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VBS ‘primed and ready’ to begin post-COVID era

Children at First Baptist Church Choctaw, Okla., dig deeper into Scripture and learn about Jesus at Vacation Bible School this summer. Lifeway's VBS theme "Destination Dig" used real-life archaeological finds to teach kids the truth about Jesus. Photo courtesy of FBC Choctaw

NASHVILLE (BP) – As COVID-19 fears ease, Vacation Bible School leaders are especially delighted, as well as thousands of children who will receive spiritual nurture through music-sparked worship, Bible studies, activities, games and crafts.

VBS leaders are yearning to move beyond “the heartbreak we had last year in churches that decided, ‘We can’t do it this year,’” said Melita Thomas, VBS ministry specialist with Lifeway Christian Resources.

Children at First Baptist Church Choctaw, Okla., had fun learning about Jesus through crafts, Bible lessons and songs at Vacation Bible School this summer. Photo courtesy of FBC Choctaw

“I think we’re in a season where we are primed and ready,” Thomas said. “People are hungry for hope. There is a truth that is absolute, a truth that is knowable. We know where to find it. When we go searching for truth with a capital T, we find Jesus.

“Our communities are hungry for that kind of knowledge,” she said, describing the summer of 2021 as “a great opportunity for VBS.”

Unique to this year, churches could choose “Destination Dig,” the 2021 Lifeway VBS resource with an archaeological theme set in Israel, or last year’s “Concrete and Cranes.”

For churches not ready to return to in-person VBS, or those opting for a hybrid of in-person and virtual outreach, Thomas said Lifeway has aimed “to help churches say yes to VBS” with aids for any approach that might be needed.

VBS is “significant kingdom work, which is always true, but especially this year. The time is now, the urgency is here,” she said. “It’s the No. 1 evangelistic tool for almost all of our Southern Baptist churches.”

At First Baptist Church in Nashville, kindergartners learn how to make their own clay pot as they learn about biblical archaeology using Lifeway’s VBS theme “Destination Dig.” Photo by Aaron Earls

A free, 19-page “Virtual VBS Directors Guide” is a key addition to the Lifeway materials for 2021. An updated “4 VBS Strategies” e-book, meanwhile, gives churches four options for hosting a safe VBS this summer – “Traditional VBS” (in church); “Neighborhood VBS” (hosted at homes); “Alternate VBS” (spanning several weeks or a weekend); and “VBS at Home” (livestream media, with home-delivered kits for parents to facilitate Bible study, recreation and crafts). Pre-packaged individual kits were offered this year for the first time.

Lynn Jordan, children’s ministry coordinator for the Capital Baptist Association in Oklahoma City, said VBS “is going to be different” this year, with frequent washing of hands and use of hand sanitizer, more spacing between kids, what games they play and how snacks are served.

Even so, VBS and summer camp often are when kids “understand that they need to make a personal commitment [to Christ]. Not having VBS, not having camp last year, we missed those harvest opportunities.”

Jordan also noted, “We often discover good volunteers during VBS. It may be the first time they’ve done that, and you see they really did a good job and might be willing to plug in to our weekly activities. We also missed that opportunity last year.”

Jack Lucas, leadership development director for the Illinois Baptist State Association, remembers talking to church VBS leaders last year and “the defeat in their voices when they decided against going forward.”

Two children attending Vacation Bible School at First Baptist Church Nashville follow along with the motions from a Lifeway “Destination Dig” song. Photo by Aaron Earls

Now he’s hearing, “We can’t wait to get back, but we’re a little nervous because we know it’s going to be different – the world is different, and church life is different.”

VBS is “important on so many levels – evangelism being No. 1,” Lucas said, “but a lot of churches rely on Vacation Bible School to power and boost their kids ministry” toward the start of school.

One positive from 2020’s battle with COVID, he added, is “the creative juices” sparked in churches that had VBS in some form. “I think that’s going to flow into 2021, and we’re going to see churches being even more creative in taking Vacation Bible School to the next level.”

Shannon Meadors, children’s minister at First Baptist Church in Nashville, recounted talking with her church’s leader for pre-teen VBS, Renee Matthews, who said, “My hopes for VBS are that I would be a vessel of connection, that our leaders would be able to connect with our kids, that our kids would be able to connect with each other, and most importantly, that we would all connect with God.”

Melita Thomas, VBS ministry specialist with Lifeway, uses games from the “Destination Dig” VBS theme to teach children about Jesus’ birth at First Baptist Church Nashville. Photo by Aaron Earls

“Especially coming off a pandemic, we just need each other,” Meadors said. “We’re built for community. Kids learn best in relationships. They often connect with God the Father because we’ve made a connection with them – when we say God loves them and has a plan, it resonates with them.

“I’m just thankful to be in a church that knows the importance of VBS,” she said. “Our people get it, that we’ll have the kids for 20 hours. That’s months of Sunday mornings just to pour into them, love them and show them Jesus.”

To access the “Virtual VBS Directors Guide,” go to https://vbs.lifeway.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/VirtualVBSGuide.pdf. To access the “4 VBS Strategies” webpage, go to lifeway.com/4ways.