Why Vacation Bible School Is No Longer Church Outreach

One of our family’s best summer memories is attending Vacation Bible School (VBS) at our local community church. First, it was my Oldest son, and once he “graduated” after 5th grade, it was time for my Youngest son to attend. I volunteered to help nearly every year that we attended that small church (usually as the event photographer). It was not only a fun, memorable time for my kids but a great bonding event among the many volunteers who worked hard to make it memorable for the kids. 

During VBS the summer after 1st grade, my Youngest “got it” and asked me one afternoon during that week how he could ask Jesus to come into his heart. 

 Now times have changed. 

What happened to VBS as a tool to reach out to
all kids in the community who don’t attend church?

It is disheartening to see churches charging registration for kids to attend their VBS or similar on-site bible camp. I fear this new trend will make it appear that a church community is more like an exclusive “club” — for members only.  

Secular summer camps charge for their activities, a common practice that churches are starting to adapt. Of course, there are many valid reasons for this. Registration fees help pay for the curriculum and all the expenses of putting on an exciting production for the kids. There are also costs of daycare for volunteers, snacks, class supplies, advertising and marketing. A registration fee helps the church staff plan more effectively, and it provides a committed number of kids the church can accommodate. VBS weeks are notoriously used as “free babysitting,” no doubt another reason for requiring registration fees. 

It seems nothing is free anymore.

In my opinion, there needs to be a drastic change in this thinking. VBS should continue to be an outreach, a mission. It should not be compared to, or be included in the same category as secular summer camps or day schools. I see the goal of VBS as a creative method of teaching about Jesus, the Bible and its importance to those kids who regularly attend church in addition to those who don’t. It shouldn’t need to be said that VBS week may be the only “church” some kids will experience for the entire year but could have lasting effects. 

It would be interesting if there was research showing the numbers of kids who accepted Christ from last year, five years ago and ten years ago. I’m personally convinced that the highest numbers were during the years when there were no “camp fees.” 

 The argument may be that registration allows the church to offer VBS annually. I argue that churches can surely budget money for VBS as it does for missions or other programs. As we invest in missions to reach people for Christ in other countries, we also need to make just as much of an investment is in the mission field right where we are. This means changing VBS back to what it was intended for — loving on community kids and introducing them to the hope that we have in Jesus. 

I cannot provide answers to how this looks — each church and community is different. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t creative adults and teens who cannot team together, combining ideas and resources to make this happen. It may mean that instead of a “fee,” each parent is asked to purchase an exclusive T-shirt for their child if possible. Teens can help raise money toward the program. Ask for sponsorships from church attendees who own businesses, or rally members to help with monetary or supply donations. In small communities, combining with another local church could be the answer. 

I’m confident that most Christians agree that today’s culture is quickly overtaking our kids: from the humanism in today’s education to social media obsession. Teens are leaving the faith at alarming rates. Christians should not be so quick to “culturize” church programs to fit in today’s society. Let’s re-prioritize how the church should be reaching the culture — by doing as Jesus commanded: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

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