Time to change Vacation Bible School?

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paynen's picture
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Not a lot of good things here

Not a lot of good things here. The primary reason there are issues with children coming back to church after VBS, is that regardless of a decision child makes, it is still upto the parents whether their child comes to church or not. The only way to fix this is a regular van ministry. What this guy is suggesting without meaning it, is junk the effort put into VBS and focus on the adults. Now having an evangelism ministry to adults is a good thing that many churches should improve upon. But the lack of evangelism is nothing to do with VBS. We should not skip out on this one time parents are willing to send their unchurched children to our doors. Follow-up is always a difficult think when kids are involved. You have the same issue with any major outreach ministry involving kids.

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paynen wrote:

paynen wrote:

Not a lot of good things here. The primary reason there are issues with children coming back to church after VBS, is that regardless of a decision child makes, it is still upto the parents whether their child comes to church or not. The only way to fix this is a regular van ministry. What this guy is suggesting without meaning it, is junk the effort put into VBS and focus on the adults. Now having an evangelism ministry to adults is a good thing that many churches should improve upon. But the lack of evangelism is nothing to do with VBS. We should not skip out on this one time parents are willing to send their unchurched children to our doors. Follow-up is always a difficult think when kids are involved. You have the same issue with any major outreach ministry involving kids.

If a parent does not want a child to come to church, then sadly a van ministry won't solve it.   I don't think there is an easy single solution.   We just need to get to know and love our community and arrange opportunities - be that VBS or others - that are most effective on a local level.

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Not true

The only way to fix this is a regular van ministry.

Not true at all. You can focus your efforts to point them to something else right away... Sunday School or children's church, provide them with a way to camp, hold it near the end of the summer when the your church's fall children's ministry might be starting soon... establish a meeting  on a school campus if you can (it still can be done!), or at someone's home or the church facility if it is an option...

However, if your church's only effort is a week of hype, then I do think the original article gives plenty to consider. We are called to make disciples, not to track decisions. As many children, even in Christian families, make uncertain professions, you have to have some kind of strategy for ongoing teaching, even if not every child will stay.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

paynen's picture
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The point I was making is

The point I was making is that follow-up is a difficulty of children's ministries in general. Often parents are more then happy to send their kid to church for a week, but they are not interested in getting up on Sunday morning and bringing them to church and often don't care to much for Wednesday nights either. The other issue is sports conflicts. This is where a weekly van ministry helps. The issue brought forth in the article is more of a logistics issue that crosses the spectrum of children's ministries then an evangelistic outreach issue.

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One thing that our church

One thing that our church started doing was to hold Soccer Clinics instead of VBS.  Parents are much more open to them, they are adding value since comparable soccer camps cost money, they don't cost much to put together, and parents often come out as well to watch their kids improve their skills.  Therefore, we got much more of a unit being engaged then a bunch of kids being dropped off.  Plus we would have lots of opportunities for our church adults to engage the childrens parents when they were on the sidelines  watching their kids.  This allowed us to engage the community.

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Why not two weeks? Or three?

If VBS is the one of the best ways to reach children, why not hold it for two weeks, or three weeks, or all summer?

Here are some questions to help evaluate VBS:

How many of the children who attend are unchurched? Come from other churches? Come from your own church?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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Still...

Yes children's ministries can be difficult. But does that redeem the idea of investing numerous resources into one week of hype and excitement that gets numbers, vs. a strategy that prioritizes establishing prolonged relationships over a longer period of time? 

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

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Goals

I see the article's point. My entire goal with VBS is to build relationships with the Gospel. Our VBS is in late July. It's not going to be an epic event. It'll be fun, we'll have games, snacks and some cool skits. We'll have crafts and the kids will enjoy themselves. I'm not interested in pushing for decisions. All I care about is whether we can present a coherent, understandable Gospel message to kids. Period. I pray that VBS will be a Gospel bridge to children and adults in our little community - that's all. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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Just wrapped ours up.  Had

Just wrapped ours up.  Had many visitors, all heard the gospel.  My 12-year old learned a bit about serving.  5 dads gave talks about what they do at work.  Sang songs, praised God.  Many hands made light work.  What's not to love?  The fellowship and serving together were worth the work, even if we don't see a single new conversion or church member.  We may never see the visitors again (but then again, we might).  Oh well, some plant, some water, God reaps a harvest in His time.  

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Ron Bean wrote:

Ron Bean wrote:

If VBS is the one of the best ways to reach children, why not hold it for two weeks, or three weeks, or all summer?

Here are some questions to help evaluate VBS:

How many of the children who attend are unchurched? Come from other churches? Come from your own church?

We're gearing up for our VBS in late July.  To answer your questions, the key reason that we hold it for one week only is a very practical one: it would be difficult to get the 400-450 volunteers we need to operate it to commit for multiple weeks.  (I take the week off, and usually put in 60-70 hours helping run things.)  We have had up to 2,000 kids attend (and I expect this year will be no different).  In our case it usually works out to be about 1/3 our own kids, 1/3 from other churches, and 1/3 unchurched.

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Missing the point, maybe?

Took a look at a few comments, especially that by paynen, and I'm wondering if some have missed the point.  I'm the original writer of the post, and what I was trying to get across is that if kids never, ever show up for church, then we've got to wonder if their "salvation decision" was real.  A van ministry doesn't solve that--might get more people there, but if indeed the decisions are false decisions, that doesn't solve your problem.  It just gets more unsaved people in church to....perhaps not hear the Gospel?

Nothing against van ministries--I drove for one for a while, and it's how I got to church in college when I didn't ride my bike.  It just doesn't address my concerns.

And perhaps a little bit of my personal history might help explain this.  My journey to Christ started at wrestling practice, where we (at a public school no less) would prayer the Lord's Prayer after every practice.  A fellow wrestler saw me mumbling through it and asked me incredulously "you don't know the Lord's Prayer?".  And so I found a way to get to church at a time when my family was about to get blown apart by divorce.  Yes, it took some doing.  In my church now, I see kids making their way to church when they want to--about 5000 people live within a mile of our church--but I simply don't see kids coming from VBS.  Same thing when I lived in Waseca--kids that wanted to be somewhere got there.  Parents loved it when kids when kids went to church and they got Sunday morning to themselves.

So when I never, ever see these kids at church, I've got to wonder what's really going on.  Can genuine faith bear no apparent fruit?

paynen's picture
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I think your missing the

I think your missing the point of evangelism. Its not numbers. I'm sorry. The purpose of evangelism is to faithfully share the gospel. Everything else is with God. Perhaps in your background VBS pushes for decisions just to so they can look at themselves as a success. We are called to be faithful ministers of the gospel. That should be the measure of our evangelism is successful gospel presentations. I think in many situations VBS is often just a seed planter. 

Regardless of your experience many kids only get to church when they can get a ride. Often parents (like mine) won't get up that early. And many parents are to protective of their young children to let them walk across town. They are reliant on a ride from someone in the church. In high school ya things are a bit different. My testimony is similar to yours in that I was saved in high school. I walked to church twice on Sundays and once on Wednesdays. 

The problem with your article is that it is judging VBS by the numbers of kids it brings in which is wrong in the first place. It is also made more difficult by the fact that it is more difficult for children to get to church when they are reliant on a ride. If we judged every evangelism ministry by the numbers of true Christian's it produced they would all fail. I'm sure there are many churches who do VBS wrongly. Either they just push for a decision without making sure the child truly understands the gospel, Or they let VBS become purely fun time to make the kids happy. But that is an issue with the church, not the idea of VBS or the curriculum.

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Not really

Actually, the point of evangelism, per Matthew 28, is to make disciples, no?  It implies a continuing relationship.  My point is not that evangelism ought to be a numbers game, but that if we are truly reaching people, children or adults, they ought to be becoming disciples.  There is some allowance for seed on the path and in shallow soil, but all in all, if you've got a lot of decisions but no rear ends in pews, you've got to question whether you're actually spreading the Gospel at all.  

And sad to say, that's what I'm generally seeing in evangelical and fundamental churches.  You get gaudy numbers of "decisions" which I'd attribute in great part to kids "going along to get along", but no disciples.  Christ tells us to make disciples, not to make converts and then let them go untaught, no?  Eutychus didn't fall out of the window because Paul was refusing to teach, after all!

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The "problem" with children's evangelism (VBS included) is ...

The "problem" with children's evangelism (VBS included) is easy "layup" (BB analogy) conversions.

Per the Athanasian Creed belief in the Trinity is essential to the Gospel: "Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence".

You take a kid from an unchurched family (or a church family for that matter) and give him the 1-2-3 repeat after me Gospel presentation and then pronounce him saved ... and score it as such, you are doing the kid and the church a disservice. 

So probably the answer is to not measure that metric but measure the success of the ministry in some other way.

Some churches do VBS very well (Larry Nelson - see above) ... others not well. In general if there is no organization in place to follow up with VBS attendees, you might as well skip VBS. 

Then there is the involvement of the laity (I hate the term ... but using it for "non-professional" staff). In three churches:

  • Church A: 2 women were in charge of VBS. It was super organized. As soon as VBS week ended they began to plan next year's
  • Church B: widespread lay (caveat about the term) involvement
  • Church C: Like pulling teeth to get folk involved. Finally concluded that if they aren't that interested in the ministry, time to pull it

If the pastor is doing all the planning and execution, a poor use of that man's giftedness and time

My 2 cents. Conclusion VBS works for some churches and not others. BUT ... dumbing down the gospel to eschew essential elements (like the Trinity) is not effective child evangelism. Frankly I wonder how many kids under 10 really can understand it thoroughly enough to have an intelligent conversion. 

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It would be more accurate to

It would be more accurate to say the point of evangelism for God is to glorify himself by calling those he desires to salvation according to his plan. The purpose for evangelism for the Christian is faithfulness, and can only truly be measured by God. If it is true that the power of salvation is in the word of God, and that alone. Then it doesn't matter what curriculum  or method that we use. Is there room for new ideas? certainly. Do we need to evaluate our hearts and whether our expectations of our ministries are in line with God's word? Definitely! But claiming that the problem you are seeing in you sphere's of influence in regards to VBS is an issue with VBS as a whole is really uncalled for. 1000's of people with hearts on fire for God work hard to put these events together. People do get saved... believe me it happens. Families get introduced to churches. Seeds get planted and relationships get started, it happens, often not in huge number, and often the people involved don't even see the fruit.. but it happens. Could we all do better? Of course we can. Is there room for new ideas, yes. But regardless of, I believe, your good intentions, I think that your article kind of belittles all of that. 

We must also remember this. Church outreach ministry in general is a jumpstart of the personal outreach ministry of each individual Christian. The great commission was given to each individual Christian. The church should assist this by having events. But the church's ministries are, in general, internal. Therefore, regardless of the ministries your church uses to reach out to its community, if its people are not actively building relationships with their neighbors, coworkers, softball teams, and boy scout clubs; then it is unlikely that any ministry will show much fruit. 

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The trinity

All though I believe that the trinity is key Jim, I would not over emphasize that. For instance, the majority of OT saints did not understand the trinity and no one even today can fully understand it. I would say that to adhere to that creed would be better to say that one must have a basic understanding of it, and more importantly must not deny it. A child may not be able to have a complex discussion on what it exactly means when one talks about the relationship between the members of the trinity. But even a child can understand that God is 3 persons in 1 unit, if explained well. Also biblically the trinity is not part of the gospel and is not a requirement for salvation persay, as in we don't explain the trinity and say that you have to believe and understand this before you accept salvation. Which makes adhering to that creed a bit complex.
 

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On the OT Saints w regard to the Trinity

paynen wrote:
 For instance, the majority of OT saints did not understand the trinity and no one even today can fully understand it. 

On the OT Saints w regard to the Trinity: we can give them "a pass" because was not fully revealed to OT saints!

See:  Theses on the Revelation of the Trinity: "The answer to the question, “was the Trinity made known in the Old Testament” runs parallel to the question of whether the gospel was. In both cases, Trinity and gospel, we must account for two factors: the consistency of God’s entire work of salvation, and for the newness in the revelation of “the mystery which was kept secret since the world began, and that in other ages it was not made known to the sons of men, but now is.” Epangel is not evangel, but they are both constitutive of God’s one message of salvation."

Also: 

  • Yes "no one even today can fully understand it." AND
  • I am not talking about reciting a creed !

But: Should not the Trinity be a part of the Gospel presentation? I think so!

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Trinity

I didn't "get" the Trinity until I went to Seminary. I wrote two research papers on the various Christological controversies on the early church (Nicea and Chalcedon) just so I could get a better grasp on the issues. I taught the deity of Christ in apologetics class at my church a few years back. I am specifically going through the Gospel of John on Sunday Mornings just so I can teach the deity of Christ (and the Trinity) as it comes up in that book. I still don't think I "get" it real well, and I've spent a lot of time on it. I'm reading Athanasius' works against the Arians just to get a better handle on it. 

I don't think the average lay Christian understands anything about the Trinity - perhaps because their Pastors don't, either? I am quite certain you can take an average Christian and get them to agree with heresy (e.g. Modalism, Arianism) with little effort. If you come from a church where your orbit includes men with MDivs or better who are well-trained and can talk coherently about this issue, count yourself very lucky. That is not the norm. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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VBS Professions

A man I know became the pastor of a rural church that had faithfully conducted a VBS ministry every summer for nearly 30 years. When he arrived he canvassed the neighborhood and discovered large numbers of adults who had nothing to do with any church but considered themselves Christians because they had made a profession of faith at one of the church's Vacation Bible Schools.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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Tyler,

Tyler,

Regarding your statement "I am quite certain you can take an average Christian and get them to agree with heresy (e.g. Modalism, Arianism) with little effort" it reminds me of a story. I listened through Frank James III (RTS) Christian History on itunesu a while ago. He said in a Sunday School he was once at the people were discussing the Trinity and before it was over he heard every heresy related to the Trinity that has plagued church history. I appreciate my pastor's constant reiteration of the Trinity. Especially since we just had some oneness Pentecostals visit the church.

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Ron and VBS Professions

Is the situation you describe really a fault in VBS in general? Or is it the fault of poor teaching on what salvation is? If that is the case then what happens the other 51 weeks of the year is probably bad too!

Compare salvation to citizenship. Many teach and want to believe that if you ever said a prayer of salvation you "got your heaven citizenship papers" and you are good, even if you never exercised your citizenship and voted in an election. A more proper view of salvation looks at your voting record to see if there is any evidence of claimed citizenship!

You can teach that better view of salvation at VBS, can't you?

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Better discussion than I thought we'd get

Good point on the Trinity, and I'd agree with Paynen that the problem is not with VBS alone--I'd wonder if the more precise formulation is "revivalism run amuck", or what some would call "easy believeism".  Get them to pray a prayer, think they're saved, find them 30 years later and they think they're saved when they've never darkened the door of a church since.  Knowing and understanding a touch of the Trinity is a good gut check on whether someone is actually becoming a disciple.  Not that you have to understand everything about it--Athanasius himself makes that much clear--but getting the basic concept down.  I'd tend to add an understanding of the Reformation cries (the solas, not TULIP) and the original Fundamentals as well, and probably also understanding how to present the Gospel to another person.

 

Good news from down here is that our Pastor is going to be following up with unchurched attendees of our VBS.  Touch of discipleship going on there.....

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Pushing for Decisions

One thing I've emphasized to our folks, and I'll emphasize it again at our VBS planning meeting tomorrow evening, is that I don't want to push kids for decisions. When you get to middle school, perhaps you can start doing that. Not with elementary age kids. Preach the Gospel. Talk about sin. Talk about Christ. Talk about penal substitutionary atonement. Talk about repentance. Talk about the Gospel. Talk about all that stuff - passionately. But I don't think we ought to push kids that little for decisions. There's too much of a danger of a false profession. 

If a kid comes up, worried, and wants to know more - then talk to them. Don't have an invitation. Don't ask, "Who wants to burn in hell? Nobody? Ok, who wants to be in heaven with Jesus?!" 

I don't have all the answers. But I do think we shouldn't push little kids for decisions. We should preach the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit work. We can push and prod adults. We can challenge them. We shouldn't do it with little kids. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Il. He blogs here

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Can't find it right now, but

Can't find it right now, but a few years ago I ran across an article delineating the difference between doctrines one has to believe to be saved and the doctrines one simply cannot deny and still be saved. The Trinity fell in the latter list. One need not know anything about the Trinity to be saved, but one cannot deny the Trinity in any way and still be considered a believer.

 

On a separate track, I think Bert is right. The problem is not VBS per se; it is easy-believeism - an emotional religiosity that has been growing in the American church since Finney. Our church has been using a fantastic little booklet by James Adams called Decisional Regeneration vs. Divine Regeneration to combat this kind of theological error, and it has provided great clarity for our folks. My copy is missing right now, so I cannot verify if this link is the full text or an overview, but it provides a starting point for anyone interested. 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?