Several years ago LifeWay's VBS Team surveyed 3,000 leaders about church practices and potential resources. We were amazed when 97% of the respondents agreed their greatest need was help with follow-up (connecting with unchurched guests and families attending VBS).
Each year approximately 10% of everyone attending VBS acknowledge being unchurched. Considering approximately 3,000,000 kids, teens, and adults participate, 10% is 300,000. Of course since most of these individuals are kids, when you add in their parents and siblings who did not attend the grand total is a staggering 1,000,000.
As we have talked with VBS leaders across the country it has become evident that for the majority of churches follow-up is a one-time action consisting or a postcard or letter expressing thanks for participation and a invitation to return. Sadly, these same churches have often expressed disappointment that the results of VBS has been minimal at best.
Another assumption these conversations has confirmed is that far too many churches leave follow-up to the pastor or a staff member. Workers tend to feel their responsibilities end with the close of the last day of VBS and assume someone else will take care of making contact with the unchurched kids and families discovered during the week.
With survey results and statistics in hand, the VBS team has been on a journey to help church leaders see follow-up not as a one-time, one-action event, but as a series of actions intentionally designed to connect unchurched families to the Gospel and to the church. Here are six key points for using VBS to initiate continued connections.
1. VBS can no longer be seen as an event in itself, but must be seen as a prelude to the real event - relationships that connect people to the Gospel and to the church.
2. When unchurched families bring their kids to VBS they are the ones initiating the relationships or connections. In doing so the families provide names, addresses, phone numbers and everything needed to make contacts and nurture the relationships. Unchurched families initiate the relationship and it is the responsibility of the church to respond. This way of thinking is contrary to what we have typically practiced.
3. For churches to be successful they must stop thinking in terms of "follow-up" action steps and instead must start thinking in terms of relational "continued connections." Friendships develop over time and as a result of continually reaching out to each other. Relationships can be messy and complicated and do not develop as a result of a completed checklist.
4. VBS leaders and pastors must be intentional about designing opportunities for continued connections to happen instead of leaving them to chance. Continued connections need to be planned with the same priority, intensity and detail as VBS itself. Someone needs to be in charge and have plans ready before the first day of VBS.
5. Unchurched families discovered during VBS must become the responsibility of the entire church and not just VBS workers. For connections to be successfully made every age-group ministry must become intentionally involved in connecting families to ongoing ministries.
6. Persistence is vital. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again," is a proverb that truly applies to making continued connections.
The average VBS results in the discovery of 40 unchurched individuals (kids and other family members). What might be the result of your church intentionally investing in the lives of 40 people for one year?
Jerry Wooley, @vbsguy, has served as LifeWay's VBS Ministry Specialist since 2006.