By Joy Allmond
BIRMINGHAM, Ala.—Is Vacation Bible School (VBS) worth it?
This is the question church leaders around the country ask themselves every year. And it was the theme of the Lifeway Christian Resources breakfast at the 2019 Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Annual Meeting in Birmingham.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Jana Magruder, Lifeway Kids director. “There are months and months of planning and lots of volunteer recruitment effort. It’s an all-hands-on-deck project.
“But I want to challenge you as leaders to think about VBS not as a theme, not as the attractional part, but truly the heart and the why behind VBS.”
One reason why VBS is crucial, said Magruder, is because it’s an “essential tool for evangelism.” Last year, nearly 2.5 million people attended VBS, and there were more than 65,000 reported professions of faith, she said, citing data from the Southern Baptists’ Annual Church Profile (ACP).
Another reason VBS matters, said Magruder, citing approximately 160,000 reported church membership prospects resulting from VBS last year, is because it’s an effective community outreach.
“The community outreach of VBS is essential as we’re spreading the gospel,” she said. “It’s a great way to throw open the doors of our churches or go out into the community and do VBS. And there’s not one right way to do VBS.”
Breakfast attendees Frank and Sherri Pomeroy of First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, have been reaching their community through VBS for nearly two decades.
But in November 2017, when a gunman took the lives of 26 of their church members—many of them on the core VBS leadership team each year—they questioned whether they would even host a VBS in 2018.
In the end, they realized they had to do it. They needed to reach their community more than ever. And they needed to help them heal.
“You could feel the Spirit moving in these kids,” said Frank Pomeroy in a video presented during the breakfast. “But I would even venture to say [the 2018] VBS was more for the adults of Sutherland Springs than for the kids.”
Another reason Lifeway leaders say VBS is essential is because it’s a means to reach the nations with the gospel.
Craig Featherstone, director of Lifeway’s global ministry, said more than 160 countries—including Mexico, Venezuela and India—have been reached with Lifeway VBS curriculum. And in India alone, Lifeway is on target to reach more than 10,000 churches.
“It’s amazing what the Lord is doing,” said Featherstone.
“As we travel around the world, we see the Lord bringing His hand of favor in Kingdom friendship with places around the globe. And VBS is at the center of so much of His blessing of our global work.”
Featherstone added that Lifeway’s global ministry is on pace to reach more than 1 million children with biblical content around the world.
But in any context, would kids still show up for VBS? Lifeway Research Executive Director Scott McConnell said the numbers from a recent study on VBS’ influence on Americans speak for themselves.
Some of the findings include:
- Half the kids who attend VBS in the average church don’t even attend that church.
- Six in 10 American adults attended VBS when they were growing up.
- Of the adults who attended VBS, 55% attended multiple times, sometimes in the same year.
- Nine in 10 have positive memories of VBS.
- Eight in 10 of those who attended VBS say attending VBS was a highlight of their childhood.
- Of the 4 in 10 who didn’t attend VBS as a child, a majority have a positive view of VBS.
- Sixty-nine percent of parents—regardless of religion—said they would encourage their child to attend VBS at church if they were invited by a friend.
“Even if you have only a few kids, if you look like the average church, you’ll likely have twice as many kids at VBS as you do in the congregation,” said McConnell.
“Are other churches in your area reaching all the kids in the community? If, by God’s grace, they are, join them in that effort.”
Lifeway also recognized Dr. Ralph Neighbour Jr., author of “Survival Kit for New Believers” on the 40th anniversary of its publication.
Acting CEO Brad Waggoner shared an update on the future of the organization. He also pointed to the importance of providing a safe place for children to hear the gospel. “The more we have our churches and leaders get on the front side of this,” Waggoner said, “the more momentum we can gain.”
Lifeway has partnered with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and the SBC’s Sexual Abuse Advisory Group to provide the “Becoming a Church that Cares Well for the Abused” available at ChurchCares.com.
“We’re here to come alongside of you and assist you in your mission of making disciples,” Waggoner said. “And we want to do that in every way possible.”
Joy Allmond is a writer for Lifeway Christian Resources.