Tennessee Baptist churches report salvations
By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — After being limited to virtual meetings and scaled-down gatherings last year because of the pandemic, Vacation Bible School and Backyard Kids Club are back with a bang.
Churches across Tennessee are reporting incredible results from Vacation Bible School, said Vicki Hulsey, childhood specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
“I have never seen as much excitement surrounding VBS as in 2021,” she observed. “The TN Baptist VBS Facebook Group has been full of posts for several weeks from churches excited to once again be in person for VBS.
“By day three of the very first week, the Facebook Group began to be flooded with praise reports of numerous salvation decisions! As each week goes by, God continues to do more than we can ever ask or imagine,” Hulsey said.
She noted that some churches modified their plans for this year by limiting enrollment for in person VBS, while at the same time offering alternatives to allow children to attend virtually or through Backyard Kids Club.
“The Backyard Kids Club training we’ve done over the past five years positioned many churches to shift to Backyard Kids Club when they didn’t feel safe in doing a traditional VBS in 2020. … Many churches saw great value in that model for reaching those who might never enter the doors of a church building. As a result, some churches chose to continue hosting Backyard Kids Clubs in 2021, even when returning to in person VBS,” she related.
Hulsey acknowledged that last year “was so different for most churches, but God still did amazing things through VBS as so many stepped out in creativity to reach their communities through Christ.
“As a result, it has given new life to VBS for many churches. So many have shared they will never again take for granted the ability to have Vacation Bible School.”
In Maury Baptist Association, five churches came together to conduct VBS in the Park, according to Elaine Wells, associational VBS director. The associational VBS team coordinated the event. Wells noted the five churches otherwise would not have had VBS if they had not worked together. There were plenty of workers and each church recruited kids to attend, she noted. The week ended with 67 enrolled with 38 children.
Wells shared that on the first night, it rained and they kept the kids under a shelter. “At first there was a suggestion that we cancel that night, but kids started showing up and I made the decision we were going to teach,” Wells said. “And, that night, two boys prayed with our director of missions (Dale Ledbetter) and expressed interest in being saved. It was a great week and great fellowship among churches after a long year of no contact.”
Ledbetter noted the park VBS was scheduled when COVID-19 was still rampant. He noted some churches then were not considering doing VBS so the association wanted to provide something. As COVID subsided, more churches began to plan VBS. Combined with that and predicted bad weather, “we were bordering on being depressed,” the DOM said.
“We had met the day before, however, and decided if even just one kid showed, we knew it was God’s will for us to put forth the effort just for that one kid. Then the kids showed up and two boys expressed interest in salvation and by the end of the week, it felt like God’s hand had been with us all along,” Ledbetter said.
In addition, Cross Bridges Baptist Church in Columbia held the association’s first ever Backyard Kids Club July 6-8. Final results were not available but 16 children attended the first night and there were eight workers, five youth helpers and three other parents present, said Pam Phillips, the church’s VBS director. Prior to the start of the BKC, she posted, “Well, it’s the night before Backyard Bible VBS is about to start.
“The pop-ups have been popped, prayers have been prayed, lessons have been prepared, games are ready to be played, snacks are ready to be gobbled. That being said, prayers are still appreciated. Not only is this a first for Cross Bridges Baptist Church, this is a first for Maury Baptist Association. We are excited, we are praying for God’s will to be done.”
Other churches and associations across Tennessee reported similar success stories regarding the full return of VBS.
Wendy Johnston, children’s minister at Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church, Knoxville, and associational VBS director for Knox County Association of Baptists, noted the church “really went the extra mile to reach as many families as possible.” Last year the church held virtual VBS. “When we started planning, we weren’t sure what the summer was going to look like, so we offered a virtual option simultaneously with our on-campus VBS,” Truitt said.
“Our leaders went above and beyond with how they put it together. We also hosted a Special Needs VBS for the first time. This year has taught us to think a whole lot differently,” she added.
Hulsey related that VBS turned out to be very successful for Second Baptist Church, Clinton, which was being led by new children’s minister Debbie Stewart who began serving in January. Hulsey shared that Stewart began preparation earlier than usual which turned out to be a blessing because at the time she did not know her husband would require open heart surgery and force her to miss VBS.
Second Baptist ended up with more children and salvations than in years past. “I’ve shared with her that this is evidence of a great leader when the work can continue without the leader being there,” Hulsey said.
During VBS, Stewart posted, “VBS 2021 is in full bloom at Second Baptist, Clinton! We are on day four. We had 23 decisions for Christ and seven who had more questions last night. Been quite a different year for me for sure! My husband had an unexpected quintuplet bypass on Monday and I have been unable to be at VBS!
“What a blessing to see the Lord work through our volunteer leaders. They haven’t missed a beat! While it’s been hard not to be there, it has been sheer joy to see so many step out of their comfort zones and fill the gaps! And the Lord has used them all in a big way for His Kingdom!”
Following are summaries of Facebook posts or texts compiled by Hulsey.
First Baptist Church, Martin: The church reported 231 total kids enrolled, 178 on average, and 29 children asking questions and seeking to know more about a relationship with Christ. In addition, the children raised $2,135 for a mission offering.
Calvary Baptist Church, Oak Ridge: “We wrapped up a great week. Thankful for several new families and at least four salvations,” said Jenice Pearson, children’s minister.
Hillcrest Baptist Church, Lebanon: “Wow, what a week. Thank you to everyone who helped. We averaged almost 400 every day. But the best part is that 43 people got saved last week. We also raised over $2,000 to help the church in St. Vincent to fix their church and continue sharing the gospel,” reported Rachel Presley, children’s minister.
Beulah Baptist Church, Kingsport: VBS director Betty Cress wrote, “In our five-day, COVID-safe VBS, we had three children saved, enrolled 122, had an average attendance of 100 and a missions offering of $569, far exceeding the goal of $50.”
Belle Aire Baptist Church, Murfreesboro: Children’s minister Derek Ervin reported the church had more than 350 children each day with 80 kids indicating they wanted to become followers of Jesus. The church also had more than 200 volunteers who worked to make VBS happen.
First Baptist Church, Cleveland: The church reported 1,215 kids, 37 decisions for Christ and 21 scheduled for baptism at a Family Night event.
As space is available, the B&R will share additional summaries of VBS. Send detailed, but brief, reports to Lonnie Wilkey at firstname.lastname@example.org. B&R
PLEASE REPORT YOUR VBS RESULTS
Before you turn the page on VBS 2021, would you please take 60 seconds to report your VBS? We all need to be encouraged by how God has been at work through VBS this year!
It’s quick and easy!
All you have to do is go to vbs.lifeway.com/churchreports and fill in each of the required fields. Please complete the report regardless of the curriculum used. There is a space for you to list your curriculum publisher. This info helps us to better serve your church and to celebrate what God has done in Tennessee and around the world! I can’t wait to share with you the totals of how many lives were changed for eternity through VBS 2021. — Vicki Hulsey, TBMB childhood specialist