(The following is highly opinionated. If you don’t agree, that’s fine.)
Vacation Bible School is often one of the most time, money and volunteer intensive events on the entire yearly calendar.
We need people to decorate, people to teach, people to wrangle kids, people to do snack, people to lead in the opening/closing events (like singing, puppets, skits, etc.) and most of all we need money to do all that.
I love VBS! It is by far one of my favorite times of the year.
But, that love is more along the lines of love/hate and here’s why:
Production Vacation Bible Schools
This is what I call VBS’s that are most about fun, activities and decorations than true Biblical teaching. Churches turn their auditorium’s and worship centers into the interior of Noah’s ark. They spend more money and time on the decorations for VBS than they will for any other event that the church does, by double. They perform skits and puppet shows (both of which are not sinful so don’t jump to conclusions) and spend months ahead of time practicing. And in doing this, they set their kids up for failure.
See, the problem with Production VBS’s is not that they are doing anything overtly sinful. The problem is that they are setting their kids up for an unrealistic expectation of what Christianity is and what/who the church is.
Here are 3 things that this type of VBS’s does, and how I’ve seen it happen.
1. They Show Unrealistic Worship Styles
My favorite “VBS songs” are Hippopotamus and The Lord’s Army. Both of which, traditionally speaking, have a large amount of gestures, screaming and clapping in them. And, while I have a hard time reasoning that this is wrong in and of itself since VBS is not worship, I’ve also personally seen it cause children to misunderstand the respect and Biblical model of true, heartfelt worship.
In one church, a few weeks after our annual VBS, we had a singing night where everyone got to suggest songs. From the back pew a little voice rang out “Mr. Lee, sing the Hippopotamus song!” And so, it being a worship service, I explained that we would but we would have to leave off the clapping and dancing around because this is a time of worship and not pleasure.
Halfway through the song, that admonition didn’t work and the kids started walking around like a big, fat hippo singing, “Hip-hip-hip-hippopatamus, hip-hip-horray God made all of us”. It wasn’t because they were being irreverent, it’s because production VBS’s have ruined what is a very good song to the point that it can’t be used in worship.
2. They Show Unrealistic Production Qualities
I am so proud to slowly see the church catching up on graphic design, marketing and overall cultural awareness of those we are trying to reach!
But if your church is not highly focused on those things, why fake it for a week of the year?
Visitors, children and even members come to VBS and have a great time with good design, the building decorated (past the blank walls and fake flowers of the traditional buildings) and are excited!
And then they come to worship and see none of the above.
You’d be surprised just how discouraging this is to the un-churched member of your community who is attending for only the second time (second only to the Production VBS they attended the week before).
VBS is an evangelistic effort. So make it somewhat close to what someone will experience at a regular assembly of the church!
3. They Show Unrealistic Doctrinal/Theological Teaching
Let’s face it, Production VBS’s are such because the outward is the most important. Most of the tamest he actual education part of the event comes from a box we got from the many publishers in the church and the topics are things that can best be described as “fluff”.
Why not take that time to teach some real, weighty application?
Preachers, Elders and Deacons, write your own material! Don’t cheap out and buy a boxed set of teaching to go along with the year-long, thousands-of-dollars planning and preparation you put into building that 40 foot long Noah’s Ark. – The kids are there to learn, make that the primary purpose of your planning.
Ok, I’m done. But hopefully this is helpful to someone. I know it’s been helpful to me.