What are the ingredients for a successful Vacation Bible School? This year ClearView Baptist Church in Franklin, Tenn., challenged conventional thinking on the issue.
Pastor Mark Marshall asked his team last year to consider radically changing VBS to better engage in the community.
“Mark has been leading us on a journey through Radical to get us outside the walls of our church,” said Connie Hartzell, minister to preschool at ClearView. Marshall had become familiar with the preaching and teaching of David Platt, pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., but last year Marshall decided to take his staff through a reading of Platt’s New York Times best-selling book. As the staff read the book together, a strong desire to abandon business-as-usual grew.
“When you try to get a church to begin thinking about being missional, they think about Africa,” Marshall said. “The reason I was willing to risk it was because it could cause people to think ‘We can do missions right here.'”
The “risk” was changing the traditional format of VBS at the church. For years ClearView has held a traditionally programmed VBS on their church campus near Cool Springs. This year Marshall challenged his church members – rather than inviting kids to campus – to take VBS outside the church; specifically, to their own backyards.
“I feel this [VBS] follows Mark’s vision to get outside the walls of the church,” Hartzell said.
According to Jennie Ross, children’s administrator at the church the staff started by asking the simple question, ‘What do we need to change?’ Nothing is sacred. Are we doing good or doing what’s best?” ClearView transitioned to a backyard model of VBS in 2011, and chose to use LifeWay’s Club VBS theme materials, called Beach Blast. ClearView hosted 28 backyard VBS sites in 20 different neighborhoods.
“It’s LifeWay’s role to create tools,” Marshall said. “It’s the local church’s role to set strategy.”
Making a major change in a popular church ministry program is not always easy. “I was really anxious about it because I didn’t know what to expect,” church member Beck Rutland said.
“Shane [ClearView’s minister to children] did a good job meeting with his team, and selling them the vision,” Marshall said. “There was some opposition but it was not strong.”
One parent came to Ross in tears after the announcement that the church would not hold VBS on campus this year. She told Ross she was crying because her eldest son had been saved at last year’s VBS, and she wanted her younger children to have the same opportunity. Though she was visibiliy opposed to the initial idea, she was willing to set aside her personal feelings and host a backyard site in her neighborhood, Ross said.
As the young mother prepared to host neighborhood kids at her house this summer, she practiced explaining God’s plan for salvation through Christ using an EvangeCube. Naturally, her children heard her reshearse.
“You all forced me to do this,” she explained to Ross, adding that while preparing for her backyard VBS site, her middle son confessed Jesus as Lord for the first time. Now she had tears of joy.
“I would tell another pastor to [transition to a backyard model] because it both equips and empowers your people to do this and know you do not have to wait on the church to do it,” Marshall said. “It was cool to see these kids from Williamson County be captured by these simple tools.”
by Devin Maddox