Jul 19, 2013

Why We Don't Do VBS

This is not a post against VBS.  I am not anti-VBS.  Many churches still host a successful VBS and see great results.

On the flip side, the number of churches hosting VBS is declining.  A recent report from the Barna Group stated that 68% of churches offered VBS last year.  This is down from 81% in 1997.

Our ministry does not do VBS.  Why?  We asked the questions below and the answers led us to say "no."
What is the best use of the budget money God has entrusted us with?  In other words, where will we get the biggest bang for our buck?  For us, our weekend services are our biggest opportunity to reach kids and families.  That is when we will minister to the largest number of kids and connect with the most parents.

So that is where we are going to invest the biggest percentage of our budget. 

What is our best opportunity to reach unchurched kids?  For us, our weekend services are when we have the most unchurched guests.  Week in and week out, we encourage our families to build relationships with their unchurched neighbors, friends, co-workers, and classmates.  Every week there are dozens of guests who come from a personal invite. 

Are we going to be driven by events or steps?  We do some big events...but not a lot.  We have found that creating clear, easy next steps for kids and families helps us connect them more than events do.

Does VBS pass the blank piece of paper test?  A year after VBS, how many names of families can we write down that have accepted Christ and become a part of our church?  If we can't write any names down or can only write down one or two, we have to consider it's effectiveness.

Does it fit the DNA of our church culture? 
VBS is not a key part of our church culture.  For some churches, VBS is a key component of their DNA and has a rich history.

But...I would say that just because it has a rich history, doesn't mean you should continue to offer it.  Just because Sister (fill in the blank) started the program in 1955 doesn't mean you should keep it going, if it's not effective.

These are questions you have to answer for your church.  The answers may lead you to "yes...VBS is a key ministry for us."  Or the answers may lead you to make some changes.

Bottom line...we are called to reach and disciple kids and families.  We must make sure we focus our time, energy, and resources into what is effective.  What does that mean for your ministry?

Okay.  The floor is yours.  Do you do VBS?  Why or why not?  Share your thoughts in the comment section below.


I am with you on this, and for the same reasons.

Like you, I am not trying to be anti-VBS. But at the least, it should be thought of as a celebration of the relationships that go on all year long, not the "big event" that will get everyone fired up.

I just did my first VBS and although it went well, it took a lot of time and I saw numbers die down once it hit the middle of the week. I saw my usual kids and although that is cool, no one else seemed to be reached and my volunteers did not seem engaged as much as I would have liked. :( Just not sure if our leadership would like getting rid of it. Please keep me in your prayers.

Thanks for this post Dale! This is the first summer since staring in Children's Ministry, 7 years ago, that I'm NOT holding VBS for many of the exact same reasons you listed.

Although I miss the excitement VBS brings, God has affirmed many times since making this decision that it was the right one.

We are trying something new this year by holding Block Parties in a Box & a Back to School Bash (free school supplies and all) and I pray that it brings more families to Christ and provides a huge service to many children in our area.

I was with you. I used to serve in the Pacific Northwest. We exchanged our VBS for a sports camp out there. We had fewer attendance numbers. But half the kids at our sports camp had no church home.
Also alot of the superior attitude dropped off. With VBS we were the biggest church in town with the biggest VBS. other churches started charging for VBS. we offered to charge & some if our coordinators nearly quit. As we discussed it we found that they viewed other churches that charged as morally inferior to ourselves. That we were somehow a better church cause we did not charge. This exposed blind spots if pride that no one recognized within our leadership of judgementalism. Soccer camp was cheaper & reached more kids. Now I am at a church where VBS is a 300 kid event & we are again at the biggest church in a small town. But here VBS is bringing in unsaved kids. I say do both if both are bringing in unsaved kids! Sports especially soccer is not big in my new town. I'm probabally not going to be doing a sports camp here any time soon.

Thanks everyone for sharing. Great stories and feedback.

We still do VBS, although the last 3 yrs we've done a one day event. This yr we are returning to the week-long VBS in an attempt to involve more of the community. Usually we have little more than 10-15 visitors come, which is very disappointing. We are one of the larger churches in our area but just don't have the turn out I wish we could. We also do back to school bash at the city pool. I would really like to focus more on children's missions & teaching them to serve others. Praying for God's guidance.

This is really interesting to read from the UK, the 'Holiday Club' is the (often slightly naff) British equivalent to VBS, and I was raised in them and through them. I even headed up and ran them in the early years of ministry. However our situation led us to make a decision to drop them about a decade ago for a few reasons in our situation:

- Culturally they work better for the established (or traditional churches) we're a very modern pentecostal church so that wasn't a great 1st step.
- We are operating on a Sunday out of the local theatre and council HQ so lack a suitably scaled base within an reasonable cost, our Base Camp is just way too small to work.
- We do most of our work in the community through engagement with schools. To avoid team (and leader burn out) we have to balance that with down time - which for us comes in the school holidays... time for my family.
- We evaluated the returns from a single week of mass participation compared with regular in school contact and found that for us the schools ministry wins hands down!

We still support other local VBS type activities, provide tech, some volunteers and promote groups but don't see any reason to run one ourselves at present. It may change, however from my past experience a Summer VBS without year round engagement risks 'still born' Christians. Our priority is year round mission.

Thanks for sharing Graeme,
Exciting to hear about what God is doing in and thru your ministry in the UK. Let's keep in touch.

Not having VBS will hurt your church bottom line in the near future.

I would say that every major moment of my life happened at either a camp or a vbs type of event. Mountain top style experiences are some of the best uses of money and resources of a church in my opinion. I dedicated my life to Christ at camp, got baptized at camp, and the weekend services maintained and encouraged growth. If a church does not do vbs, I hope they still put energy into some sort of summer event like a camp. Gospel Light released an interesting promo for theirs next year.

Right there with you on this issue. This is our first year to NOT do VBS. So far we haven't gotten much push back.

"We have found that creating clear, easy next steps for kids and families helps us connect them more than events do." Do you have a post with more on next steps? Or can you briefly elaborate on this point? Thanks!

Hi Sharity, our steps would be...
1. attend a service
2. join a group
3. attend faith commitment class
4. baptism
5. serving

You have completely MISSED the point in having VBS. You seem to be stuck on getting kids outside your church in as though that is your ONLY reason to have VBS for kids. VBS is for the children in your church. It is a FUN way for children to learn about the Bible, to get to know God well and to discover Christ! Wow, I am shocked that all you see is that is costs money. You don't have to spend a lot of Money on VBS! For years I hand drew everything, served basic snacks and planned games that cost me almost NOTHING!

VBS is supposed to be about making learning about God and his word FUN! It is about getting children involved in church! It is about showing children that Church doesnt have to be boring! You are only looking at who you can get to come into the church, but you are NOT looking at your own children in the church. Your children should come first that already are coming to church! Show them that! By not having VBS you are doing a HUGE dis service to your own children!I find it so very sad!!

Thanks for sharing your thoughts about VBS anonymous. It's obvious you still love VBS very much. Happy it's still works for you and your church. But remember...there are many ways to show the kids in your church that you care about them and help them grow in their faith. The big picture is more about what works than one particular program or method. Many churches help their kids grow spiritually using other methods than VBS. Each church has to be led by God to do what He wants for them. As the article stated...the post was not anti-VBS but simply making sure we're not doing it just because we've always done it.

Hey Dale, thanks so much for this post. I am new to full-time ministry and I am overseeing our Kids ministry. I was thinking about doing VBS this upcoming Summer. This post has really helped direct my thinking.

God bless you!

Not sure why it can't be viewed as a "both/and" opportunity rather than an either or. Do great weekly ministry, then offer a great summer program to bless your kids and reach kids you may not in the weekly ministry. One is not mutually exclusive if the other!
If finances are the argument, then offset with a small charge, or use creative people to put together a program that costs nothing but time and effort.

Here is the harsh reality - churches are dropping VBS programs because of staff and volunteer laziness, and poor leadership. It takes a lot of effort, great leadership, and creative, motivated volunteers to do an effective VBS program. Many churches just "can't be bothered". They begin making the excuses, then drop the program.
Sorry if I sound like an old testament prophet! But as someone who does church consulting as well as someone who works in a local church, I can say that the "both/and" model works very well as a discipling and outreach model for those churches with the leadership cojones and a willingness to put forth effort to reach children.

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