes: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: No, I was talking with a pastor, I don’t know, five or six weeks ago and he said their church is about 130. They’re in a small town over in Eastern Tennessee. And he said that they were forced to move their church online when this whole thing got started. And they had basically an iPhone and we’re doing a very, very elementary. And he said that not only were they reaching people in their community that they’ve been asking to come to church for years who have never donned the doors of the church but were coming and leaving comments on the Facebook about having attended, watched. And then he said, “It dawned on me. Our little church here in Eastern Tennessee can literally, we reach the world to Christ through this opportunity.” So who knows, some of these small churches may have kids from Hong Kong.
Donna Blaydes: That’s right.
Chris Turner: Or Thailand or Africa or something that are wanting to attend their VBS. And boy, wouldn’t that be a great story?
Donna Blaydes: Absolutely. It reminds you of Ephesians 3:20. So it’s, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” And that’s where I think it comes, it’s more than we can imagine.
Vicki Hulsey: And I’ve quoted that through this whole thing, Donna, because I tell people all the time, I can imagine some pretty great things, but if God’s got better than that, cancel my request. I won’t, but he has and I’m just every day, I’m seeing things that I could have never imagined through this time. It’s so exciting.
Chris Turner: The great thing about all of this is that there’s nothing that’s been mentioned that a church couldn’t continue to do on a regular basis, not just for VBS, but should we have to isolate again, if there’s a relapse in the COVID thing or anything like that, churches really are in a position at that point to provide discipleship in a box or to deliver through the technology or something to continue to disciple and help the parents in their church and parents and children in their communities through basically what they’re doing through VBS. So it serves a multipurpose.
Vicki Hulsey: One of the things I think we need to make sure that we don’t overlook those communities that may be don’t have good internet access and that kind of thing because sometimes they say, “Well, we are limited. We can’t do any things. We’re in a rural area so a neighborhood VBS doesn’t work for us. We don’t have good internet connection.” But one of the things I’ve seen even some of those churches do is if another church they know of, that’s doing a virtual VBS, they’re recording that and they can burn that to a CD and take it, deliver it to those homes. So there are ways, we just got to help them figure out how to do that.
Chris Turner: Yeah, it’s awesome. Well, that’s all very exciting. I think what will be exciting is if we come back in August and September, and we’re able to just kind of sit down and do a VBS follow-up, a summary podcast and just talk about some of the great things that have happened and really see that passage from Ephesians just having looked back and seen all the great things that were done in the wake of where we are. So ladies, thanks so much. We’ll definitely be praying for VBS, for churches across our state. And this will just be a great season of harvest for what our churches of all sizes are going to do in their communities.
Donna Blaydes: Thank you so much.
Speaker 4: Thank you for listening to Radio B&R, a podcast production of the Baptist and Reflector, the official news journal of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. This and other episodes can be downloaded at baptistandreflector.org/radioBR. The ministries of the Tennessee Baptist mission board are supported through the cooperative program and gifts received through the golden offering for Tennessee Missions. For more information visit tnbaptist.org.