By Ashley Perham
Baptist and Reflector
FRANKLIN — Confetti poppers, bulldozers and science experiments are just three of the ways Tennessee Baptist churches are engaging children involved in virtual Vacation Bible Schools this summer.
Rather than calling off this annual summer outreach event due to concerns about COVID-19, many Tennessee Baptist churches are hosting some form of VBS online.
All eight campuses of Brentwood Baptist Church are participating in a three-day video VBS July 13-15. However, the videos will be available for families until the end of July so that families can work around their summer plans at their own convenience, said Taylor Johnson, children’s minister of the Church at Station Hill campus.
“We’re calling it ‘VBS Go’ with the idea that VBS has left the building and is now going to be in homes and communities,” he said.
The church is giving families VBS packets with activities and games for each child involved in VBS. Johnson said the packets could also be used by families as a neighborhood outreach.
“They are designed in a way that they can be done as a family in your living room or your playroom if families are hesitant to have people into their home or into their backyard,” Johnson said. “But it’s also designed in a way that if they want to invite their neighborhood kids and families over, it also could be done like that.”
First Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, is using a similar hybrid model. Along with online Bible teaching and music videos, they will be hosting five different Backyard Kids Clubs in Mount Juliet and Lebanon each morning of their VBS.
Chilhowee Hills Baptist Church, Knoxville, has gotten creative with the packets they are sending home with families for their virtual VBS.
“We feel like right now everyone is probably videoed out, zoomed out, just tired of online teaching, and so we were like ‘How can we make the worship rally something that they are going to look forward to?’ ” said Wendy Johnston, children’s minister.
The VBS boxes will include confetti poppers that kids can use every morning during the live worship rally.
“We wanted them excited every morning to get up and do VBS,” Johnston said.
Johnston said her goal is to make the VBS beneficial and easy for parents already inundated with helping their children with online schoolwork. Chilhowee Hills has prepared gifts to give the parents, especially guests, after VBS.
“Our desire is to be able to come alongside our parents and to help them teach,” she said.
Friendship Community Church, Mount Juliet, made 200 similar student VBS kits for their community. So many people registered for their virtual VBS, there was a waiting list for student kits, said Teresa Snyder, children’s minister.
The church generously gave so that the kits could be a gift to the community, Snyder said. They include a CD, science experiments to go along with the videos and certificates for the end of the week, among other items.
Friendship, which is sharing their VBS videos with churches that cannot host a virtual VBS, actually moved their VBS date earlier to June 1-5.
“We had intended to do this Vacation Bible School, but we felt like with the message of hope and the power of Jesus that we needed to get this message out to families as soon as possible,” Snyder said.
Victory Baptist Church, Mount Juliet, is using their VBS packet pick-up day as a mission opportunity. Families can bring food items to donate to the church food bank, said Kyle Clifton, children’s pastor. The drive-through event will also have a construction site complete with bulldozers for kids to watch.
Victory’s virtual VBS will have five different age levels of lessons for families to choose from.
Many children’s ministers said they thought virtual VBS could be a way to reach families in the community, as opposed to just their children.
“We have found that the virtual Vacation Bible School is a blessing because we’re actually now reaching the parents that maybe wouldn’t have heard the message. And teenagers and even preschool siblings so it’s really turned into a Vacation Bible School for families,” said Snyder.
Johnson pointed out that virtual VBS has the potential to reach more kids than a traditional model because it is online and can be done anywhere at any time.
“Even though our summer looks drastically different from what we are used to, VBS is the largest outreach that our church does,” said Melissa Deuermeyer, children’s ministry director, Trinity Baptist Church, Manchester. “We hope that instead of having kids in our building excited about worship, crafts, and Bible study, we pray that this will engage families all across our community.”
Johnston also said VBS is Chilhowee Hills’s largest outreach for kids.
“We’ve got kids that this is the only time that they come into our church doors, and we just felt like that this was just one of those things that we have to do if we’re going to reach out to our kids and families,” she said.
Johnston, and several other children’s ministers, advised churches doing virtual VBS to think outside the box.
“What worked on campus is not necessarily what is going to be the same as we do a virtual VBS,” she said.
David Love is the children’s ministry director at First Baptist Mount Juliet, which was affected by the March F3 tornado.
“Pandemics and everything going on, (and the) tornado. It’s taught us that we have to be very agile in ministry,” he said. “We can’t be set in our ways just because we’ve always done it that way … Just be open to the Holy Spirit leading you to do new things.”
Snyder encouraged churches not to cancel VBS if they can.
“I would say it doesn’t have to be done perfectly. We just need to be faithful to use the tools we have and give the gospel,” she said. B&R