By Ron Fitcharald
What do you get when you combine one of the single-most effective evangelistic tools with the single-most receptive audience? Ideally, you see children accepting Christ as Savior. So why has the percentage of churches offering Vacation Bible School (VBS) declined by 12 percent over the past decade?
According to a 2005 report from The Barna Group, a lack of teachers is still the most common reason (23 percent) pastors cite for dropping VBS. Pastors also mentioned the church “has no time” for VBS (up from 5 percent in 2001 to 13 percent in 2005) or that they “offer other activities” (up from less than 1 percent to 12 percent). Still, millions of children participate in VBS programs each summer, with thousands of participants discovering Christ and the church. What is the difference between churches that no longer opt for VBS and churches that do? Effective VBS programs.
Successful VBS outreach programs rely on two critical elements: follow-up and volunteers.
Planning a VBS can quickly shift to focusing on curriculum, cookies and classrooms. These are important parts of the puzzle, but nothing should supersede the primary element of a successful
“It is absolutely essential to capture information from your guests when they register,” says church consultant Scott Franks.
This will make further contact possible. Postcards, phone calls, visits, and invitations to attend worship services or other events will help make guests feel welcome and encourage them to join.
“Hopefully they know that we truly want to be their church home,” Franks says.
Children’s Pastor Tony Kummer established a new Thursday evening visitation time after VBS last year at his church. He and other pastors visited the families of children who attended but were not yet church members.
“We believe in the potential of Vacation Bible School to reach children and families with the Gospel,” Kummer wrote on his blog. He writes about two ways to make this happen in VBS: with multiple opportunities to hear the gospel message and with an effort to reach parents.
Along with visitation, outreach to parents included a cookout, Sunday morning graduation, Sunday evening musical, pastoral letters, daily handouts, and an end-of-summer “Family Fun Day.”
“The best and most lasting way to reach children is to reach their parents,” Kummer writes.
Inviting parents to the church for VBS activities also brings in first-time guests who may not have come otherwise. “You have parents in your building who are there for the first time,” Franks says. “They are testing how well you treat their children.”
According to Thom Rainer’s book “Surprising Insights from the Unchurched,” the quality of a congregation’s children’s ministry is one of the most important factors in attracting new people.
With that in mind, churches shouldn’t neglect safety – in checking children in and out, and in screening and training volunteers for VBS. But where do the volunteers come from in the first place?
Volunteers with vision
Evangelism must be the communicated purpose for a successful VBS program. This creates a vision for volunteers. Instead of free babysitting, they are providing an opportunity for kids to hear about and accept Christ. “They believe in what can happen at VBS,” Franks says. This brings clear purpose to work that can often become overwhelming.
Franks advises church leaders to host a thank you gathering for volunteers and to allow them to share stories of their successes with one another, as well as in church publications and from the pulpit. This clarifies the purpose and vision for the rest of the congregation and encourages volunteers to see they are part of something bigger than themselves.
Recruiting volunteers with this vision should prove easier than recruiting free babysitters. However, here are some ideas from consultant Dr. Chuck Lawless:
1. Pray – In my experience, churches look for laborers but only pray after they’ve not been able to secure them.
2. Expect service from members – Churches expect little from members, so that is exactly what they get! One way to correct this problem is to state expectations in a required membership class.
3. Match members’ gifts with volunteer opportunities – Have an intentional placement strategy.
4. Recruit in person – Effective leaders don’t rely on bulletin board sign-ups, worship folder tear-offs or pulpit announcements. A personal challenge and invitation usually makes the difference.
5. Offer entry-level positions – Not everyone is prepared to be a teacher.
These recruitment ideas will work for any position, whether your church opts for VBS or another outreach event or children’s ministry. Start planning now for summer programs that will work to bring in new children and families to your church.
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From the Church Central web site. 22 Feb 2008