By Lonnie Wilkey
Editor, Baptist and Reflector
Despite its record of success, some churches view VBS as an outdated tool of evangelism and are “abandoning one of the best conduits for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with future generations,” observed Vicki Hulsey, childhood specialist for the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board.
Hulsey acknowledged that while VBS is an older ministry that has been tweaked and tweaked numerous times in order to connect with new generations, it is hard to dispute VBS’s effectiveness.
“Southern Baptist churches, including those in Tennessee, continue to report that 25 percent of baptisms come from Vacation Bible School. Those kinds of results scream that VBS continues to be worth the investments of time, money and resources,” she said.
In 2017, more than 65,000 salvation decisions were reported throughout the convention, Hulsey added.
Because of statistics such as those, VBS is a high priority within the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board. “VBS is by far one of the most effective tools in reaching children and youth with the gospel,” affirmed Randy C. Davis, president and executive director of the TBMB. “Equipping TBC churches for this important ministry is a high priority of our specialists at the TBMB,” he stressed.
Hulsey observed that the impact of VBS goes far beyond evangelism numbers. VBS also strengthens discipleship, she added.
“Research has shown that of those surveyed, 88 percent of Americans who attended VBS growing up said: ‘Participating in Vacation Bible School as a child helped me better understand the Bible.’
“With biblical literacy at an all-time low, Vacation Bible School provides an opportunity like no other time on the church calendar to help kids learn about God and grow in His Word,” Hulsey said.
She observed that research reveals that a child who is typically involved in church may only attend once or twice a month.
“A typical VBS consists of five consecutive days for two-and-a-half to three hours a day. When you do the math, VBS results in 12-15 hours of intense discipleship with the gospel being shared every single day,” she said.
“The relationships built over an entire week, combined with the repetition of Scripture and Bible truths, increases the opportunity for kids to not only hear God’s Word, but to memorize it, understand it, and to learn how to apply it in their own lives.”
Is Vacation Bible School still worth the effort it takes for churches each and every single year? Hulsey would say yes without any reservations.
And so does Jana Magruder, director of LifeWay Kids with LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville.
In an introduction to It’s Worth It: Uncovering How One Week Can Transform Your Church, written by Landry Holmes and published by LifeWay, Magruder observes that many in ministry may be asking if VBS is worth it.
“After all, it takes an army of volunteers, a chunk of your budget, and an endless supply of energy and planning,” she observed.
“It’s an important question to wrestle with as we all seek to be good stewards of our time and resources,” she wrote in the introduction. She encouraged people to read Holmes’ book and judge for themselves.
As for Holmes, he definitely is a staunch supporter of VBS. “Why?” “Because VBS is the one week that mobilizes the entire church to reach the community with the gospel, while simultaneously providing a unique discipleship experience for the individual child and the volunteer,” he wrote in the book (p. 31).
Holmes concluded that “VBS is not a program to save, it’s a ministry tool with a future.”
Clay Halllmark, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lexington, and president of the board of directors of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, staunchly supports VBS.
“Each and every year Vacation Bible School proves itself as perhaps the most effective evangelism tool across our convention. This is a week when parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles drive their children to the doorstep of a Baptist church with the sole purpose of allowing us to teach them all we can teach them about Jesus in five days,” he said.
Hallmark also observed that VBS “gives us the opportunity to be intentionally evangelistic with every older child to make sure he or she understands just how much Jesus loves them and how they can have a personal relationship with Him.
“As pastors and church leaders, we must have a clearly detailed strategy for sharing the gospel, giving a clear evangelistic invitation, and for follow up with every child who makes a life-changing decision for Jesus Christ.
At First Baptist Lexington, Vacation Bible School is a church-wide priority of prayer, personnel, and resources, Hallmark said. He noted preparations for VBS begins eight to nine months in advance “to guarantee that every leader is thoroughly trained, every lesson is prepared and the theme connects the gospel with every child.
“As the pastor of FBC, one of the things I enjoy most is getting the opportunity to stand in front of every family at VBS family night and share with them the good news of Jesus.
Being able to share Jesus with parents and grandparents at family night is perhaps one of the most effective opportunities we have for evangelism throughout the entire year,” Hallmark said.
“The church will prioritize whatever the pastor prioritizes. I would challenge every pastor to make Vacation Bible School a priority of your life and your ministry in 2019. Open yourself up to new and exciting possibilities that can come into your own life and into the life of the church as a result of VBS,” he said.