Wednesday, August 05, 2009

What Makes A Successful VBS Program?

I love VBS! A colleague told me several years ago that the children’s ministry program, Vacation Bible School, was an outdated, antiquated program which the right kind of churches weren’t doing any more. I disagree.

It’s all in how you measure success. Do you measure success by the number of children who attend? By the number of children who accept Christ? By the size of your volunteer force? Or by what is learned by both children and adults?

As I see beautiful moments happen at a VBS, I think, “This is the best VBS ever. This is why we had VBS this year.” Then something will happen the next day: a worker will share a precious moment about a child’s “ah ha” moment or a volunteer will relate a new insight, and I’ll think again, “This is why we have VBS.” This year is no exception. Only two days of VBS at our rural church have passed, and I’m already telling friends on Facebook that our VBS is wildly successful. Here’s why.

Our theme this year is a game show theme. It ties in beautifully with the message found in Joshua 1:9, that God is with us wherever we go. The skit at the end of each night’s program reviews the daily bible story by having two quirky and clueless adults pitted against one of the students in a game show trivia contest. Monday night, the director chose S. to be the student contestant. S. has attended VBS at our church for several years. I would describe her as a “needy” child, one of those children who always vies for the teacher’s attention, often in childish, inappropriate ways. Her behavior tells me this is a child who isn’t getting enough love from the right sources and she’s craving love and affirmation. Honey, you came to the right place. Only Jesus can satisfy. We are Jesus’ hands and feet. The church in the flesh can show her just how much we love her.

The script is set up so the student wins. The child would have to have been out of the room to miss the answers to the Bible story. Still, the director and I wondered if S. could handle it. She did! It was electric! After every right answer, the room of kids just exploded with cheers and applause. The last question was a little tough. The room was deafeningly silent, punctuated with a few comments such as “You can do it,” “Think.” She did it and the audience was on their feet. And the beaming smile on her face made me cry. I doubt that she will ever forget that one time in her life, an entire room of people cheered for her. If we accomplish nothing more than to affirm the self worth of a lonely little girl, I thought, we’ve been successful.

But we did.

This summer, our congregation hired my daughter to serve as a youth intern. Part of her job description was to serve as VBS director. She has done an excellent job at recruiting, organizing and dealing with a thousand details and a few cranky workers. Last night, she shared with her dad and me what she has learned about leadership. She shared that she learned that leadership is not all about being in the limelight, that a major part of it is a willingness to do the jobs no one else wants to do or sees that need doing, that part of being a leader is setting a program in motion, then stepping back into a support role, to help facilitate workers’ efforts.

Wow! It takes some adults years to learn those lessons of leadership. If we accomplish nothing more than to enable a 21-year-old to grasp the concept of servant-leadership well enough to carry it throughout her adult life, we’ve been successful.

Tonight’s theme is on telling others about Jesus. My husband is going to tell the kids of children who, after coming to Christ, told an adult who then came to Christ and brought others . . . . If one child catches the excitement of Jack’s message, comes to Christ, then tells a family member who comes to Christ . . . . if we don’t accomplish anything else, we will have been successful.

How do you measure success of a children’s ministry program? One precious story at a time.


Brittany said...

VBS is my favorite ministry in Children's Ministries. It's truly a week where we get to spend time with many of the children in our community. We get to show the love of God through our actions, crafts, songs, and missions. We see many of the children only during the week of VBS since who could pass up a few free hours of child care, but it is our one week to make a difference in the lives of all of those children. Is VBS an outdated concept? I say no. Yes we need to grow and change, God asks us all to grow, but what you can do in one weeks time is infinite. I applaud you in continuing in this summer tradition.

jec said...

This story made me cry. I also truly hope this experience binds your church people together. Building momentum -- a snowball effect.