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Alabama VBS numbers return to pre-pandemic levels

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ENTERPRISE, Ala. (BP) – After Vacation Bible School is over at Hillcrest Baptist Church Annette Whitton does a lot of follow-up. She doesn’t do it alone – she does it with the help of an army of volunteers.

“We had about 400 to 450 kids, and 79 of those were from unchurched families,” Whitton, director of children’s ministries at Hillcrest, said. “We do our family visitation on Wednesday night and let our VBS leaders go and visit. We want to do that while it’s still fresh and the kids know these ladies and men who come.”

If a child who attends another church makes a salvation decision, Whitton lets the churches know so they can help with next steps. But if the child goes to Hillcrest, she takes decision card to the deacons so they can follow up.

“One of the things that was so sweet – there were so many of them who were our kids, and their dads were deacons,” Whitton related. “I was able to hand that card to that dad and say, ‘Hey, do you want to follow up with this one?’ They were so excited.”

Whitton noted this year’s VBS was one of the best the church has had. They were back to pre-COVID numbers, and more unchurched families and military families from nearby Fort Rucker attended than ever before.

Increased attendance

Patty Burns, VBS strategist for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions, said she’s seen that across the state – a return to pre-pandemic VBS on many levels.

“Numbers are definitely up,” she said. “I’ve been in Vacation Bible Schools ranging from 12 children to 1,200. No matter the size of the church, the enthusiasm is just the same, and the excitement about getting to have it in person is evident.”

The first week of June tends to be the biggest VBS week in the state, Burns noted. This year more than 300 Alabama Baptist churches hosted VBS that week. The second week of June also is big, then it trails off toward the July 4 holiday and picks back up in mid-July.

Though those traditional rhythms are back in place for many churches, others stayed with new routines they adopted during the pandemic, Burns said. Some held Wednesday night family VBS, and others had one-day or two-day weekend events.

“I like that people are doing whatever they need to do to make a VBS happen – whatever fits their community and church family,” Burns said.

Something she also noticed this year was more pastors helping in an out-front leadership role, such as being emcee for morning worship rallies.

“It’s neat to see their involvement; the kids always love to see their pastor being more hands-on,” Burns said.

Though she hasn’t received official word from Lifeway Christian Resources yet, “I’m seeing lots of salvations,” Burns noted. “For several churches, those numbers were in the double digits.”

A valuable tool

Burns said VBS is an excellent tool for churches, both for outreach to the community and discipleship of children already in the church.

“It’s a great opportunity for the church to show how much Jesus loves us and model for them how to share the Gospel in a fun and exciting way,” she said. “Whether it’s church kids or community kids, there’s a place for those children in VBS.”

Whitton saw that play out at Hillcrest as church kids and children from the community both grew and responded at VBS. She noted the church staff also was actively involved in the week, which gave it a boost.

“When your staff believes in it, it makes a huge difference,” Whitton said. “I’m very blessed.”

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