Nine out of 10 children in Tennessee are on course to reach adulthood having no relationship with Christ. VBS and BKC are key ministry opportunities that can change that statistic.
Chris Turner: Hello and welcome into this episode of Radio B&R. I’m your host Chris Turner, director of communications for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and today I’m joined by Donna Blaydes and Vicki Hulsey, children’s and preschool ministry specialists here at the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. We are going to talk about vacation bible school but that’s not all we’re going to talk about. We’re also going to talk about backyard kid clubs so just to kind of jump in here, we’re really excited to have y’all with us. How are some ways in which churches, just the whole VBS and how it might’ve changed over the past few years as you’ve seen that evolve?
Vicki Hulsey: One of the first things that I think about is that I see some folks that think VBS is just old, that that’s something, a program that doesn’t work anymore yet one of the things that we can see that has not changed at all is when we look at national statistics that 25% of the baptisms reported in southern Baptist churches come from vacation bible schools so that is very strong evidence that vacation bible school still works and it’s one of the strongest, if not the strongest evangelistic arm of the church.
Chris Turner: Yeah and you were talking a little bit earlier before we started recording about what is VBS? It changed with backyard kid clubs. Let’s talk a little bit about that, too.
Donna Blaydes: I think one thing that we have seen is the church’s willingness to take vacation bible school outside the walls of the church, understanding that the day of being able to put a sign up in our yard that says, “Vacation bible school, come,” isn’t working anymore and we have to go to them. By doing a backyard kid’s club, which is taking vacation bible school outside the walls of the church into our communities, we are seeing larger numbers of unchurched boys and girls attending on vacation bible school and backyard kid’s clubs.
Chris Turner: How big of a trend is that here in Tennessee? I know with Hilldale Baptist Church up in Clarksville that’s been a trend with them but what are some of the churches and how you see that transitioning?
Vicki Hulsey: One of the first things that we saw in a shift with backyard kid’s club, some people say, “What is backyard kid’s club?” As Donna said, it’s an extension of vacation bible school. It’s taking it outside of the walls of the church but it’s still vacation bible school. One of the things that, for years, you heard backyard bible clubs, in fact as a six-year-old girl I became a Christian in somebody’s backyard so it’s not that backyard bible clubs is a new thing but it’s just different in a way that we’re doing it because in the past churches took mission trips or maybe went to mobile home parks, low income apartment complexes, that kind of thing and they might go one year to this location and not go back again, therefore no relationships were built with those people. With backyard kid’s club what we’re seeing a difference is you go back to the same location over and over and over again but also we’re seeing the trend. It’s to do it in your own community. Ax 18 doesn’t just talk, go the other most parts of the earth but yet that many times is what we’ve focused on and we’ve skipped over our Jerusalem.
Chris Turner: I was going to say, it’s going on a mission trip to your community.
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely. Absolutely. When you ask about some of the churches that have done that one of the first churches that really took off with backyard kid’s club was actually my home church here in Tennessee that I served on staff for many years before I came to Tennessee Baptist Mission Board and that’s Hermitage Hills Baptist Church. We were about to build a new building. We were going to tear down our existing preschool building and build a new building and we were not going to have space that summer to do our VBS which ran over 1,000 bit we wouldn’t have the building space to do that. We were looking at alternatives. What could we do to still be able to have vacation bible school?
That was the year that the economy tanked and so we had really worked. We saw that maybe we could do something like backyard bible clubs so that was a direction we were moving in. We did a lot of demographic research and we were moving in that direction but when the economy tanked we realized that’s not a good time to be asking people for money so we didn’t tear the building down and we didn’t start building a building. We could have just had vacation bible school the same way we had always done it but in that interim period, our staff doing demographic research, we discovered that while we thought we were doing a great job with vacation bible school, we discovered 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 of the other churches either and we realized we could not continue just doing it the way we were doing it. Even though we still had the building to do it that way we chose not to and we went out into the community. We had over 20 backyard kid’s club.
As word began to get out, that was a time when Facebook was becoming really big and so I was posting all about it. I was actually on staff here already when that happened but I was one of the homes that opened up my home for backyard kid’s club. Part of that came from our next door neighbor who met me at the mailbox one day. I’d lived in this community for six years and she met me at the mailbox and she said, “You know, we would really like to get to know you better but,” she said, “You’re gone all the time,” which is true. I travel the state all the time.
Chris Turner: Yes, you do.
Vicki Hulsey: She said, “You’re not here and the way our houses our built we can’t even tell when the lights are on inside the house but when we do happen to see you come home you drive in the driveway, the garage door goes up. You drive in and the garage door goes down.” It was like the lord could have literally slapped me across the face because I realized that I was going all across the state and even in other states telling people how to tell people about Jesus but I was ignoring my own neighbors. We had 108 homes in our subdivision, I knew the names of six families after six years living there. When my church stepped out and said, “We’re going to do backyard kid’s club,” I was the first one to sign up because I realized I’ve got to find a way to impact my Jerusalem.
Chris Turner: It really is missions begins at home.
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely and so that became very important. That was nine summers ago. This is my ninth summer of doing backyard kid’s club but I was very much, at that point, backyard kid’s club was not a part of my childhood work here because that was something that really there hadn’t even been any curriculum for that in years. I began posting about it on Facebook and other churches, knowing that I worked for Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, began to contact me and said, “Hey, can you help me?” We realized we need to get outside of the walls of our church. Clearview Baptist in Franklin was probably the first one to jump aboard and they came on board I think after our second year. They have never looked back. They are going like gang busters with backyard kid’s club.
Maybe a couple of years later, I think it’s been, that Hilldale jumped in and they have very heavily involved. Another church is First Baptist Collierville. They were ones that seen me on Facebook, that kind of thing, and the children’s pastor called and said, “You know, we see the statistic that y’all put out there that says that 10% of the people that attend your VBS are unchurched.” When I first saw that statistic that, to me, it was being used as a statistic of why you should do VBS because you find these unchurched people but for me I was looking at it saying, “This is not a good … ”
Donna Blaydes: Not at 10 percent.
Vicki Hulsey: ” … statistic. If I’m only reaching 10 percent… ”
Chris Turner: That’s right.
Vicki Hulsey: ” … then we’ve got to do something different. This is not working.”
Chris Turner: This is almost like VBS for your church kids.
Vicki Hulsey: Exactly.
Donna Blaydes: Exactly.
Chris Turner: Not VBS for.
Vicki Hulsey: Exactly. To me, that was a total different mindset. The children’s minister at Collierville called me and he said, “You know, I’ve been listening to you the talk about this.” He said, “I went and I’ve gone several years back and looked at our numbers and we, for the past several years, we have only been reaching 4% unchurched.”
Chris Turner: Wow.
Donna Blaydes: 4%.
Vicki Hulsey: He said, “You got to help us change that,” and so I went two different times to Collierville. I sat down first with their entire staff for several hours. I went back and they had a general interest meeting on a Sunday where anybody could come. I really helped them work through that. They did their first year of backyard kid’s club and in one week of doing backyard kid’s club they went from 4 percent unchurched to 40 percent unchurched in one week.
Chris Turner: Wow. Yeah.
Vicki Hulsey: It works. I can tell you in my church we were at the national average. When we started we were at 10 percent unchurched. By year, I believe it was year four, we had moved to 45 percent unchurched and three years ago we had gotten to 75 percent unchurched.
Chris Turner: That’s great.
Vicki Hulsey: I’m not saying don’t do vacation bible school but to add that to it is a wonderful way to raise the…
Chris Turner: That’s what I was going to ask you, Donna. It doesn’t sound like it’s pick one or the other.
Donna Blaydes: No, actually my church is doing both.
Chris Turner: I was going to say you’ve got some churches that are doing both.
Donna Blaydes: Yes. We started to do backyard kid’s club the church I am serving on staff in is the minister of children. We are in a very rural area so we don’t have neighborhoods like Vicki’s community does. We’re very much in a rural area so we brought that and they saw the statistic from Collierville and that really opened their minds to say, “Let’s see if this will work in our area.” The very first year that we did backyard kid’s club we did vacation bible school traditional within our community and within our church building. Then we did a backyard kid’s club in the school park area.
Same curriculum so we found that our kids wanted to do both but they had just done vacation bible school. The next year we did as well, vacation bible school traditional within our church building and backyard kid’s club but we used two different curriculums. We used an old club VBS that Lifeway had that we just had that resource available so that our kids could come to both. We have done in-house as well as doing backyard kid’s club both through the summer.
Chris Turner: Why is it that you think VBS and backyard kid’s club now, as you’ve seen that really start to grow and spread across the state, why have those things really remained important or popular among churches when so many of our other programs that we’re doing, some of those seem to have an expiration date?
Donna Blaydes: I think one thing is that it draws on the heartstrings and our memories as adults from being in vacation bible school, maybe having been saved like Vicki was, accepting Christ in a backyard kid’s club, so we think back to our childhood and how important vacation bible school was in our life so we still want to be involved in that and we want our children to have that memory.
Chris Turner: Vicki, you’ve also mentioned before just about the statistic that when children reach a certain age there’s less receptivity to the gospel and I know that that’s a big part of motivation for continuing VBS is that that statistic’s looming out there and it’s really a longitudinal statistic. History has shown when kids reach a certain age or go off to college there’s just less openness at that point. You’ve really lost an opportunity so obviously VBS is an important [crosstalk 00:12:04].
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely and we’re seeing more than ever before in churches as we are putting emphasis on that and helping churches to see that statistic that you’re talking about helping impress upon them the urgency of reaching this generation now. When we’re looking at trends from previous generations, what we’re seeing right now is if these trends continue, and we pray that they don’t, we pray that the things that we are putting emphasis on right now we will see that along with prayer and god’s movement through us that we will see that change. If it continues, if the trends continue, then what the forecast would be that nine out of 10 of this generation would reach adulthood without knowing Christ.
Chris Turner: We’re really looking at basically being just a few years away from having a whole generation of people that are significantly more spiritually lost than any other generation we’ve had in American history.
Vicki Hulsey: Exactly, not only this generation but their parents as well because what we’re finding is many of their parents also did not grow up, this is the first generation we’ve really seen so heavy that did never go to church at all.
Chris Turner: Yeah. One of the things that Randy Davis or talked about, what our first objective is reaching 50,000 spiritually lost people and setting them on the road to discipleship by 2024. You think, “Wow, 50,000 is a big number,” but the reality of it is, as Randy has talked about, that just keeps up with current population growth but like in middle Tennessee with 100 people a day supposedly moving to this area, 50,000 is not going to be that threshold where we sort of maintain a flat line between those coming to Christ and our population growth. We’re going to start seeing a significant change and really generation Z is already the largest generation.
Donna Blaydes: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: We don’t lack for opportunity here. What we lack for is for getting into that field and really doing VBS and doing backyard kid’s clubs. What are some things that churches could do? Maybe they’ve done a traditional VBS and they really want to take that step out into their community and do a backyard kid club. What are maybe two, three, four things that they really need to keep in mind as they take that step and kind of move to their community?
Vicki Hulsey: Two things that immediately come to mind for me that I’m seeing that churches don’t immediately think of is, number one, what I mentioned earlier about the relationship aspect because in the past when they may have been involved in backyard bible clubs they’ve usually either gone, could be overseas to another country, to a mobile home park, that kind of thing, that they’ve gone the one time and haven’t gone back and one of the things that my pastor challenged us with when we first started out, if we’re going to do this we need to commit to at least three years because we’re never going to know if it really works unless we do it three years and he meant three years in the same place. You go back to that same place because it’s kind of like how I saw it in my own neighborhood. I came to the realization, it’s no different than a foreign missionary because how many times I’ve heard them say they have lived in this country sometimes in a very difficult situation but they lived there for several years sometimes before they saw the first salvation.
Chris Turner: Really moving it to that perspective, it helps people who are going not to so much see people as projects to poach and get some salvations but really looking at it as building a relationship and ministering to those families because I’m sure that there’s opportunities within that context …
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: … over time for the church to minister to families in that community which obviously opens up more opportunity.
Vicki Hulsey: One of the things they have to look at is it’s not just going in for one week and do this and not see these people again till you go back the next year. I had to learn that, my church had to learn that and it took us a couple of years to figure this out but we began to realize we’ve got to do things during the year. I ended up having a cookout at my house and families came. We tried to plug them back into our church for things like fall festival. I live four miles from my church so you would think it would not be too far for me to invite the kids in my neighborhood to come to my church fall festival. Two families was all I ever got to come and finally one of the leaders in my backyard kid’s club looked at me and said, “Okay, they wouldn’t come to our church.”
Donna Blaydes: Let’s bring it to them.
Vicki Hulsey: “We brought VBS to them. Then we’re just going to have to bring a fall festival to your backyard,” and my eyes must’ve jumped out of my face at that point and then I’m like …
Donna Blaydes: What?
Vicki Hulsey: … “Tell me how we’re going to do that.” Next thing you know, come October, full force fall festival in my backyard and they came. After that, they were like, “We can’t stop now,” so we did a happy birthday, Jesus part which had to be inside my house because it was freezing cold. Then Valentine’s come. We did a Valentine’s party and we studied all about the promises of god. We got a big inflatable water slide and we had-
Chris Turner: Not on Valentine’s day.
Vicki Hulsey: Not on Valentine’s, no, but later in the spring kind of thing and one of the neighbors in the community had one of those and they said, “Hey, you’ve got the biggest yard in the community. We don’t have room to test out our water slide and our inflatables. When we get them can we come set them up in your yard?
Chris Turner: Sure.
Vicki Hulsey: I’m like …
Donna Blaydes: Sure.
Vicki Hulsey: … “Absolutely!” By the next year we had kids out the wazoo. Now it’ll be Halloween. Last Halloween a dad came to the door with some kids and he had a lady that I knew was not his wife with him and I thought, “That’s kind of odd,” and all of the sudden he said, “You need to get to know Miss Vicki, you’re going to be coming to her house a lot.” It was his new neighbor.
Chris Turner: Wow. That’s great.
Vicki Hulsey: Kids will come ring my doorbell to introduce me to a new kid in the neighborhood.
Chris Turner: It really is, if people aren’t coming to our churches like they used to it really is that the church needs to go to the people.
Vicki Hulsey: That’s right.
Chris Turner: It’s what we needed to always do because that was the great commission …
Donna Blaydes: Commission.
Chris Turner: … from the very beginning but this really is an example of people may live that close to the church and, for whatever reason, they don’t come but they’re extremely open to being ministered to and hearing the gospel in a context that really meets them on ground where they feel more comfortable.
Vicki Hulsey: They’ll contact me to pray for them or someone in their family.
Chris Turner: Yeah.
Vicki Hulsey: That is one thing, the relationship I think is key.
Donna Blaydes: You can do the same thing when you’re in a schoolyard like we are by being a partner with that school.
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: Oh yeah.
Donna Blaydes: Then the teachers are seeing you, the students are seeing you and you’ve become an investment in the school. Whereas we may not have homes that they can come to for a fall festival but when the school has their fall festival we, as a church …
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely.
Donna Blaydes: … can be actively involved in that so that we can still begin to build those relationships. It’s a little differently dynamic when it’s not in a neighborhood and in a person’s home but you still need to be willing as a church to understand that it goes beyond that one week that summer to investing into the lives of these boys and girls, whether it be in your home or whether it be in their school or their community.
Chris Turner: Really, again, not seeing something as a one-off project and we had our emphasis and it’s time to move on but really see it as investing in ministry.
Vicki Hulsey: The word project goes right in line with the second thing that I was going to say because what I find, even now as I’m talking to churches about doing this, I’m still having to really help them understand we’re talking about reaching your community and your neighbors. What happens is they may think a backyard kid’s club’s a good idea but they’re still trying to go many times into the low income areas. They’re not seeing their neighbors as not knowing Christ. There, with the population, the lost population in Tennessee, I guarantee you you’ve got lost people living on your street.
Chris Turner: Yeah, absolutely.
Vicki Hulsey: Trying to help people understand your neighbors are your responsibility. It’s not just having a project and going and ministering to these kids that don’t have much to eat. Your neighbors that may even be wealthy, they need …
Donna Blaydes: The lord.
Vicki Hulsey: … the lord just as much as those kids that don’t have food on their tables to eat.
Chris Turner: There was a statistic that we had a couple of years ago in our more populated areas, obviously, not out in the countryside but that within one or two square miles of your church there’s more than 2,000 unchurched and unsaved people living there. Obviously that doesn’t translate when you do live in a rural area but in areas that are more populated, even if that doesn’t hold true that the density is such that it is 1,000 people within that one mile, doesn’t change the fact there are a lot of unchurched people that are living within the shadow of the church. We do have this tendency to see ourselves on missions some place else over there wherever there is but we leave our mission field to go to another mission field.
Vicki Hulsey: That’s right.
Chris Turner: There’s nobody coming to our mission field so it’s a great opportunity for churches to have a really, everybody loves kids. Everybody wants the best for their children. Everybody wants their children to have a higher quality of life and so it’s just a natural entrée to be able to have a door to minister to families.
Donna Blaydes: These same things can take place when you have a traditional in-house vacation bible school. It’s just we have to remember it’s about the relationship and we have to understand that it’s all about followup as well. Our followup begins at registration. When those boys and girls register, those parents register, 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 develop relationships. Having their child in vacation bible school in your church for a week opens the door to that home because as a teacher in vacation bible school you can go to that home and that child knows you and you have an instant relationship with that child.
Chris Turner: That’s actually one of the things I was going to ask y’all about is the whole idea of how can churches do better with followup, especially children who make decisions while they’re there? Parents may not have any idea what it means to come to Jesus.
Donna Blaydes: I think you have to be very intentional. When you are beginning your preparation and your planning for vacation bible school or for backyard kid’s club, followup has to be a part of that process. You have to have that in mind. Contacting and building relationship 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 they’re equipped and taught that they need to make contact and personally take that family to the registration table or to the classroom or to the area where your worship rally is depending upon how your church is set up. You have people in your parking lot that are greeting and that are welcoming these families and making a contact with them, inviting them to maybe stay and have a cup of coffee or a Coke and get to talk with them while their child is vacation bible school and their classes.
Chris Turner: It’s funny you should say that. I just recently heard a church planner say, “Salvation begins in the parking lot.”
Donna Blaydes: Yes!
Chris Turner: His point was the way that people are received when they walk onto the property has everything to do with them becoming a little bit more open to hear what’s next, to hear what’s next as long as those doors keep opening and their barriers don’t go up. What you’re saying about just being as organized in the parking lot as what you’re talking about in the classroom …
Donna Blaydes: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: … is critical.
Donna Blaydes: Absolutely because you make contact with that parent and you learn that parent’s name and when they bring them on Tuesday you can call that parent by name or call that child by name. You have made steps in developing a relationship. Then when you get to family night, the celebration time, you invite them to come and sit with you. One greeter can’t do that for all of these boys and girls and families that are coming to your vacation bible school. You have to enlist a team of greeters who are intentional about seeking out the unchurched.
Vicki Hulsey: Those may be people that would never volunteer for your vacation bible school because they think, “I can’t … ”
Donna Blaydes: Can’t teach.
Vicki Hulsey: ” … tell a bible story,” or, “I’m not crafty,” and that kind of thing. They’re great people people. They can go and they can shake hands. They can talk to people. They can write cards. When I do backyard kid’s club I have two ladies that sit at my dining room table all week. They’re older ladies. They can’t be out in the hot sun but they sit in there from day one and they write postcards to every child that are mailed the very next day after the last day of backyard kid’s club and they fill up goody bags that are used in followup with doorstep visits and those kind of things. They’re able to involved even though they can’t be on the ground with kids, that kind of thing.
Donna Blaydes: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: Some of those greet jobs sound like that’s a great job for some of the deacons and …
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: Get in there en to participate. “Oh, I’m not good with kids.” That’s great. You can be good with parents.
Vicki Hulsey: That’s exactly right.
Donna Blaydes: 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. We have, in the past, talked about a prospect list. I like to call it an intentional list. I like to take those names of boys and girls who have attended our vacation bible school, then invite them intentionally in our next activity and intentionally make sure that promotion goes to these people on my intentional list, being those that I know are unchurched. We may not be sure whether they are saved or not but we know they’re not actively involved in a church and so we want to intentionally be about communicating with them and so we keep our intentional list going and that’s where information comes from. They will be invited to next year’s vacation bible school but they will be invited to the events that we have from vacation bible school to vacation bible school as well.
Chris Turner: I know that for y’all personally working with children and seeing them come to the lord is a passion that even if you weren’t part of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board would be very much a part of who you are but it happens that your passion also happens to be part of your job and working with children. It’s not just that we have vacation bible school. You guys are doing stuff throughout the year. What are some opportunities that churches might be able to take advantage of beyond just the summer months that the TBMB might offer that they could be involved with that you guys are a part of?
Vicki Hulsey: Are you talking training?
Chris Turner: Like trainings or I know last year you had the different events for the association but there are opportunities and maybe even individual opportunity that if the church is interested.
Vicki Hulsey: Absolutely.
Chris Turner: What are some of the things that they might be able to be involved with with other churches as far as training?
Vicki Hulsey: As far as training opportunities, consistently every fall and sometimes other times of the year but definitely in the fall we have Sunday school or small group bible study depending how your church uses that terminology and we have training that would include for preschool teachers, children’s teachers, youth teachers, adult teachers, pastors and so we have training specifically for those small group bible study leaders.
Donna Blaydes: That training is not geared towards a particular curriculum so whether they’re actually teaching Sunday school or not, this training would be beneficial to them because it would help them to learn how to work with or how to reach out to preschoolers and children and their families.
Chris Turner: Really they more skill development in ministering to children …
Donna Blaydes: Yes.
Chris Turner: … than any particular let’s work through a bible study [crosstalk 00:30:05].
Vicki Hulsey: Yes. We’ve not done that. It is very principle driven.
Donna Blaydes: Yes.
Chris Turner: Yeah. That’s important.
Vicki Hulsey: It can be used with any curriculum. We also have opportunities for people to be involved as far as Donna is our state bible group coordinator so she works in that area in children and youth and high school bible drill. She can certainly speak to that.
Donna Blaydes: Right. We hah coordinators across the state who are willing to come into churches and to associations and train and teach how to do a bible drill because we know that hiding god’s word in our heart is what is going to develop a love for god. We know that from the book on why they stay, one of the reasons that millennials have said that they have stayed is because of their love for god’s word, the passion they have for it and you fall in love with his word the more you spend time in it. What we are doing is laying a foundation and helping boys and girls understand the importance of hiding god’s word in there heart and learning how to use it, how to find things but memorizing scripture that they can draw on when they have faced times of difficulty that god can use. We have people that can come into churches and to associations to do one on one training with them as well in that area.
Chris Turner: Vicki, how could someone get in touch with you if they have a question about how you might be able to help them? Donna, I’ll get you to also give your contact information but …
Vicki Hulsey: For me, they can email me at VHulsey@TNBaptist.org or they can also contact me by phone, 6-1-5-4-1-7-0-1-0-5. They can ask information in regards to training. There are lots of other training opportunities besides what we’ve already mentioned, some related directly to vacation bible school and backyard kid’s club, helping them to discover the demographics of their community. We can help them with that. We can do personalized consultations so those are opportunities that we can help them with as well.
Chris Turner: There’s a lot of tools that are available to understand your mission field within just a couple of miles of your church. Donna, what’s some way that somebody might be able to get in touch with you?
Donna Blaydes: By email, it’s D Blaydes and that’s firstname.lastname@example.org or my phone number is 8-6-5-8-5-0-0-4-5-5.
Chris Turner: We look forward to a great report this summer with VBS and backyard kid’s clubs that are about to launch off and I really appreciate you taking a little time just to talk to us about children’s ministry as it relates to VBS.
Donna Blaydes: Thanks so much.
Vicki Hulsey: Thanks so much for having us.