We all know the reality of vast numbers of older teens and young adults who leave the church. Many after years of faithful attendance and involvement. I am sure, like me, you have participated in many conversations lamenting this loss and placing blame for this tragic flight.
It is not hard to find ample research revealing why these young faithfuls turn their backs on the church - and seemingly on God. For the most part the research ends up playing the blame game and pointing an accusing finger at parents, society and culture, college professors, the student ministry, the pastor, and at the church itself. It is true that we all share the blame, but is it possible we might - at least in some instances - be doing something right?
Drs. Steve Parr and Tom Crites in their book, Why They Stay (Westbow Press), have refreshingly turned the research around and focused on young adults who have stayed in the church instead of those who have strayed.
A life-changing experience as a child is one of the biggest reasons given for young adults staying connected to the church, and large numbers of these experiences involved VBS, camps, and similar Bible-intensive opportunities. You can imagine that as the VBSguy I took much greater interest in Parr and Crites' work after reading the following:
"I am a proponent of Vacation Bible School (VBS). When conducted correctly, it can be a tremendous tool for reaching children with the gospel. If you are not currently scheduling a VBS, taking kids to a VBS, or participating in a VBS in your community, plan on doing it next summer. Children love these programs. IN OUR CULTURE, VBS MAY BE THE BEST TOOL FOR REACHING CHILDREN WITH THE GOSPEL." ( Tom Crites, page 41)
"I know that implementing a week-long ministry like VBS is very challenging and time-intensive. It is expensive, exhausts your volunteers, is hard on your facilities, makes already long days feel longer, and so on. I also know that it is so worth it! I have seen at least one child come to faith during every VBS that I have been a part of. Catch what I am saying here: you do not have to schedule VBS, but do plan something that creates an opportunity for you to share the gospel with children." (Tom Crites, page 43)
As more and more churches are looking for ways to shorten the number of days and hours required for VBS they are robbing the generation they proclaim to care so much about. As Crites said, "IN OUR CULTURE, VBS MAY BE THE BEST TOOL FOR REACHING CHILDREN WITH THE GOSPEL." Do we really want to diminish the opportunity provided through VBS by cutting back on the number of days or hours? Our actions today just might be the determining factor of whether the current generation of kids stray or stay.