Five investments that can transform your VBS into a children’s ministry for the whole community
Did your church host a Vacation Bible School sometime in the last 10 weeks.? When and if it did, were you also reflecting back to summers in the past when a lot more kids participated and a lot more adults volunteered? You may even feel like the best days of VBS are behind you, but you would love to create new excitement around Vacation Bible School in the future.
A few years ago Cape Charles Baptist Church in Northampton County needed the help of other churches, who would come to their community to lead VBS for them. Now they run a six-week, full-day camp called Splash Camp that provides much-needed childcare to the community. They transitioned from their VBS being a mission trip for other churches to leading a transformational ministry for their community. Here are five key investments they made – key investments you can make that can transform your VBS into a ministry to the whole community.
Start with the mission/Run toward the mission
Cape Charles Baptist Church didn’t start with a decision to transform VBS at their church – that change came directly from their mission: “In the Streets, Meeting Needs, Sharing Jesus’ Love.” They were committed to serving people in their community – specifically single moms. Splash camp grew out of passion for that mission, not out of a desire to “grow their children’s ministry.” In fact, they have seen very little “benefit” to their traditional children’s ministry – it hasn’t increased Sunday morning attendance or the number of children who come to the church during regular church activities. But pastor Russell Goodrich shared that they’re now doing church six days a week, and Sunday has the lowest attendance of the six.
Meet a Need
For Cape Charles Baptist, meeting a need was part of their mission. But being able to meet a need is a big part of what made it so successful. The key was that they met a need of someone outside their church. In their case, the need they identified was childcare for working parents. There was a severe shortage of quality childcare for children, so parents either needed to not work or to leave their kids at home. Splash Camp is full every year because they met a need. So as you consider what you want VBS to be in your community, consider what need you can meet in the community that grows out of your mission. Chesterfield Baptist, which sends a team to lead a week of Splash Camp, has embraced that vision with their VBS. Most parents in their community work a full day; so, inspired by Splash Camp, they have transitioned to a full-day VBS. The parents they want to serve can now send their kids (and have a week of full day summer camp provided). The desire to meet a community need has transformed their VBS.
Get the right resources by directly asking for them
Once you decide to meet a community need, you’re going to need certain resources. You’ll likely need more volunteers, more supplies, and more money. While getting those resources can sound like an impossible task, the fact is many people don’t give their time or money because no one has ever asked them. A specific request for a specific item is usually much more productive than a general “please give what you can.” Figure out what you NEED to achieve the mission and identify what else would be good to have, and then focus on filling the needs first. People who understand a specific need and are clear that you are asking them to fill it are much more likely to respond than people who know there’s a general need but assume someone else will take care of it.
One of the best ways to minister to the community is to make the community part of the ministry. When Cape Charles Baptist transitioned to Splash Camp, they knew they couldn’t do it on their own. So they formed key relationships in the community. The good news is that many of those relationships already existed because their members were connected to their partners. Local businesses, local government, nonprofits, and other churches came together to help ensure the ministry happened, because they also had an interest in seeing that ministry thrive. Just like with getting resources, specificity was key. They had to know not just what they needed from a partner but what the partner needed—and how supporting this ministry also benefited that partner. It takes getting to know the partner and what their goals are, and then finding ways to work together that benefit everyone involved.
Double Down on Quality and Safety
The final investment Cape Charles Baptist made when they started Splash Camp – and one they continue to make — is an investment in quality and safety. It can be challenging to know whether the investment you’re making produces quality. VBS curriculum publishers sell loads of decorations, stuffed animals, and other supplies that can become a substitute for quality if you’re not careful. But all the decorations you can buy will not make up for volunteers and staff that aren’t ready to lead. The best investment in quality is investment in the people who will be leading. For staff and volunteers, that can be basics like how to lead their session, how to manage behaviors, or even just a practice run through the day. Another key to training volunteers and staff is safety training. CPR and First aid and child protection training are essential for people working with kids. Showing your community that you care about providing a high-quality and safe ministry to children will make them more likely to participate and partner with you.
Not every church will be able to develop a ministry like Splash Camp. Splash Camp itself requires a team of churches to make it happen. But every church that wants to do a VBS in 2023 can decide if they want it to expand from being a ministry to just children in their church to being an outgrowth of the mission of the church. Next summer Splash Camp will have eight weeks of camp, and they would love to have churches share that ministry with them. If you’d like to lead a week of Splash Camp and learn from them how they have transformed children’s ministry, or if you’d like help with training your volunteers in child protection, you can contact Impact Missions at ImpactMissions@bgav.org.
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