Summer is mere weeks away and most of our churches have started planning for summer activities, which often include Vacation Bible School. In many communities across the Midwest, summer VBS still serves as a trusted go-to for parents and grandparents who are seeking safe, fun activities over the summer for the children in their homes.
However, multiple research groups have estimated that up to 35% of Protestant churches no longer have any type of summer VBS for young people, and that number not offering it has continued on a gradual increase.
While the topic of VBS may seem like old/tired news to some, the reality is that for many churches it may the proverbial church rock star that we take for granted, right in front of us.
Backing up a moment, the latest research from Exponential/ LifeWay earlier this year suggests more than half of our Protestant churches are in decline nationwide. While it’s tempting for us to want to bury our heads in the sand, to do so is simply ignoring the obvious: Many of our sanctuaries and hallways are less full than they were even five or ten short years ago.
So, while the house may not be falling in around us, the foundation is undeniably showing some signs of deterioration. The question we hear regularly from pastors and other church leaders is: What can we do that is effective, but doesn’t break the bank? Turns out that some of the basics like VBS can still be very attractive in bringing locals into the church — for the very first time, or back in after a period of absence.
After several recent informal discussions, I discovered a number of readily available tools for churches to use in reaching the lost, some of them far more “old school” (yet still effective) than what might be suspected. Surprisingly, many of them don’t cost much in terms of money. I heard stories of lock-ins, ice creams socials, prayer groups and sewing/knitting clubs — along with VBS — that have all done well in the last 18 months, and continue to help church bodies thrive.
Clearly not all VBS or similar-type programs work, and it’s silly to do something just because “we’ve always done it that way.” But the point is that in addition to the gospel, people come to church in the 21st century for activities.
Shame on us if we take that for granted.