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.