VBS in the Small Church

January 4th, 2012
Image © by SanShoot | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.

Does it really matter? YES!

Teaching in a church setting can be an exhilarating experience as well as an anxious undertaking. And, because of the uniqueness of a small church congregation, planning and implementing a vacation Bible school can present challenges that prompt you to ask, Will it really matter? Your fear may be that there won't be enough students within the church to justify such an activity. You may wonder if you'll be able to find enough volunteers to work with you. Or you may feel as if you're the only one in your church who thinks vacation Bible school is important.

All kinds of worries nag you: Is it worth it to run a program where there are sometimes more workers than participants? How many classes should you offer? What do you do when there is not enough variance in the childrens' ages to warrant several classes? What will you do if an unexpectedly high number of participants show up on the first day of school? Concerns about staffing, resources, and attendees can often be discouraging factors. Underlying these concerns may be a feeling that all the extra work involved won't have an impact on the life of your church.

Good news! There are advantages to vacation Bible school in the small church! They include

  • ease of making decisions in a timely fashion
  • greater opportunities for nurturing because of smaller groups
  • greater flexibility in handling logistical issues. So let's get started.

First, decide why?

Remember these aims of vacation Bible school:
• to introduce children to God in Jesus Christ through the Bible
• to reaffirm faith in Christ to those who already have a relationship with Christ
• to model Christ's teachings and servanthood to all.

In order to ensure that vacation Bible school does make a difference, you and your congregation need to understand why you want to have one. Such an understanding will give you the focus, motivation, and resolve you will need to carry it out. It will also allow you to know best how to use your limited resources. Ask yourselves these questions: In addition to implementing the aims of vacation Bible school, do we want to
•extend our outreach program?
• recruit for our present Sunday school?
• extend to the community an invitation to visit and participate?
• provide an alternative format for our present children's ministries?

Knowing your goals and objectives will enable you to answer such questions as
• How important is it to provide arts and crafts?
• Should we provide transportation?
• Is it necessary to conduct previsits or follow-ups?
• Why would we want to publicize extensivel

Will it matter?

We are all aware of people whose lives were touched by one single teacher. In many cases, that teacher did not feel as if he or she had done anything extraordinary. The significance was that the teacher was in an appointed place at an appointed time with an empowering word. How much more so is the the Word of God you have to offer a child in your vacation Bible school class! If only one student attended, to that child, it could be a life-changing experience. The Scriptures remind us that God regards even one of us as important enough to redeem.

Thus, sharing the message of God's saving grace always matters! How best to do that in a way that reflects good stewardship is what you need to consider as you plan for your church's vacation Bible school. What will be most important to your children-refreshments, recognition awards, supplies, booklets? and How can you allocate funds to reflect that priority?

Everybody Plans, Everybody Participates

But who will be doing the planning? In a small church setting, you have the opportunity to include a large portion of the congregation in the development and accomplishment of this event. Doing so has several rewards-it reemphasizes the responsibility of the total church to be involved in teaching ministries, it provides a broader base of support, and it opens avenues to gather other viewpoints. Gather together those who share your commitment to vacation Bible school, inviting persons with new ideas as well as those who may know "we've always done it this way." You can help to foster an atmosphere of new possibilities and fresh ideas.

Here are some specific suggestions to start you thinking about how to create a vacation Bible school that is unique to your church's ministry:

1 . Time and setting
• Consider what time format will be realistic. The traditional five-or ten-day scheduling may need modification to reflect the size and energy level of your congregation. Mornings or evenings?
• Are there children who lack transportation? If your church cannot provide it, must your vacation Bible school be inside the walls of your church? Consider having a portable vacation Bible school that can travel to where children reside.
• Consider partnering with another church to offer vacation Bible school. If you do it with a much larger church, how comfortable will your children feel there?
• Set the dates and times after checking with the pastor and calendar of both church and community.
• Understand the total time commitment needed to perform the duties (remember to consider required training sessions, if any) both for leaders and for teachers and helpers.

2. The teachers
• Invite persons to teach, both throughout the congregation and individually.
• Consider using older children and persons not otherwise involved in children's ministries as assistant teachers.
• Decide how you will deal with children who want to be in a class not taught by their parent. In a small congregation it is sometimes difficult to avoid this issue. Is it more important to have that parent/teacher or to allow the child freedom to express ideas?

3. Space
• Consider both the suggested activities and the anticipated number of children for each class. Should classes be assigned to rooms not traditionally theirs?
• Think of creative ways to utilize facilities that benefit all classes. What about outdoors? Could you use a tent? Do you have access to an RV? Lack of adequate work and play areas can hinder effective learning experiences.

4. Paying for Vacation Bible School
• If vacation Bible school is not a line item in your church's budget, decide, several months in advance, how to fund it. Options include including children who will attend in the fundraising effort, charging a registration fee, or asking congregation members to financially sponsor one or more children for the cost of vacation Bible school.

5. Closing Celebration
• Will you have one? Will it be immediately at the close? Or in the evening? Or on the following Sunday morning?
• Is the program the driving focus of the week. or is it a celebration of the learning and fellowship? In other words, is the week's focus to "practice for the program" or the focus actually the aims named above?
• How will you invite and involve parents of the children who attend vacation Bible school? Is the closing activity at a time most can attend?
• How many students does it take to have a closing program? What adaptations in the recommended program do you foresee for the number of children you anticipate?

6. After it's all over, what?
• Decide in advance what, if any, long-term relationships with students of vacation Bible school you and/or your church wish to continue? Will there be follow-up cards or letters? visits? How will you assist those children who may then want to become a part of the church Sunday school or youth program?

The key ingredient in any successful vacation Bible school is a passionate concern for the spiritual formation of children. No matter the size of your congregation, what you and those assisting you really need is the faith to believe that God can use you in big ways and in small. Don't let people think "bigness" implies better. Vacation Bible school in the small church setting has important advantages; it is important not to equate numbers with success. God measures our success by our faithfulness to the task at hand. Does vacation Bible school matter in your church? It could be the only thing that really matters to a child hungering to find the Bread that satisfies.

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