Some of my warmest VBS memories are based in a 6,200 square foot church facility with a body of about 100 in most worship services and 50 in Sunday School.
It’s where I learned an important lesson: a large building, budget, and body aren’t necessary for VBS. What’s needed is a committed church family and God’s blessing.
It’s also the church where my dad is the pastor and one of my best friends is the VBS director. I was a member before moving to Nashville. There. Biases disclaimed.
I’ve long been amazed at how Witt Baptist Church nails VBS. It is a small, traditional church with a rural background. Last summer, their average VBS attendance was 139, with a total of 189. Witt borrowed a second bus for transportation.
VBS was a huge success, as usual.
So I asked my dad, Dr. Doug Brown and director Tiffany Taylor how they and their volunteers make VBS work in a small church.
A key ingredient is that Witt is a close-knit family and values VBS.
“The general church feeling regarding VBS is one of excitement and anticipation. VBS is near the top of our priority in ministry and is the most effective thing that we do in reaching children,” my dad said.
Reasons for this include the ability to share the gospel with more children and parents, the chance to bring the church together as a team, and the chance to get visitors involved.
“My favorite thing about VBS is the way that everyone comes together to carry out this ministry,” he said.
One of the ways the church stretches a thin budget is by borrowing decorations from a larger church each year, then passing them on.
The church’s teamwork is also vital.
“VBS workers often use some of their personal funds/items as they carry out their ministry,” he said.
The generosity during this time is a beautiful thing to see.
“I think Witt is extremely blessed in that we have members who see the impact that Vacation Bible School has on children,” said Tiffany, “and … in that our workers and volunteers and teachers …see it as … an opportunity of worship.”
There are challenges to VBS in a small church.
Tiffany said they overcome recruitment challenges with the family atmosphere.
“It does require personal interaction … you have to ask people face to face.”
They begin recruiting early, pray, ask God to bring individuals to mind, build excitement about VBS, and thank volunteers with words and small gifts.
“Space is our biggest problem,” Tiffany said describing the sometimes-overwhelming noise level in the small building.
The main solution is to encourage respect for other classes, while keeping perspective.
“They’re kids having fun learning about Jesus,” she said. “They’re excited; you should be too. It’s about letting go of the reins a little bit and knowing when to pull back as well.”
“When it comes down to game time and it’s the week of and everything’s got to go just according to plan … even if it’s not, when you see a hundred kids running around just excited to be there it puts everything in perspective,” she said.
I asked for advice and encouragement for a small church doubting if trying VBS would be successful and worthwhile.
“It’s definitely worth it… to get that week of sharing the gospel with kids … that may be the only time they hear it until next year when you do it again,” Tiffany said. “So this may be the only time that your church, no matter how small, can plant major seeds.”
My dad agreed that “VBS is worth all the time, effort, and resources that we muster. It is an opportunity to reach out to families that do not normally attend church. Furthermore, VBS is an opportunity to build a sense of unity and purpose in your church. Also VBS is an opportunity to include worship attenders as volunteers and help them feel a sense of belonged-ness. I would also commend a prayerful dependence on God and his ability to help VBS to be a success… God always helps us know that the effort has been worthwhile when a child responds in faith, a family has been encouraged or a church member finds their niche in ministry.”
Do you attend a small church? Do you have any tips for how to make VBS a success? Maybe you're in a larger church. How can you encourage some of the smaller churches in your area? Let us know in the comments! And stay tuned next week for part two- tips for using LifeWay curriculum to make VBS a success in a small church.