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?

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

VBS by the Numbers

wooley1 2013It has taken a little longer than usual, but we finally have numbers from VBS 2012. Yep, you read it correctly – 2012.

We always run a year behind in the numbers department to allow time for every church to submit there VBS data. For 2012 a total of 28,187 churches and missions reported hosting either a traditional VBS, and Backyard Kids Club, a mission VBS, or a combination of all three. This is a tremendous increase of 3,246 more Bible schools than 2011, and the largest number of schools since 2004!

A grand total of 2,759,014 kids, students, adults and workers enrolled and there were 79,588 professions of faith! These are numbers to celebrate!

There were also 2,411 people who publicly announced their intention to respond to God’s call for vocational ministry. This is an increase over 2011 of 130 people. VBS is – or at least should be – extremely evangelistic, but the missions rotation component has been used in a mighty way to connect people of all ages with ways they can personally be on mission in their communities and abroad. Since 2004 alone, 19,349 individuals have committed themselves to full-time ministry as a result of VBS. Today many of these individuals are involved in VBS and other ministries around the world.

However, a deeper look shows that both enrollment and professions of faith are slightly lower than 2011 even though an additional 3,246 schools were conducted. The average enrollment of 113 per school dropped to 97 per school. This is not necessarily a bad thing since the reports reflect an increase in the number of churches conducting Backyard Kids Clubs, which by their nature would have smaller attendance.

A surprising shift to a trend that has been increasing for over a decade was the number of churches that returned to morning Bible schools.  Sixty percent of churches reported an evening school, but this is down from the 67 percent reported for 2011. Based on a upward trend I had predicted that 70 percent of 2012 Bible schools would have been conducted in the evening. It is going to be interesting to see what happens to this number for 2013.

Thank you for taking the time to submit a Church VBS Report form. Each year we mail out 48,000 forms plus provide one in the Administrative Guide for Directors. Like an annual physical, this data diagnoses the health of VBS as well as helps us at LifeWay prepare resources that corresponds with changing trends. VBS continues to be the largest evangelistic outreach collectively conducted by churches. We can definitely say Yes! to VBS!

Reunion Time!

wooley1 2013 By now more than half of all Bible schools for 2013 are over, which means the real work of VBS is just beginning – Continued Connections.

Follow-up has long been a term to describe the actions a church takes after VBS to stay connected with unchurched families who participated during the week of VBS. For many churches follow-up, if done at all, has become little more than a post card. That’s why we are changing the term to Continued Connections. Follow-up is more than one contact or one activity. To be successful the relationships begun during VBS must be nurtured and grown. It is an on-going process.

Last Tuesday I went back to the files and found a great birthday card idea, but again that is only one contact.

The file also revealed several suggestions for an end-of-summer or back-to-school VBS reunion. This is a great way to reconnect with unchurched families just as they are creating their fall routine. It is also the perfect time to introduce them to new Bible study groups or ministries that typically begin in the fall.

The great thing about a reunion is that it can be as simple or complicated as you desire.  The main thing is to connect it through decorations, music, recreation and snacks to VBS. There is power in building upon memories by bringing people to a time and place where they had a positive experience.

Several VBS leaders shared that they pay attention during the week of VBS to the snacks and activities the kids enjoy most, and make sure they are part of the reunion. They also sing the VBS songs and recap the Bible content in a way that ties in with kids going back to school.

A VBS reunion is also a good idea for a fall festival. You already have the decorations in the closet!

 

 

 

 

Happy Birthday from Your Friends at VBS

wooley1 2013Thousands of churches concluded VBS 2013 over the weekend, and for thousands more this is day two. Approximately half of all schools will be conducted during the first three weeks of June.

This news tempts many leaders to believe the work of VBS is over for another year, but in reality, just as VBS ends the real work begins!

Now is time to make continued connections a priority – not only for the next few weeks but for the rest of the year.

When an unchurched family filed out a VBS registration card you were given a gift. A precious gift that gives you everything you need to build on the relationship begun during the week of VBS.

I have gone to the archives, and for the next few weeks I’m going to share ideas for continuing the connection.

The following idea comes from Sue Owen in Wyoming:

At registration get the child’s date of birth as well as school grade. Ask a few members of the church who are good at sending cards to be responsible for mailing out birthday cards throughout the year.  Include a VBS bookmark, an ABC Memory Card, or other reminder of VBS, as well as information about upcoming events.

Since few children get mail addressed to them, the parent should be interested in who it is from and see the reminder of the great experience their child had at VBS.

As a middle school student I attended a Billy Graham Crusade. During the response time one of my friends asked if I would walk down with him. The lady who counseled him took the time to thank me for encouraging my friend and asked for my name, address, and birthday. I never met her again, but for the next ten years I received a note of encouragement and prayer from her on my birthday. She wrote the book on continued connections!

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.

 

VBS New Testaments

thomasLooking for a special gift for new Christians, a meaningful “souvenir” from VBS for kids, or something to take into the home of an unchurched family who visited your VBS? The VBS New Testaments with Psalms and Proverbs fit the bill perfectly! There are lots of things to love about these New Testaments, but my personal favorite feature is that the very first pages of these Bibles feature 30 days worth of kid-friendly, kid-centered devotions. So not only are you putting the Word of God in a child’s hands, you’re also helping him learn how to read the Bible and apply it to every day life.

devotions

 

Another nice feature is that the plan of salvation is clearly outlined throughout these Bible’s pages. Key verses are highlighted to make them easy for kids to spot and directions to “turn to page # and read ____ verse” make it easy for a child to use his own Bible to share the Gospel with a friend. There’s even a section that deals with questions kids have about what being a Christian means and what happens next.

 

The back of each Bible contains fun games and activities that encourage children to use their Bibles and reconnect with the things learned at VBS. These activities can even be used during VBS for those times when you need a little something extra to fill the time.

activities

 

The VBS New Testaments are available in HCSB and KJV to match the VBS curriculum. Take a look at them for yourself at your local LifeWay store or on the Web at www.lifeway.com. Got a great idea for using the VBS New Testaments? Feel free to share it with others by posting a comment here.

13 HCSB_COVER13 KJV_COVER

Beginning Well…Ending Strong Part 2

wooley1 2013Last Tuesday I listed three steps Pastors and VBS Directors need to consider to insure VBS begins well and ends strong. To briefly review, Step 1: determine the purpose of VBS, Step 2: establish dates and a budget that reflects the purpose, and Step 3: enlist a team to dream and implement the strategy.

Step 3 is actually two steps in one. The first, as I wrote about last week, is to enlist a dream team that will also become your core leadership team. This team will not only help you dream possibilities, but will help you turn the possibilities into realities.

Once you have enlisted your core leadership team it is time to enlist and train workers. I’ll share more about this topic in a future post.

Now that we have taken a second look at the three steps to beginning well, we’ll move on to three steps for ending strong.

Step 4: Put promotion/publicity strategies in motion. The key here is knowing your target audience. Who are you really trying to reach for VBS? Which segments of your community are you not only best able to reach, but best able to minister to once you have reached them? Once you know your target audience you can direct all of your energies and resources to reaching the people most likely to attend your VBS and your church. To learn more about creating a promotion strategy check out Six Steps to Reaching Your Target Audience.

Step 5: Stay focused throughout the planning stage and week of VBS. This might just be the hardest step of all. Back in Step 1 you determined the purpose (reason for conducting and desired goals) of your VBS. As you gained support from the congregation and enlisted and trained a team, you helped them understand and own the purpose. But now that VBS is in full swing it is easy to get caught up in the crunch of making IT happen and forget the very reason why IT is suppose to happen.

If IT (purpose) is building bridges to the unchurched, then everything – from registration to the final Amen – must remain focused on building bridges. Each Bible story, craft, and rec game should be used to build bridges to the unchurched kids, students, and adults who may be experiencing church for the first time. If the purpose of VBS is building bridges then sharing the Gospel message and nurturing relationships becomes the focus of every lesson, activity, and every minute. Ending strong means never letting anything get in the way of staying focused on the purpose.

Step 6: Put continued connection (follow-up) strategies in motion. To end strong we need go back to the purpose (Step 1) and change the way we think about VBS. Instead of VBS being “the event” in itself, it must become the catalyst to the event which I hope you will agree is continued connections. For many churches, more unchurched families are identified during VBS then any other outreach all year. When a child from an unchurched home attends VBS, a church hasn’t just discovered one unchurched person. The church has typically discovered – when parents and siblings are included – four unchurched people.

On average, ten percent of everyone enrolled in VBS claims to be unchurched. For a typical VBS of 100 people (both students and workers) this means 10 are unchurched. But in reality a church has just discovered 40 people who claim no church home or affiliation – yet were willing to allow their child attend your VBS!

A simple postcard saying, “Thanks for attending our VBS” is not enough. The postcard may allow you to check off the follow-up box on your to-do list, but it is not adequate if the purpose of VBS is building bridges with the unchurched. Building bridges requires continued connections far beyond the week of VBS, and continued connections requires a strategy. In the next few weeks I’ll share more about creating a strategy for continued connections. Until then, start working on the first three steps. It’s not too late to begin well and end strong!

 

VBS & Fall Fest

Could there be a more perfect way to reuse VBS decorations than at your church’s fall festival? LifeWay Kids had our own fall festival last week… complete with food, candy, and games. Candace & I put our own spin on the classic “fish for a prize” game and totally decked out Candace’s office door with decorations from the Great Barrier Reef (Amazing Wonders Aviation).

You can check out more of the great games, booths, and decorations from our fall office party on the Kids Ministry 101 blog all this week!

We want to hear from you… Does your church do any kind of fall festival? How have you reused VBS decorations for other church/community events? Give us all some inspiration!

Easy Peasy 2012 VBS Director's Evaluations

I know you’ve just seen months of planning come to fruition and all you really want to to is sit back and relax. But if you could, do one more thing. Just one and I promise to make it as easy as possible.

We want to hear from you. Please fill out the VBS Director’s Evaluations online here or you can complete a paper copy from the 2012 Administrative Guide and mail it in to the address on the form. That’s it! Easy peasy, right? And I promise I will read every one and pass along all your comments, thoughts, and suggestions to the VBS team to help us evaluate what you need for VBS to be easy for you.