The Heart of VBS—Evangelism

carol_editedBack in 1996  the VBS team felt God leading them to revisit the format and principles of “doing” VBS. In 1997 the new VBS was rolled out with The Wild and Wonderful Good News Stampede. Many of you could probably sing the theme song and have fond of memories of attending or leading VBS that year, but you may not have been aware that one of the driving principles of VBS was and is evangelism.

VBS is meant to be more than just a fun event for your church kids, more than just a summer diversion from the norm, more than just another program to check off the list. At the heart of VBS is evangelism. It’s that one chance you may have at getting those who might not otherwise step foot in a church to have an encounter with the Lord.

Recently at our Preview events Kelli McAnnly led a session outlining why we do VBS and strategies for embracing the true heart of VBS—reaching people of all ages, leading them to know and respond to Jesus Christ as led by the Holy Spirit. Kelli was gracious enough to allow me to share how she used the acrostic AGENCY D3 to help conferees be intentional about evangelism.

A–aware

  • Be aware of those around us that do not have a personal relationship with Christ.
  • View those in our churches and community who are hurting, lost, sad, and in need of Christ through His perspective and become aware of their lost souls.

G-give

  • Offer VBS as a reason to intentionally invite lost people to your church
  • Give people a bridge to the spiritual orphans in your community.
  • Give people an opportunity to clearly present the gospel
  • Give people an opportunity to respond to Christ in a public way.

E-enable

  • Enable your church to work together towards the Great Commission.
  • Enable VBS directors, leaders, parents, and staff to share the love of Christ with kids and their families.

N-navigate

  • Being evangelistic navigates an entry point for unchurched people.
  • Attract people to your church with programs like VBS for their kids. Then you can help them navigate the gospel and how it connects to their lives.
  • Remember the gospel makes VBS relevant. Without the gospel, it is just fun and games.

C-connect

  • Connect with families. The initial follow-up contact should be the discovery of the family network.
  • Pass information discovered on to the follow-up team and to age group classes.
  • Invite each member of the family to the appropriate Bible study class and other ministry opportunities.
  • Plan to have multiple contacts with the family over the following months.

Y-yield

  • Yield and surrender your heart to God’s plan
  • Use bold, creative strategies to teach people about Christ.

D3

  • Display—display the gospel. Be people who are evangelistic.
  • Demonstrate—demonstrate a life that follows Christ. Do things that bring Him glory.
  • Declare—declare the gospel. Tell people about Christ.

There are an estimated 313 million people living in the US. 98 million of those have accepted Jesus as their Savior. 43% of those accepted Jesus before reaching the age of 13. According to George Barna, evangelism is most effective among kids. Where is your heart?

From Derailed to Teachable Moment

carol_editedWe’ve all had them, those moments when some little something derails our whole lesson. We’ve prepared, recited in our minds how things are going to go, imagined how we’ll see the “lightbulbs come on” when the kids get it, then Wham one kid derails the whole shebang. This happened to me recently. I actually even anticipated that the picture of Baby Jesus that  looked like a picture of Charlie Brown could cause problems. I decided to head things off at the pass and find a more realistic picture of Baby Jesus to use. Armed with my picture and lesson, I set off to church feeling quite confident that the lesson I had envisioned would come to fruition. Only one little problem, I had forgotten that the Charlie Brown picture would show up again later in the lesson. And as predicted, when the pictures were handed out for the last activity, my one rambunctious child immediately yelled, “Hey, it’s Charlie Brown!”

Then a discussion ensued as to whether or not Charlie Brown had hair because the baby in this picture had a little hair. And in God’s infinite wisdom, He saw fit to send one little girl to the library before coming to church. Guess what book she checked out. Yep, it was a Snoopy book. Yes, she did indeed bring it to class instead of leaving it in the car, so she could show an actual picture of Charlie Brown and put the matter to rest. He does indeed have a little swirl of hair. So what to do now that all the kids were labeling their pictures “Charlie Brown” instead of “Baby Jesus?”

We tried reminding the kids that this was just supposed to be a picture to help them remember that Baby Jesus was special even though He looked and acted like all the other babies. We told the kids that Jesus was better than Charlie Brown ever could be. We asked if Charlie Brown would die on the cross for us. Now some kids reasoned that he might die on a cross for us. At this point we reminded the kids that even if he did, it would never be enough. Only the sacrifice of a sinless person, only Jesus would ever be enough. And then they began to focus less on Charlie Brown and more on the true meaning of how special Jesus is and how we need Him to be our Savior.

So in that moment when your lesson is derailed, do not fear, do not feel defeated, this may just be the teachable moment God has planned.

Tips for Moving from Derailed to Teachable Moment

1. Anticipate and plan for things that could derail your lesson. It can be something as small as the artwork you use, but know that kids will pick up on the small things.

2. Turn the moments around by asking questions and guiding discussion. Lead the kids back to the biblical truth that you are trying to drive home.

3. Take a “time out.” Stop for a moment, take a deep breath, regroup, and start again. The more flustered you get about the situation, the more kids will want to continue the distraction.

4. Remember that this may not have been in your plan, but it very well could have been in God’s plan.

Share with us your tips that get you moving from a derailed moment to a teachable one in the comments.

Random Tip 1406 – Create a Plan Before the Emergency

20140105-190812.jpg You may have noticed my photo looks a little different today. That is because I am FROZEN!!!

In case you are not aware, Nashville experienced a temperature drop of 50 degrees in 12 hours. While this might not be an unusual experience for you, it definitely was for this boy from Houston, Texas! To be honest I had no idea how to prepare my house, car or mind. I’m sure I am giving you Northerners a good laugh with my lack of preparedness.

In Houston the threat of a hurricane was real, but could typically be managed with a stock of supplies, a generator, and an emergency evacuation plan. I was prepared. I still have a hurricane supply box in the garage even though the threat of a tidal wave is not likely in Nashville.

What does all of this talk of weather have to do with Bible School? Glad you asked. Just like unexpected weather situations, a week of VBS is an emergency just waiting to happen. You may not experience tidal waves or plunging temperatures, but extreme heat or a sudden down pour can scrambled even the best orchestrated plans.

Make emergency planning part of your VBS planning and training. Know in advance what you will do if rain makes it impossible to have recreation on the front lawn, a fire alarm sends everyone running, or an injury requires immediate medical attention. What will you do if the air conditioner chooses the week of VBS to take a vacation, or a worker becomes ill and is unable to finish the week.

Another potential emergency lets us end on a brighter note – more kids than expected. I once had 60 teenagers show up on the first day for Youth VBS when we only expected 10. Talk about an emergency!

The definition of emergency is an unexpected situation that becomes top priority and requires immediate attention. With a plan in place emergencies become expected and manageable.

Something I always thought a little funny – the years we enlisted a nurse as a member of the VBS team her skills were never needed. The years we didn’t have a nurse we needed one every day.

Random Tip 1404 – Begin the Evening with Rec

wooley1 2013As more churches move their Bible schools to evening (approximately 65%) they discover that it is difficult to fit all the traditional activities of VBS into the time allotted.

I have heard of and witnessed an interesting variety of optional schedules, but one of my favorites is using recreation as an arrival activity instead of a rotation.

With this schedule the front lawn becomes the rec field and the fun begins 30 minutes before the official start time.

Divide the rec field to allow for kids of different ages to play at the same time without the older kids running over the little ones. Choose games that allow kids of all ages to enter into the activity as they arrive.

Be prepared for the number of kids to increase each evening as word spreads that recreation is an early arrival activity.

What unique schedule options have you used for your Bible schools?

Random Tip 1403 – A Job For Everyone

wooley1 2013Although it is typically the least effective, the most common way to enlist workers is to place an announcement in the church bulletin or make a passionate plea from the pulpit.

While this type of enlistment will result in a few volunteers, it is often the volunteers who say, “I’m happy to help but I can’t teach and don’t want to be in a classroom with kids.”

So now you have a dilemma. You just made an “all-hands-0n-deck” plea, but you don’t know what to do with people who made the above statement.

Before you ask for volunteers, make a list of all the possible ways someone could make a director’s life easier both before and during the week of VBS. Keep the list with you at all time and be ready (AND WILLING) to delegate a project the moment someone even hints at volunteering.

A few of the things on my personal list would be:

  • Decorating the common areas such as foyer, halls, and registration area
  • Making copies both before and during the week of VBS
  • Being available to make the daily last minute run to the store
  • Picking up trash and helping the facilities crew prepare rooms for the next day
  • Resetting the auditorium after worship rally
  • Parking lot security

Let me know what jobs you would add to the list.

Random Tip 1402 – The Daily Sack

wooley1 2013My all-time favorite VBS organization tip is The Daily Sack – or The Daily Box. It requires a little pre-planning and preparation, but it is a sure cure for the daily stress and anxiety of trying to locate everything needed at the last minute.

The concept is almost too simple to mention, but I’m sure it will become one of your favorite all-time tips as well.

Step 1: Gather six large paper grocery bags or, especially with the theme Agency D3, six file boxes.

Step 2: Label bags/boxes with the day of each session. For example, the first sack would be labeled “Day 1″. Label the sixth bag/box “Daily Supplies”.

Step 3: Schedule time in one sitting to look over all five sessions of the leader guide. Make three lists of needed items for each session. One for items to gather from around your home or the church resource room. The second list for items that need to be purchased. And the third list for resources that need to be cut out or constructed. Remove resources from the leader pack and separate them by the sessions they are to be used. You should end up with six stacks: one for each day, plus one for items that will be used every day. Place each stack of resources in the appropriate sack or box.

Step 4: With the first two lists in hand, make a trip to the church resource room and store. Try to gather all supplies in one trip. Once you return home, separate the supplies into the appropriate sack or box.

Step 5: Set aside a time to complete all projects on the third list and place the items in the appropriate sack.

Step 6: On the day of VBS just grab your sack and go!

Apologetics 101

thomasThe day we announced our VBS 2014 theme, one well-known apologist tweeted: “FANTASTIC! 2014 VBS curriculum from @Lifeway focuses on apologetics for kids. Excellent!” Since then we’ve heard many of you express the same kind of excitement about this Bible content designed to help kids discover the truth about who Jesus is and defend their faith in a culture that is often hostile toward Christianity. But we also know that “apologetics” is an unfamiliar word to some. Consider this your crash course. Are you ready?

 

What is apologetics?
Simply put, apologetics is the defense of the faith. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “a reasoned defense.” Just like attorneys use evidence and reasoning to defend their clients in court, Christian apologists point to concrete evidence and give well-reasoned answers to defend the truth of Christianity.

The purpose of apologetics is not winning an argument. The purpose is to draw people into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, the cornerstone and foundation of our faith.

What about evangelism?
Apologetics goes hand-in-hand with evangelism. In fact, apologetics could even be described as pre–evangelism. For those who question the Christian faith, apologetics uses logical answers as springboards for sharing the gospel. Ours is not a blind faith; it is a faith firmly rooted in history and evidence.

Apologetics can also be described as post–evangelism. At some point, everyone will have his beliefs directly challenged, whether by a friend, teacher, family member, or the ever-pervasive media. When those “points of crisis” come along, we must be able to fall back on those foundational pillars of our faith and be assured not only of what we believe, but also why we believe it. Matthew 22:37 commands us to love God not only with our hearts and souls, but also with our minds.

Why are so many young people growing up and leaving their faith behind? It’s because the Christian community is failing to engage their minds as well as their hearts. As kids ministry leaders, we can give children a priceless gift by helping them to think biblically and to defend their faith before they leave our sphere of influence.

Can’t we hold off until they get to the youth group?
Let me answer this question with another question. Can we really afford to wait?

While teaching in VBS two summers ago, a kindergartner said to me, “My daddy says God isn’t real, so His Son isn’t real either.” What this 6-year-old was really saying was: “Tell me why what you’re saying is true.”

We must give kids reasons why Christianity is objectively true, why the Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word, why we can know that Jesus was more than just a good man and that His resurrection is not a myth or elaborate hoax. If not, we risk losing our children and generations to follow.

As kids ministry leaders, we don’t have to have all the answers… and we don’t even have to pretend to. But we do need to be available to kids and help them work through their questions, doubts, and uncertainties honestly. This will become very important as they enter the teenage years and young adulthood… but it begins now. It begins in VBS. It begins with leaders who will not only help kids discover the truth, and introduce them to a Savior who died for them, and build a foundation for life-long faith in them, but who will show them by example how to live it out.

 

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Random Tip 1401 – The Official VBS Clock

wooley1 2013While planning for my first year (yes, VBS is a year-round event) of VBS at Park Place Baptist Church in Houston, I was introduced to the official – not to be taken for granted – VBS CLOCK!

There it was – round, off-white face, black rim -  like so many other clocks in the building. Just doing its best to stay relevant. There was nothing spectacular about this clock, yet it was very, very special! This clock had been designated by the VBS Director as THE OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK!

At first I thought it a silly idea and a little too bureaucratic for my taste.  Why bother? Every room was equipped with a clock, and the last time I noticed everyone who had volunteered so far typically wore a watch. What we were in desperate need of was more time, not more time keepers!

But then my friend and VBS Director, Dava Donaho, patiently explained that the time on every clock and watch was just a few seconds off from the next. Typically not a problem, but seconds turn into minutes, and when dealing with a schedule that was already too tight to allow for more than five minutes between each rotation, lost minutes could turn rotation into a disaster. The light came on and THE OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK made perfect sense!

During worker training the glory and importance of the official VBS clock was highlighted. Workers were reminded to make a daily check to be sure their watches and the clocks in the rooms matched the official time. THE OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK saved the day – or in this case the week! We were able to rotate 500 kids as easily and in the same amount of time as we could rotate 5.

As a well-known TV hostess might say, “The OFFICIAL VBS CLOCK – It’s a good thing!”

Over the next few weeks I am going to use this space to share some of my favorite VBS tips. I’ll just say up front that none of them will be original. For some of you the information will be new and for others just a reminder of what you already know and do. I have asked several friends to add their ideas, and now I’m inviting you to share your tips as well. Just hit reply and wow us with your VBS wisdom! By the way, if I haven’t told you lately, I sure do appreciate what you do as you go about connecting people to the Gospel through the fantastic ministry of VBS!

Coming to a location near you…

mary2013′s VBS season is wrapping up and we have loved hearing the stories about the impact that Colossal Coaster World had on the kids who attended VBS at your church this summer!

We can hardly believe that it is time to start planning for 2014 now! The best planning and training that you can get takes place each year at the VBS Preview events. If you’ve been, leave us a comment and tell us why it’s a “can’t miss event.”

If you haven’t been before, here are 6 reasons to sign up today:
1. Be one of the first to truly experience and be trained for your time at Agency D3 in 2014.
2. Hear from writers and editors about best practices and creative ideas to engage the kids who attend.
3. Ask any question that you might have to those who developed the curriculum for Agency D3.
4. Have a blast networking with other leaders and hearing their ideas about decorating and training teachers.
5. Hear from experts about child development, discipline, and classroom management to pass on to your VBS volunteers.
6. Take home a ton of ideas, notes, and swag that will give you a jumpstart into the summer!

VBS Previews are coming to a city near you! We have events in Ridgecrest, North Carolina; Fort Worth, Texas; Nashville, Tennessee; and Kissimmee, Florida!

Check out more details and register here. 

VBS 2014 Tour Stop 5: 6 Step VBS Continued

wooley1 2013Last Tuesday I introduced you to the simplification and reorganization of the VBS 2014 Administrative Guide for Directors based on LifeWay’s 6 Step VBS. Age-group leader guides have also been simplified as well – you are going to love the cleaner look – beginning with Page 1 which includes a version of the 6 Step VBS designed specifically for teachers.

1. Prepare Your Heart

2. Get the Basic Facts from Your VBS Director

3. Plan

4. Gather and Prepare

5. Teach

6. Continue the Connection

Following is a brief explanation – at least in my words – of what each step means.

Prepare Your Heart: Great teachers are first great learners. Preparing our hearts to teach VBS means first allowing the message of each Bible story to speak to and transform us personally. The Bible content of Colossal Coaster World is a great example. Before I could teach others to face fear by trusting God, I had to first trust God with some of my own fears.

Get the Basic Facts from Your Director: Simple facts such as session time, room assignment, and a list of other activities and rotations planned for the day, are essential to the planning process. This may seem like a no-brainer, but regrettably I have been the teacher who was told, “Just show up a few minutes early and we’ll tell you what you need to know.” Can you say, “Mistake!”?

Plan: Take time to look over all five sessions to learn how each connects to the others. Once you have the big picture you can begin planning one session at a time, making lists of items to gather and prepare for each day.

Gather and Prepare: My favorite way to prepare for VBS is to create a master list of all the resources I need to gather, purchase, or prepare. With list in hand I like to make one raid on the church resource room, one shopping trip, and take one evening to put everything together. Then, using six boxes or bags, I separate everything by the day it will be used. The sixth box is for the resources that will be used every day. By taking time in advance to gather and organize I save tremendous time and anxiety the day of the session. Each morning I simply review the lesson, pick up the appropriate box, and head to church.

Teach: There is a little more involved here than just reading or telling a passage from the Bible. But with a little preparation and a little knowledge of why a variety of learning activities are important, transformational teaching will be much easier than you might imagine.

Continue the Connection: We spend all week getting to know and influence kids, and then on the last day of VBS we tear down the decorations, throw the resources in a closet, run to our cars, and consider the job done. VBS is one of the best opportunities the church has to connect with unchurched kids and their families, yet we so often cut the relationship off just as it is gaining momentum. Think of it as starting to build a bridge but then halting construction half way across the river. Continue the Connection (follow-up) is not the responsibility of the pastor, the VBS director, nor any one person or team. Continuing the connections started during VBS is the responsibility of every VBS worker and church member.

To learn more about these six simple steps check out Page 1 of a LifeWay’s VBS leader guide which will be available in December.

Next week, Tour Stop 6: Takin’ It Home