In 2020, churches of the Illinois Baptist State Association reported a drastic decline in Vacation Bible School enrollment. Churches saw 73% fewer people participate in VBS due to pandemic-related shutdowns. While some churches pivoted to offer VBS in small modules, in driveways, or online, many were forced to postpone the 2020 version of a beloved, dependable outreach opportunity.
What a great opportunity, then, this summer offers us! There is still time to make 2021 the year of the comeback for VBS at your church. It will look different than in previous years, almost certainly. But let’s not miss the chance we do have to share the gospel with families who desperately need to hear it.
Plus, as LifeWay’s Melita Thomas wrote recently, VBS is an opportunity to reengage people who haven’t yet returned to regular worship attendance. Reach out and ask how they would like to be involved in this year’s VBS, advised Thomas, or mobilize them to invite friends and family who don’t know Jesus.
Still in the planning stages? Consider these ideas:
Weigh your options. Churches may have purchased curriculum last year that went unused when VBS was postponed. Now’s the time to dust off those decorations and ideas. IBSA’s video training on “Concretes and Cranes” (Lifeway’s 2020 curriculum) is available now at IBSA.org/kids. We’re also planning a virtual training event for this year’s Destination Dig on May 8. Materials will be posted after the training event.
Switch it up. Last year was different. This year will be too. Families inside and outside the church may still be hesitant to participate in person. Take VBS outdoors using a backyard Bible club-style model. LifeWay has created a kit to help churches do just that. Or, set up a “drive through VBS” in the church parking lot, with volunteers ready to lead participants through craft, recreation, and Bible study rotations.
In 2020, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church in Mt. Vernon modified this model with an indoor, family-centered VBS. The church invited families to sit at socially distanced tables in the family life center, and teachers rotated in to lead in various VBS activities.
Take a whole-family approach. Even if the family model isn’t a fit for your VBS, there are ways to provide an experience for parents that coincides with their kids’ involvement. Offer a parenting seminar or other opportunity for them to connect with parents in the community and at church. If the teenagers aren’t serving that week, provide alternative activities for them based on the general principles you’re teaching in VBS. And don’t forget senior adults. Invite everyone to be there for VBS in some form.
We likely won’t see pre-pandemic numbers at this year’s VBS. But every participant we meet this year is one more person who will hear the gospel, and one more life potentially changed. This is indeed a comeback and a step in the right direction. It’s a way to show the communities around us we’re moving forward, compelled by a powerful mission and message.
This summer, let’s celebrate the opportunity God has given us, and the victories he brings about when we are faithful to share his word and his love.
Jack Lucas is IBSA’s director of leadership development.