Using VBS to Initiate Continued Connections

20140114-075705.jpgSeveral 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.

 

Guest Post: Apologetics in Agency D3

The following post is written by Dr. Shane Garrison. Dr. Garrison has served as assistant professor of Educational Ministries in the Campbellsville University School of Theology for the past five years. He additionally serves as president and lead consultant of Maple Trail Ministry Consultants.

I can’t wait for LifeWay’s VBS Agency D3 – Discover Decide Defend.  This year is going to be unlike any previous year in that we encourage our kids to take a hard look at the truths of the Bible and then learn how to defend what they believe in an ever-changing world.

The pattern and sequence is intentional.  We start by helping kids DISCOVER the truths of Scripture.  Then we ask them to DECIDE if they really believe what the Bible says about God, Jesus, and the way to be saved.  If so, then we help them DEFEND these truths in a world that is hostile, even angry, at such beliefs.  Discover Decide Defend makes perfect sense to me.

I can assure you as a parent of two elementary-age kids, the Christian worldview is under intense attack in our schools, communities, and country as our culture becomes far more religiously pluralistic and secular.  Anybody, including our kids, who takes a stand for biblical convictions and truth are seen as intolerant and out of line.  Our culture has determined we Christians can hold to our faith privately, but should never proclaim that faith publicly.

This is the world our kids live in and will continue to live in as they grow older.  So giving our children the tools to discover, decide, and defend their beliefs is vitally important.

It might be asked, however, “How is this VBS evangelistic?  How does Agency D3 share the Gospel of Jesus with unbelieving children and students?”

The answer lies in the power of apologetics.  Apologetics is simply defending the faith.  It is being able to stand for what you believe in and clearly explain how your faith is not built upon shifting sand, but on the rock solid Word of God.  We must be able to defend the reality of Jesus and his death on the cross as the only means of salvation.  “Our hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.

Apologetics is being able to say, “I believe this truth because…”  It is simply always being “ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15)  And our kids desperately need this – both believing children and unbelieving children.

For believing children, being able to discover decide defend will help them shore up any questions or doubts they might be facing.  It will provide for them a stronger foundation to stand upon.

For unbelieving children, we get the opportunity to teach them the essential truths of the Bible that will hopefully lead them to believe, not in some fairy tale, myth, or legend, but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are showing (and hopefully proving) to these children that Jesus is real and He really died for their sin and if they really trust in Him, He will really save them.  Discover DECIDE Defend.

I believe apologetics is a powerful evangelistic tool.  One that has been in use by Christian pastors, teachers and leaders for more than 1000 years.

Preparing for VBS Means Preparing for Follow-up Contacts

wooley1 2013With the two biggest weeks of the VBS 2013 season just days away (more Bible schools are conducted during the first two weeks of June than any other week), we need to realize we are being given a rich gift – the gift of connecting with hundreds of thousands of unchurched families.

For many families the week of VBS is the first and possibly only connection they will have with your church or any Christian church. It is a new beginning for both the families and the church. Growing these relationships is not the responsibility of the unchurched families. It is our responsibility! It is the responsibility of the church!

Recently I wrote about the importance of replacing our way of thinking about follow-up – as a simple postcard or one-time phone call – with the goal of making continued connections.  This goes way beyond a simple “thanks for coming to VBS” into a series of actions resulting in ongoing life-impacting relationships.

While building a relationship is an ongoing process of connections built on top of connections, there must be a beginning. For most of us the beginning step is the age-old idea of follow-up – making that initial contact with guests and anyone making a salvation decision during VBS. The problem for most of us is that the initial contact is also the last or only contact.

As you start preparing for these contacts, consider the following four levels or types of contacts that need to be made. Each requires a unique message and response time.

Level 1: Individual making a salvation decision or asking questions

Response time for this contact needs to be given top priority and made within 24 hours aof the decision if at all possible. If it is a child making a decision or asking questions, the contact needs to be made with parents as well. The person making this contact needs to be able to review the decision or questions, help the individual confirm his or her decision, and then share information about next steps such as baptism and church membership.

Level 2: Individual with no church affiliation

Response time for this contact needs to be made within 48 hours of the last session of VBS or the last session the individual attends VBS. This contact needs to be made in person if possible, but in a relaxed and non-threatening way (i.e. a quick front porch visit instead of entering the home). The person making this contacts needs to be able to share about other ministry opportunities the church has available for each member of the family. The purpose of this contact is to deepen the relationship by connecting family members to on-going ministries such as other special events and weekly Bible study.

Level 3: Individual from another church

Response time for this contact needs to be made within the next week unless the individual also requires a Level 1 contact. The goal of this contact is not to entice the family away from their church, but to let them know their participation was welcomed and appreciated, and that they are always welcome to participate in other ministry events in the future. If the individual has made a decision or is asking questions her church should be contacted and made aware of the situation.

Level 4: Individual regularly attending your church

Response time for this contact should also be made within the next week. This contact can be a postcard, phone call, or home visit. The goal of this contact is to make sure those kids who attend every Sunday are not overlooked. They may not have been the primary focus of VBS, but they need to know they were noticed, loved, and appreciated.

As I wrote earlier, these contacts are first steps within the process of continued connections. This is a critical beginning, but just a beginning.

 

Five Things Easter and VBS have in Common

bethany I love Easter! I’m like a little kid about it. It’s not eggs and candy and dresses. It’s the way Christ’s resurrection becomes real as dark winter fades to wonderful lively spring and we hear the old story one more time. It never gets old.

Come to think of it, neither does VBS. Which brings to mind what Easter and VBS have in common (in my quirky brain at least).

1. They’re fun! Easter comes with fun kids’ activities that, if we’re intentional, point the way to Christ’s death and resurrection.  There’s always a danger of letting activities gloss over the story and meaning of Easter, but if we work at it there are tons of ways we can celebrate the resurrection in fun ways with our kids. Check out our Easter Pinterest board for some ideas. There’s also the joy of waking up on Easter morning, knowing that Christ is risen! It’s always true but more real in the sunrise and pollen producing blooms beating out the death of winter. As mentioned, it makes me a bit giddy. VBS . . . well, I KNOW I don’t have to tell you why it’s fun!

2. Community connections. Both Easter and VBS give you a chance to meet kids (and families) who aren’t in church regularly and love on them. In fact, Easter Sunday is a good way to let a larger audience know about VBS. Consider preparing Save the Date cards to hand out to your Easter Sunday crowd so they can know about VBS ahead of time and hopefully plan to come. But don’t wait for VBS! Start building relationships with visitors at your Easter service, even if it’s talking just one person. You never know how God might use that relationship.

3. Volunteers! Easter and VBS often call for extra volunteers to be on hand in your church’s kids ministry since there are lots of extra kids to care for and extra activities to be accomplished. Think about volunteering if you haven’t already. If you’re in charge of recruiting helpers and teachers for Easter, VBS, or both, make sure you thank them for their hard work and sacrifice, and see this post for ideas about handling the extra traffic Easter brings. Try here and here for VBS recruitment.

4. Pause button. We get a chance to pause and realize that our problems pale in comparison to the grand story of God becoming man and dying for our sakes. Our problems also often pale in comparison to what others are facing. Look around on Easter Sunday for someone who could use help or support, then do what you can. Do the same thing during VBS.

5. They celebrate the reality that Jesus died for our sins and conquered death. They remind us to celebrate that truth often, to see it in new ways, to thankfully accept it, and to share it with others.

What’s your favorite thing about Easter? VBS? How can you use them to reach out to your community? Tell us in the comments.

VBS: God's Power at Work


“I wanna walk, I wanna talk, I wanna live in Your power. I wanna pray, I wanna stay, I wanna move in Your power.”

Approximately 2.5 million kids will be singing these words this summer in Amazing Wonders Aviation™ VBS, but will they and the adults leading the songs personally understand the reality of God’s power?

As VBS leaders across the Nation prepare for VBS 2012, we have an opportunity to lead kids, teens, and adults on an adventure to not only know about, but to personally encounter God’s awesome power. Power that is exhibited over nature, circumstances, sin, death, and our individual lives.

Psalm 147:5, Amazing Wonders Aviation VBS theme Scripture, celebrates and proclaims, “Our Lord is great, vast in power; His understanding is infinite.”

This proclamation of vast power is the centerpiece of another song of praise – one that has been sung through the centuries commemorating God’s restoration of Jerusalem. After 70 years in exile – 70 years of weeping and despair – the enslaved and scattered people of Israel are allowed to return to their beloved homeland. Not only have the people experienced the restoration of their cherished homeland, but the people themselves have experienced healing and restoration as well.

Can’t you picture it? The song begins softly – sung by only one or two – but quickly increases in volume as the transformed, those who were once brokenhearted and wounded (verse 3), brush away the tears and lift their unified voices in celebration of their restored lives, families, and Nation.

Much like the day of Psalm 147, we are surrounded by the brokenhearted and wounded. We live in families, communities, a Nation, and even churches in need of restoration. We are surrounded by spiritual exiles longing to be restored through a personal encounter with an awesome God and His amazing power.

“I wanna walk, I wanna talk, I wanna live in Your power. I wanna pray, I wanna stay, I wanna move in Your power.”

Vacation Bible School 2012 is our opportunity to go to the brokenhearted and wounded and proclaim restoration. But it must be done in God’s power and not our own. Before we can proclaim the amazing power of an awesome God we must have first experienced it. We only walk, talk, live, pray, stay, and move in God’s power when we first recognize our need for His power and then relinquish our own power to His.

The Apostle Paul recognized not only the need for God’s power in his life, but in this lives of all believers. “For this reason I (Paul) bow my knees before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named. I pray that He may grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, and that the Messiah may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:14-17a HCSB)

As we prepare for VBS 2012 we too need “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit.” Before we become too consumed with the crafts, music, decorations, and fun of VBS, which are all extremely vital to the experience, we need to follow Paul’s example and bow our knees before the Father. First, bow our knees seeking God’s power in our own lives, and then bowing our knees on behalf of our VBS coworkers and leadership.

Join me in asking for God’s power to be revealed and experienced in awesome and amazing ways this summer. May we do more than just tell the prescribed Bible stories that we read moments before the kids arrive. May we personally know – experience – God’s power and teach from the overflow of His power working in our own lives.

“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think—according to the power that works in you—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21 HCSB)

This article was originally written for the Tennessee Baptist and Reflector.

First Official Geek of the Week – Debbie Muller

I am so excited that I get to introduce one of my Illinois friends as the First Official VBS Geek of the WeekDebbie Muller works for the Illinois Baptist State Association in Springfield, Illinois and is a MEGA VBS FAN. She got our team’s attention at previews with her custom designed VBS jewelry. (Check out that subway token bling on her ears! Debbie is the one on the right.)

Debbie's VBS Bling!

Illinois hosts one of our earliest early bird conferences and Debbie volunteers every year to get things ready… in a BIG WAY!! Jerry Wooley often comes “back to the ranch” with tales about how they outdid themselves again this year. Here’s evidence of one of his IL trips! According to Debbie, this fully operational bull ride was given to one of the IL cowboy churches after Saddle Ridge Ranch was over. I guess VBS rides again!

Ride 'em, Jerry!

I asked Debbie some questions about her passion for VBS. Here’s part of our interview:

Me: What has been your “geekiest” VBS moment?

Debbie: For Arctic Edge we borrowed a moose head and hauled it all the way across town in the back of a pick-up truck. Oh, the looks we got!! We had to work to hang the thing with moving straps, then carefully suggest that folks might not want to stand under it… just in case!

(She also had great stories about big foam medical boxes she got for free, but covered up so much of the windshield, she could hardly see out. Or driving all over Illinois with a car filled with surfboards… think about that one for a minute and it’ll hit you! Or driving down the interstate with a Ramblin’ Road Trip travel trailer in the bed of her pickup truck! She had me laughing so hard I think I disturbed all my hallway office neighbors!)

Me: What is your favorite VBS theme to date?

Debbie: That’s hard because I like them all. But, I really like Ramblin’ Road Trip because I had actually been to all those places and had pictures and stories to share.

Me: What makes you continue to do VBS year after year?

Debbie: I just love it. It’s hard to explain – it’s like chocolate, you just gotta have it! I just have that much fun with it.

Me: How would you complete this sentence? You might be a VBS Geek if …

Debbie: You can sing ALL the VBS songs. My knees still hurt when I sing “Jehovah Jireh.” I don’t do rap, but I rapped John 3:16!

Love that VBS music!

Me: Will we see you at one of the VBS Previews?

Debbie: I’m bringing a van full to Nashville! I’m helping as a volunteer in Expo! Woo hoo!

Debbie (on the right) loves takin' it to the streets!!


Debbie’s enthusiasm was contagious as she talked about past VBS experiences and the “it’ll do everything but fly” airplane her husband is building for Amazing Wonders Aviation next year. But, what really impressed me the most was her true spirit of what VBS is all about – telling kids about Jesus. Debbie not only volunteers to help with state and local training of workers, but she works!! Debbie volunteers at 3 or 4 VBS’s every summer in addition to working in her own church’s VBS. Now THAT’S passion!

Thanks, Debbie, for all you do for the Kingdom! And for saying, “Yeh-yeh-yeh-yeh- yes! to Vuh-vuh-vuh-VBS!!”

Making the VBS Connection

Last Tuesday I wrote about the five essentials of VBS follow-up: 1. Start with a plan; 2. Put someone in charge; 3. Know your audience; 4. Use a variety of methods; and 5. Be creative.

The ultimate goal of each of these essential elements is to help you and your church make connections with the people you want to attend your VBS.

Here are five essential (again with the word “essential”) ways to connect:

1. Make COMMUNITY connections. Since I know the purpose of my church, where it is located, and what happens inside the walls, I just assume everyone else in the community knows as well. Wrong! The majority of people who drive by the church each day are not even aware the church or the church building exist. Before we can have great success inviting people to VBS we must first introduce ourselves to them and help them know who and what we are.

This doesn’t happen just because we leave brochures at each house or place a large banner in front of the church building. Well in advance of VBS we must, as a church, become involved in the community. We must participate in parades, community festivals, community organizations and schools, and be actively involved in meeting needs of individuals and the community.

2. Make NEIGHBORHOOD connections. Many church members today have little connection with their neighbors. They may wave as they are headed to the car, but have not invested the time to build relationships. Yet these are the people we are going to hand a stack of VBS brochures and ask them to invite their neighbors.

If we are going to depend on church members to be the primary promoters for VBS we may need to invest time helping church members meet their neighbors. This can be accomplished through block parties, frontyard Bible clubs, and service projects.

3. Make KID connections. If we want to invite kids to VBS we have to first find them. We have to go where the kids go: little league ball fields, schools, parks and swimming pools, the library (do kids go to libraries anymore?). You get the idea. Discover where the kids congregate and take your information to them – especially at the time parents are picking them up.

4. Make SERENDIPITOUS connections. That is a big word that simply means connect with people in unexpected ways. If ever church in town is delivering brochures door-to-door you are going to have to do something that stands out, that is unexpected, that is memorable! My favorite idea to date is a church that put their invitation on a frisbee, waited until the middle of the night, and placed a frisbee on each driveway. The next morning as people went out to pick up the paper or leave for work they found a frisbee not only on their own drive but every driveway in the neighborhood. Not only was it unexpected, but who throws away a frisbee?

5. Make PERSONAL connections. The very best way to publicize VBS is still the old fashioned way – one person telling/inviting another person. Instead of just making a pulpit plea to invite friends and neighbors, offer a brief training session on what to say. Arm members of the congregation with all the facts so they will be able to not only invite but to answer questions kids and parents might have. Share testimonies from people who are currently attending church because a friend or neighbor extended an invitation.

Another aspect of personal connections is training church members how to connect with people once they walk in the door of the church. Connection points 1 – 4 may get someone to attend, but unless personal connections are made the person/family is not likely to return. For many church members making this type of personal connection does not come easily – especially for members who have been involved in the church for a long period of time or who have a large family or many friends already attending the church.

By now (if you are still reading this post) you should be thinking, “Wow, making connections takes a lot of work,” and your are absolutely correct. But if VBS is one of the largest outreach events on the church calendar it requires work. It requires making the connection.

Coming next Tuesday: Big Apple Adventure theme-related promotion ideas.

Make a BIG impact after VBS

VBS season isn’t even in full gear and I’m already wondering what my church is planning to do for follow-up. Right now, we’re working on recruiting leaders—so this a great time to enlist a person to be in charge of our follow-up efforts. I was searching around for some helpful tips, and found this awesome article by Polly House that is full of practical VBS follow-up advice. I want to share it with you.

VBS Shouldn’t End on Friday

Written by Polly House

Year after year, churches indicate their greatest need for Vacation Bible School is help with the follow-up. “What takes place after VBS is just as important as anything that happens during the week,” said Mike Smith of the leadership and evangelism area of LifeWay Christian Resources. “You have opportunities after VBS that didn’t even exist before.”

Smith led a session on “VBS and Beyond: Evangelistic Follow-Up,” during the 2011 VBS Preview held Jan. 27-28 at LifeWay Christian Resources’ home office in Nashville, Tenn. A second preview was held Jan. 28-29. More than 1,500 people attended. Smith said the first step to successful evangelical follow-up is to have a VBS follow-up director. “This person is just as important as the VBS director,” Smith said. “The follow-up director makes certain every child is remembered after the week. This is especially important for children who are not already a part of the church family. The weeks soon after VBS may be the only time a church member is welcome in the home of an unchurched family. It can be a time of introducing what the church has to offer to the entire family.”

Smith highlighted some notable statistics from LifeWay’s 2009’s Vacation Bible School (the most recent statistics available). “These numbers are just from the churches that actually reported their information to their state conventions and to LifeWay,” he said. “We know there are many that don’t send in a report.”

  • Number of churches reporting: 24,427
  • VBS enrollment: 2,840,380
  • Professions of faith: 88,410
  • Sunday school/Bible study prospects discovered: 264,716
  • Prospects enrolled in Sunday school/Bible study: 49,541
  • Prospects added to the prospect file: 206,392

He also listed a number of follow-up strategies and ideas for churches and explained how they can help.

  • Have a fun and evangelistic family night. “This may be the only time some of the unchurched parents will ever step foot in the church.”
  • Follow up with the Children’s Music Series. “The children always love the music at VBS and the CMS is a great way to keep them excited about music.”
  • Use the aids in the VBS Administrative Guide. “This gives resources, PowerPoints, training ideas and follow-up plans.”
  • Gather accurate/sufficient information on every VBS participant. “Get as much as possible, and be honest why you need it. Tell them you plan to follow up.”
  • Determine ahead of time what will be your plan for follow-up. “Establish your strategy before VBS ever begins.”
  • Immediately after VBS, activate your follow-up teams. “People will never be more open than they are right then.”
  • Send information about the church directly to the homes. “You really can’t trust the kids to make it home with the information.”
  • Connect everyone in the family with the appropriate Sunday school class. “If they get connected with a small group like Sunday school, statistics tell us there is an 83 percent chance they will still be connected after five years, but only a 16 percent chance if they aren’t.”

Celebrate the results of VBS during a Sunday morning worship service. “Have the whole service be about VBS. Do the music, have testimonies, and have a VBS-themed sermon.” Smith also suggested the resources Leading a Child to Christ and More to Life to help churches evangelistically reach out to new families.

Speaking of Missionaries


Recently I introduced you to North American missionary Andrew Mann and Proof, featured missionaries in LifeWay’s VBS 2011 missions resources. Today I want to challenge you to look at VBS missions from a different perspective.

Instead of just learning about someone else God has called to be a missionary, take a moment to consider if just maybe you are the one being called.

In this video you will be introduced to young adults who accepted the call to serve as short-term summer VBS Missionaries to southern Florida. It is an amazing story of transformed lives, churches, and communities as these everyday missionaries use VBS as the vehicle to share the love of Jesus and the Gospel message. If VBS missionaries can make an impact in over 50,000 lives in Florida could they possible make an impact in your community as well? How about you? Is God calling you to be a VBS Missionary this summer to a church across town or to a neighborhood or segment of your community not typically reached by your church?

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1kBYM5GbtXU&w=640&h=390]

Thanks to David Moore and the Florida Baptist Convention for sharing this story and video. To learn more about ministries of the Florida Baptist Convention go to flbaptist.org

-the vbsguy

VBS still top outreach event!

According to a survey conducted among 801 Southern Baptist pastors by LifeWay Research, Vacation Bible School is still the top outreach event in the SBC! Here’s an excerpt from the article:

LifeWay Research reveals top evangelism activities

Written by Mark Kelly

NASHVILLE, Tenn., 10/7/09 – When it comes to evangelistic outreach, the most common methods Southern Baptist churches use these days are Vacation Bible School, feeding ministries, visitor follow-up and prayer for people who have not made a decision to receive Christ.

Most pastors, however, struggle to lead by example in personal evangelism, and churches don’t make the most effective use of available media to communicate with people who are unchurched, meaning those not associated with any church.

These were the key insights drawn from an online study, conducted by LifeWay Research, that asked Southern Baptist pastors more than 30 questions about their personal evangelism efforts, evangelism in their preaching, their church’s evangelism methods and advertising outreach methods used to reach their communities.

Events and ongoing activities

By far the most common outreach event conducted by Southern Baptist congregations is Vacation Bible School. Eighty-five percent of pastors say their churches held VBS in the past 12 months.

To read more of this article, click here!