By Tim Massengale
Mark North slowly steered the long 50-passenger school bus into the parking lot at First Apostolic Church. Driving around back, he carefully backed it into the designated spot next to the others. Climbing out, he locked the door and paused to look at the five buses, all painted sky blue with a bright red stripe down the side. The church name was boldly printed in white cursive down the stripe. They looked good.
The sound of a closing door made him turn, and he saw Pastor Vernon Baker walking toward him.
“Thanks so much, Elder, for letting me borrow your bus,” Mark said as the elderly pastor drew closer.
“Think nothing of it. Glad to help. Did she drive alright?
“Excellent. I also refilled your tank and I made sure the kids cleaned it out after we got back last night.”
“You didn’t have to do that – fill the tank, I mean,” Brother Baker said with a grin.
“Hey! Least we could do. I’d be glad to pay you for the use if you would let me.”
“No, the Lord blessed us with these buses. They bring in almost two hundred kids and adults on Sunday morning. We dedicated them to the Lord’s work and your youth group is certainly a part of that.”
Both men studied the buses a moment. Mark broke the silence.
“Question, Elder. We have been thinking about purchasing a bus ourselves. But when I mentioned it to my board of trustees, they were not too keen on the idea. They felt the cost of maintenance and insurance was too great for the benefit. So I’m thinking of getting a church van. However insurance on a sixteen passenger van is even higher than for church buses. But we need to do something. Our youth group has grown considerably and trying to get enough cars for youth trips is becoming a problem. Your thoughts?”
Brother Baker arched a gray craggy eyebrow. “So your trustees balked? How did you pitch it to them – just as a transportation tool for your youth group?”
“Yes, pretty much. Why?”
“Because the value of a bus is not measured in youth trips but in souls being saved. Have you thought of starting a bus ministry of your own?”
“Well, the idea did come up at my Annual Planning Retreat. We have been trying to get our Sunday morning attendance up like you recommend and that’s certainly one way of doing it…,” the younger pastor trailed off.
The old pastor nodded. “Bus ministry is more than simply a way to get your attendance up. It’s mostly about souls. We win several dozen children to the Lord each year from our bus ministry. We also win two or three families. When you measure this ministry against lives being changed, it becomes one of our most productive programs of outreach. In fact, I am looking into purchasing another bus when one comes available.”
Mark frowned slightly. “I guess I always looked at bus ministry as mostly a numbers game, a way to boost your attendance. I’ve heard more than one pastor describe it as a ‘glorified baby sitting service.’”
“Ha!” The old preacher’s disgust was evident. “That’s because they don’t evangelize their bus ministry. It’s their own fault if it’s not bringing in souls. We’ve used a concept called ‘Parentreach’ for years and because of that approach, we win a steady stream of youth and adults. I’m telling you, son, bus ministry is one of our most productive outreach ministries.”
“Parentreach is a concept that defines bus ministry as having two areas of focus. First, we reach for the souls of the children we bring. Now this can be done several ways. Years ago we had a children’s church service in the fellowship hall that followed the Sunday school hour. That worked fairly well. We used our young ministers to preach each Sunday. Then we transitioned into a once-a-month Super Church service. One Sunday a month all the classes met during the Sunday school hour and we had a highly structured evangelistic program. The kids really enjoyed it. But lately we have been using Monthly Holy Ghost Sunday. The last Sunday of each month each class has an extended worship time in the classroom and then teaches their lesson with one goal in mind – to have an altar call at the end. We have children receiving the Holy Ghost pretty much every time we do it. This seems to be working better because the evangelistic lesson can be better geared toward the age level of the kids. The bottom line is this: if you are going to bring unsaved children to your Sunday school week after week, you had better make sure they have the opportunity to obey full Bible salvation. They don’t attend regular church services and often, early in their teen years, they stop coming if they don’t make a decision for God. So God has given us a window of time to see these bus kids saved, and that’s usually between the ages of about eight and thirteen.”
Mark nodded his head. “So once a child receives the Holy Ghost how do you disciple them?”
“Once they receive the Holy Ghost we try to quickly meet with the parents to obtain permission to baptize them. We also try to get a home Bible study started in the home with mom and dad. If the child is at least ten years of age we ask permission for them to attend our regular services – if their parents won’t bring them we find one of our saints that will give them a ride. At twelve years of age we transition them into our youth group. Mark, we have at least a dozen young couples in the church today where one or both were saved out of our bus ministry.”
“Wow,” Mark replied. “That’s impressive. So the first area of focus is to see the bus kids saved. I assume that the second is to reach the parents?”
“Exactly. You see, bus ministry success requires Saturday visitation. Each Saturday our bus captains drive their routes and visit each home. We stress to them over and over, ‘If you see little Johnny, great! Give him a piece of bubble gum and encourage him to be ready in the morning. But the real reason for the visit is to see Johnny’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Smith.’ We train our bus workers to build a relationship with the parents.”
“How do you do that?” Mark asked.
“By getting to know them. We discover what they like to talk about. Mark, everyone has a passion, something they are interested in. For Mr. Smith it might be NASCAR, Colts football, deer hunting, or his job. For Mrs. Smith it might be her tomato garden, her kids, soap operas, or Pacers basketball. We find their areas of greatest interest and then talk about it with them. We build relationships. We get to know them.”
“How do you find out their interests?”
“We ask the kids. If they don’t know, we just ask their parents. Or we look around their home. If it’s full of bowling trophies you know its bowling. As we get to know them, we look for ways to be an extra blessing. We do hospital visitation, jail visitation, food for deaths in the family. We also encourage them to let us teach a home Bible study. We invite them to every special service. We get little Johnny involved in our Easter program, vacation Bible school, youth camps, fall children’s crusade, harvest hay fest, and Christmas play. Since Johnny is involved there’s a strong motivation for Mr. and Mrs. Smith to attend.”
“Does it work?”
“You tell me. Last year we won three families from our bus ministry.”
Mark nodded thoughtfully, looking at the buses. “One last question – how do you get committed workers? Visitation must take up your bus captain’s entire Saturday. I’m not sure I have anyone that will make that kind of sacrifice each week.”
“We had the same problem. In this day and age, people are busy. So we took our bus routes and divided them into groups of ten homes or stops. Each group of ten has a captain over them. So on Saturday, they visit their ten homes – which only takes an hour or two. On Sunday morning, all the captains ride the bus, which gives us our needed bus workers. We have about five or six captains on each bus. By working with fewer families the captains can give more personal attention to their route and get to know their families better. Soul winning, son, is all about relationships.”
Mark grinned. “Okay, you have sold me. How do I get started?”
“Easy – buy a bus. Used buses come up for sale all the time in every school district. Have it painted with your church name and colors. Then I would recommend you bring in a bus ministry evangelist to help you get started. I’ll give you the names of several we have used in the past. He will present the vision of bus child evangelism to your people. He has the success stories and can help you recruit committed workers. He will train your route captains and then go out and show you how to find kids to bring each Sunday. He will also preach you a children’s crusade service on Sunday and show your Sunday school workers how to pray with the kids. It’s exciting and rewarding work. You won’t regret it!
Mark sighed. “I’m sure you’re right.” He started to say more, then stopped.
“Was there something else?
“Not really. I guess I was just remembering my bus ministry involvement at my home church. As a teenager I helped out by dressing up as a clown and passing out candy with the other bus workers. I only did it twice though….” He trailed off.
“Only twice?” Brother Baker asked. “What happened?”
“Well…” Mark looked embarrassed. “I had this clown make-up on and a red wig and big red nose. I also had on these big baggy pants held up with suspenders. One of the kids came up and tugged on my pants for candy and the suspenders broke. My pants dropped to the ground. No one told me I should wear street clothes underneath. Thankfully I had on clean shorts.”
The old pastor threw back his head and roared. “So, the next time we need a Sunday school clown, we can give you a call?”
Mark grinned. “No, I don’t think so. Let’s just say my clown ministry has had way too much exposure so I’ve decided to retire.”
This time they both laughed.