My Stories

Small Church with a Big Heart – VBS

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VBS – fully known as “Vacation Bible School.” Almost every church in the United States conducts a Vacation Bible School. It’s always in the summer when school is out, sometime in June, July or August. It may be in the beginning, middle or end of the summer. It may be in the morning, the afternoon or the evening. It may be four days; it may be two weeks. There are no set rules for the time or dates. It is held whenever a church has the volunteer staff to conduct a Vacation Bible School and at a time that is best for the children attending. I dare say that VBS is almost always conducted on a church’s grounds. If it is at someone’s home, it may be called Backyard Bible Clubs or something similar. Others may be one day or one evening per week – but never on Sunday as Sunday is reserved for Sunday School. To clarify, if a church’s worship day is Saturday, then the Bible classes on Saturday would be Sabbath School or something similar instead of Sunday School. Now to the Small Church with a Big Heart . . . .

The suddenly-small church in Longview, Washington State, USA that had undergone a major church split prior to my arrival in 1980 wasn’t sure it could pull off a VBS with so many church leaders having left the church. My wife and I assembled the possible VBS volunteers that we had, and we decided to put on a one-week VBS at 9:00 AM, Monday through Friday in early summer before everyone left for vacations and camping.

We assembled the teaching material we would need. We arranged for a couple of people in the kitchen and fellowship hall to assemble and hand out refreshments. We enlisted a woman to coordinate crafts. I, as the pastor, was set to present the Missionary Moment in which I told about missionaries serving overseas and in the United States. An older man was going to be a floater to assist as needed. If I remember correctly, we also had one or two people to run the physical games portion of the schedule outside. We had two to three classes ready for teaching Bible lessons according to age group. All the volunteers were trained as to expectations and what they were going to do. Staggered schedules were handed out so classes knew where they were supposed to be at their appointed times: Opening Service (everyone attends together so children can get their fidgets worked out), Bible classes, crafts, outside games, refreshments, Closing Service.

The Saturday before our Monday starting day, I went out in the neighborhood and got children together who were already outside playing on their bicycles and wagons. I set up some playing cards in their spokes to make some noise, then I led a parade of children with their bicycles and wagons in the neighborhoods in the area, telling other children about the Vacation Bible School that was going to begin Monday morning at 9:00 AM.

Monday morning at 9:00 AM, the staff of the VBS was ready. And children came. Some came in their underwear. Some came in pajamas. Some came barefoot. Some came with no tops on (and it wasn’t very warm outside). We discovered in this portion of town that was economically poor, the parents weren’t up at 9:00 AM. So the kids came, having dressed themselves the best they could – and without breakfast.

Several people quickly went to the store and bought some muffins, fruit and fruit juice so the children could have something appropriate to eat for breakfast – and more nutritious than the cookies and Kool-Aid we were going to serve. Our older gentleman who was our floater and another volunteer accompanied the children who were in their underwear and pajamas to their homes so they could get some pants and a shirt on.

The first Vacation Bible School that my wife and I had at that church finally went very well. However, every good organization will examine their processes to ensure that their action-plans were the best they could be. Consequently, after that first year we moved VBS to evenings from 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM (I don’t think we went to 9:00 PM – again, if I remember correctly events that happened forty years ago). We also were able to engage more volunteer staff to help in the evening as others were available after work. Further, we had more nutritious snacks than cookies and Kool Aid. Plus, we involved the parents by having a Parents’ Night on Thursday. We couldn’t have Parents’ Night on the Vacation Bible School’s last night on Friday night as that was the night set aside by adults in that part of town to party and drink. As much as they loved their children, very few parents would have attended on a Friday Parents’ Night.

I hope you found some help or encouragement as you read this part of the life of the Small Church with a Big Heart. I might add that 9:00 PM in Washington is not too late to be outside. In June, sunset isn’t until around that time with light still in the sky at 10:00 PM. As a father with three children, I can tell you it is indeed difficult to get children to bed by 9:00 PM.

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