What we now call Vacation Bible School began in New York City in 1898 as a way to get boys and girls off the streets and into a safe and educational environment. Reaching school-aged kids was the focus then, and for most churches continues to be the focus today.
When people hear or see the words Vacation Bible School they instantly associate the event with kids. After all, VBS has become synonymous with a fun summer-time opportunity for kids to get out of the house for a few hours each day. While our intentions are the best, what message does this image of VBS really send to parents and grandparents?
When looking at VBS stats it is obvious we are good at reaching kids, but not so good at keeping them engaged following the week of VBS. Our retention rate hovers around four percent. We can do better. We must do better.
During my 11 seasons as LifeWay's VBS Ministry Specialist I have become convinced that the greatest challenge of VBS is not enlistment, worker training, or promotion. The greatest challenge is connecting with families - especially the unchurched families who allow their children to attend VBS.
Years ago a survey was conducted to discover the greatest need of VBS leaders. The number one answer was help with follow up. Ninety-seven percent of respondents said they were good at reaching unchurched kids but didn't know how to connect with them following the week.
I believe continuing the connection with kids boils down to successfully connecting with their parents before and throughout the week of VBS. Parents are the gatekeepers. It doesn't matter how well we present the gospel and connect with unchurched kids during the week of VBS, it is the parents who will decide whether the kids remain engaged in church activities following VBS.
While we might continue hosting VBS for kids only, we must change the way we think about engaging and connecting with their parents and grandparents through our promotion, registration, VBS Celebration (Family Night), and throughout the week. If we wait until after VBS is over to attempt to connect with parents it will be too late. They will have moved on to other things.
Parents need to know we are just as concerned and interested in them as we are their kids. Parents need to know they too can have a relationship with Jesus and the church. They need to experience a church family that is interested in adding them to the family.
VBS must reach families.