A time-honored tradition, VBS has changed with the times to bring God’s unchanging Word to a tech-savvy younger generation. We talked to the creators of this summer’s offerings to bring you insights and information for fostering an experience with eternal impact.
Chances are if you’re around a kid growing up in today’s high-tech culture you’re well aware that the younger generation is beyond proficient in technology. Most kids can navigate an iPhone or iPad to find and play their favorite game, log in to a website on a laptop computer, and with a few clicks of a TV remote and Wii controller hit a home run, throw a slider or practice their golf swing—all without adult guidance.
Reaching kids in the 21st century has indeed become a moving target. So as your church starts to think about finding connection points to unchurched families, kids and their changing culture should be of utmost consideration. Fortunately, the publishers of Vacation Bible School (VBS) curricula are giving churches a fighting chance, providing material infused with digital elements that share the unchanging message of the Good News. We talked with five VBS publishers about what churches can expect from this year’s offerings.
Why is the VBS tradition still a viable option for churches serious about reaching kids?
ROBERTA LEHMAN: For many churches, VBS is the most effective outreach event of the year. It gives churches opportunities to cultivate and establish ongoing relationships with all who attend. On average, 10 percent of kids who attend VBS are unchurched. For the average VBS, 10 percent equals 10 people. Discovering 10 new people who don’t know Christ (plus their family members) is a big deal!
KAREN MCGRAW:VBS is a prime opportunity for churches to reach out to unchurched kids and their families—and it’s a great program for kids who go to church on a regular basis. Any time God’s people can get together and lavish love on God’s children—that’s a great place to be.
SHANNON VELASQUEZ:I think there is that one point in a life where someone can be reached with the gospel message, and we know that often the easiest time to receive it is as a child, so to get children to have one entire week of VBS, where the gospel is the focus, is just huge.
How is VBS turning to the digital age? Are you, the developers, putting more online? In addition to websites, how are you utilizing the Web in other ways as well as media?
VELASQUEZ:Technology is so big for kids these days, so we reimagined our Chatter Chipmunk puppet, and he went digital because animation is so cool to kids. We also have an online presence (4everybuddy.com) that kids can go to every day after VBS and see video trailers and play games to reinforce the points they’ve learned. Also, we have all of our decorating tips on YouTube, and the videos are a big hit. Families who participated in our VBS find us on Facebook, too. Recently a mom wrote to tell us thank you for VBS, because her 3-year-old daughter attended last year and then was diagnosed with cancer. The little girl—even at 3—remembered our Bible point: “Trust in God.”
LEHMAN:Many of LifeWay’s VBS resources—such as clip art, videos and other helpful free resources—are available for download from lifeway.com/vbs. We also have an ongoing Lifeway VBS blog that offers ideas and creates community (blog.lifeway.com/vbs/blog). You can follow LifeWay VBS on Facebook and Twitter, and our VBS Blog has something new each day.
MCGRAW:We’re constantly working on and improving online and other electronic resources. In addition to our reproducible Music & More CD, which churches are free to reproduce for every family that attends VBS, we have a CD-ROM in our Director’s Planning Guide that includes dozens of forms and checklists for the director, volunteer and parent newsletters, as well as training articles that can be either printed out or emailed to team members. We also have a variety of music and skits DVDs and a brand-new Rip-Roarin’ Multimedia CD-ROM that churches can use in conjunction with presentation software to display images on screens during large-group assembly times. As far as social media goes, we have our websites, gospellightvbs.com and myvbsparty.com. We also are on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.
ROBB FAUST: It’s exciting for us that Yancy did our music again, and she produced all the music videos herself. Some have kids doing motions. Some feature Yancy, and some just have the words, so churches have a variety of options. Yancy has already posted clips on YouTube and is getting a lot of hits there.
What new elements are you introducing for 2013?
FAUST:We have two themes this year: God’s Backyard Bible Camp: Under the Stars and God’s Backyard Bible Camp: Under the Sun. Some 53 percent of churches now hold VBS in the evenings, so Under the Stars gears specifically for that timeframe, although it can be used during the day too. We are offering leaflets, booklets and cards for each day that you can tuck right into your Bible. There are newly formatted bundles for each age group. We also include a DVD set that contains a missions DVD, planning DVD, music DVD, bonus music CD-ROM and an exportable media disc with all mp3s and mp4s of the music and videos.
LEHMAN:New for 2013 is the Backyard Kids Club. Many churches are looking for ways to take VBS outside their church and into their communities. Our VBS 2013 Backyard Kids Club Director’s Guide and Backyard Kids Club Kit provide portable resources that can be used easily wherever kids gather.
CRYSTAL MCDOWELL:Our new element is our DVD. Our theme for 2013 is Jesus Family Reunion: The Remix. We’re taking each theme and relating it on the DVD to a family situation. In the lessons, we also picked family situations in the Bible that can be used to understand things like forgiving and obeying.
MCGRAW:In addition to adding more resources to some of our electronic products, we’ve created a new Parent Pocket Guide to help churches extend the VBS lessons beyond the threshold of the church. The Parent Pocket Guide gives parents all the information they need to reinforce the lessons their kids are getting at VBS. Our student guides also include a fun family activity to further promote involvement of the whole family.
VELASQUEZ:We introduced Imagination Station last year, and it is coming back this year. We reimagined crafts and introduced science, fun gizmos and experiments. This year, for our Kingdom Rock VBS, we are reimagining our student books and how to get them back home so kids can continue learning and talk to parents, friends and family members.
How much is VBS still about evangelizing unchurched kids?
FAUST:The great thing about our VBS this year is that kids are learning how to practically serve every day. The first day they are learning to serve their families. The second day they are serving their friends, then their neighbors, then their community, then Jesus. Every day, they have a lesson on the topic of serving, then a service challenge to go home and do, so it doesn’t matter if the kids are in church, they can serve others and learn to serve Jesus. We are also introducing a missions component this year with Back2Back Ministries (back2back.org). They help orphan kids in Mexico, and the VBS offerings will go to Mexico to help these kids.
LEHMAN:We call LifeWay’s VBS “The Evangelistic VBS.” All aspects of our VBS include age-appropriate outreach. Everything we do in VBS ties into the biblical content, and there is a special message on day three designed to teach grade school-age kids the ABCs of becoming a Christian.
MCDOWELL: I have seen that VBS brings in a lot of the kids already in the church, but leaders are still encouraging them to bring friends to VBS. If they bring a friend or two, you are teaching the kids to reach out to other kids with the gospel.
MCGRAW: We definitely develop VBS curriculum for unchurched kids. We realize that a number of churches have more “churched” kids attending than not, but for many, many churches, VBS is still their biggest outreach event of the year. We write all of our materials to address the needs of unchurched kids. And every lesson in Gospel Light’s VBS has evangelistic opportunities written for VBS leaders to talk to kids about becoming members of God’s family.
VELASQUEZ: We have tremendous success reaching out to kids who have never been to church before because we design our VBS with one simple Bible point that is reinforced in every rotation activity. It appeals to kids who go to church, but is also simple enough that even kids who have never heard of any of this before can get it. The Bible point is pivotal.
Adapted with permission from Christian Retailing magazine.