Recently I drove past a church with their big banner outside, announcing the start of VBS. I spent some time thinking about this... Vacation... Bible... School. School, Vacation... What makes this attractive to kids? I mean, they just got out of school for the summer, why would they want to go back for vacation school? Why do they want to learn about the Bible? What kids actually go to VBS anyway? What do we want them to get out of VBS? How can VBS be changed from something that (to me) seems a little bit out-dated? I've been working it out in my head this week, trying to figure out the answers to all of these questions. I'm going to write it out a bit because, well.. I can.. and you can choose to read or not to read, it doesn't hurt me in any way.. this is mostly for me to spell out my thoughts.
Why do we have VBS? Who is it for?
VBS has many functions and is designed for all kids. (in theory). The main functions appear to be: to teach kids about the Bible, to inroduce kids to the church, to entertain church kids, to get kids off of the streets, to give parents free babysitting for a week, tradition, I'm sure there are other purposes to VBS, but this is what comes to mind most quickly. Who is actually reached during Bible School? Some churches go into the community and host neighborhood VBS programs. In these programs, I believe, kids outside of the church are best reached. Most churches seem to attract churched kids, from their own church, or grandchildren of parishoners, or churched neighbors. There may be a few unchurched kids, but the majority seem to be kids that already go to church.
Why is this attractive to the kids?
Crafts, games, music, snacks, special adult attention, time away from home, friends, and their parents or grandparents make them. A few kids are attracted by the opportunity to learn about the Bible, I fear those kids may generally be disappointed by fluffy themes like "God is love" or "Moses is a hero".
I think VBS needs more than a makeover - it needs to (for the most part) disappear so that something else can spring up in its place. Something that will either attract more unchurched kids or really teach the Bible to church kids - not just fluffy themes.
So- What springs up?
Well, funny you should ask. That's been my dilemna for several years now. Last night I saw it though, or at least, I thought I did. We were driving past a church and their VBS banner also had the words "Kids Camp" on it... I think Kids Camp is the answer, but not in the format of VBS and not with the name VBS... Kid's Camp works for me though.
What happens at Kid's Camp?
Fun happens or learning happens or both. Churches offer camps for the community. What happens depends on who's available and what their talents are. Have a basketball player or coaches that will volunteer some time? Got a gym? Have some talented crafters? Make it a camp, invite the neighborhood kids to come in for an hour or two a week during the summer. It doesn't have to have cheesey music (I like cheesey music though), it doesn't have to have games, crafts, snacks, and a special program at the end. Kid's Camp gives kids a chance to get into the church and participate in activities they enjoy. Science, Math, Crafts, Sports, Cooking, Bible. It could be one camp that combines a variety of intrests, half an hour of sports, half an hour of crafts, a nutritious snack and time to form relationships with adults and other kids. No pressure about learning this or that about the Bible.. those things can come later.
What about Bible learning?
Okay, so it IS important to learn the gospel story and other important themes from the Bible. "Jesus is my friend", while important, is not a key theme in the Bible, in fact - he wasn't everyone's friend, a lot of people didn't like him (even hated hiim).. and being his friend didn't make like happy or easy. So where do we do Bible learning? Why not have a Bible Camp for kids that are interested? Not VBS.. actually spend time learning Bible stories, just stories, not "God is bigger than the boogie man" themes that are good, but only go so far. Let the Bible speak for itself. Some kids like Bible quizbowl things, use them as a learning tool, why not? But make it something special for the kids that actually want to learn about the Bible. Teach them where the Bible came from, what people wore and ate in Bible times, help them really experience the Bible. Don;t stop there though, give them opportunities to live out the Kingdom. Help them experience real Kingdom life - volunteer at a nursing home, visit people in the hospital, make dinner for the local Habitat for Hmanity project. THIS requires whole church involvement, the church has to be living out the kingdom.
So what do I do with all of this?
First off - my kids will go to VBS - if they want to. Secondly, I'm in the middle of moving and am not involved enough in any church to try and make change happen as far as VBS goes. Maybe next year. But that doesn't mean I'm doing nothing. I plan to organize at least 1 week's worth of activities to sponsor "camp" in my neighborhood. It won't be anything fancy and I won't have a sign out stating that it's from a certain church. Just casual activities that neighborhood kids can join in and participate with while we form relationships.
Jesus was kind of like that, huh? He didn't push the law, but promoted kingdom learning through relationship. Pretty cool, isn't it?