Thursday, June 09, 2005

It's Summertime and VBS is Not Easy

It is June and my thoughts are turning to the plans being made for our annual VBS program next month.

Just yesterday I had to tell someone that our VBS is full and they cannot enroll their children--that's something I really hate to do. On the other hand, the reason our VBS is full is because we cannot accept more children than our adult volunteers can safely supervise. And getting volunteers for VBS is always like pulling teeth.

INMHO, VBS is a relic of the 1950's church. I remember attending as a child--the heat, the flannel storyboard, the crafts, the Bible School Songs and the red Kool-aid and Ritz crackers served as a snack. We looked forward to going and getting out of the house. Back then there was very little summer programming for children. Maybe you had some swimming lessons. Perhaps a week at Scout camp or church camp was scheduled. Few women worked outside the home in middle-class neighborhoods that were the stronghold of the mainline Protestant denominations, so there was a larger pool of VBS volunteers.

Today life is very different in the summer. There is a plethora of lessons, sports teams, day and overnight camps competing for the time and attention of the average family. And of course, many mothers today work part or full time, reducing the pool of available VBS volunteers and increasing the demand for enrollment in what many regard as cheap daycare. Even the summer day camp that our church school offers has found decreased interest in the past couple of years as more summer programming is being offered by other churches, schools and individuals.

Our church secretary begins fielding calls in February of each year asking when we will open our VBS enrollment. Those calls come from people in the community, not church members, who are trying to keep their children busy all summer and want to assure themselves a place. Each year we have children who arrive and announce that they just "did" the same VBS program we are offering last week at another church. One child had already attended 4 other programs by the time he showed up in ours. Because they almost always are members of another church, we get no new members from these folks.

Some churches in our area have been successful in holding evening VBS sessions. This allows broader participation by working parents and also usually is a program for the entire family. We tried that one year and increased our volunteers, but sharply decreased the children enrolled because families were looking for daycare not evening activities.

I don't know how much longer VBS will continue to be an annual event at our church or other churches. For now, we have a dedicated volunteer director and core group who bravely soldier on because they want to have the program for their own children. Will another group take their place when their kids grow out of VBS? Is the fact that we've "always done VBS" good enough reason to continue it in its traditional mode? I think it is time for re-evaluation of the whole concept.


St. Casserole said...

I've been thinking about the same thing: is VBS outdated? I think the concept is outdated for most suburban church members' children. Middle class kids often have heavily programmed summers with more exciting activities that the silly pre-fab stuff our local churches offer. I think VBS is fun for little kids.
I am pleased people in your community call in Feb. to ask if openings are available. It may be that a community need is the reason for VBS. What would happen if the monied churches took their programs to less monied churches and put on the week for free?

Quotidian Grace said...

That's a great suggestion. We recycle our VBS curriculum and materials each year to a church in a low-income area that our church routinely partners with for mission work. Members of our church have also gone on mission trips to border areas in Mexico with this church and conducted VBS. Maybe we should be emphasizing that more in the future. Our church also sponsors an ethnic church development through presbytery--and most of those folks are low income. Perhaps we could plan next year to include their kids on a priority basis. Thanks for the idea!

will spotts said...

st.casserole's idea is good.

You are both right that the situation that made VBS work in the past has changed. I'm concerned, however, that at one time this was another opportunity to increase familiarity with the Bible and basic Christianity that has now gone by the wayside.

Quotidian Grace said...

Although it hasn't completely gone by the wayside, I do think it is fading away. Baptist churches in our area seem to be very successful with their VBS programs which are seen as an opportunity for evangelism and outreach to the community and get broad support from the church membership than we seem to be able to get.