Friday, Aug. 5, 2005
Vacation Bible School
Every summer they spring up all across the country in rural communities, suburbs, and in the inner cities. They take many different forms and influence people for generations to come. In an average year, they affect 38,000,000 American children. We are talking about that unique entity, the Vacation Bible School.
Vacation Bible School, according to Willie R. Beaty, was the idea of Mrs. Waler Aylett Hawes, a doctor's wife, whose goal was to get children off the streets of New York. In 1898 and 1899 Mrs. Hawes rented a beer hall in New York's East Side to conduct her Everyday Bible School. In 1900 Mrs. Hawes' pastor, Howard Lee Jones, insisted that the Bible school move to the church building, Epiphany Baptist Church. After two weeks it became clear that children from the East Side would not attend at the church, so Mrs. Hawes moved the school back to a site near the beer hall.
In the early 20th century, Vacation Bible School became a growing trend. While Mrs. Hawes was a Baptist, Vacation Bible School was a non-denominational event in those early years. In 1922 the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention assigned the work of Vacation Bible School to the Sunday School Administration Department. In 1924 a Vacation Bible School Department was formed and Homer Grice, a pastor from Georgia, became its first director. At that point Vacation Bible School was usually a 4-week event.
Today, most VBS programs last from five to seven days, are hosted by nearly every denomination and group, and are conducted in the mornings or in the evenings. According to Leadership magazine, two-thirds of U.S. churches host a Vacation Bible School and, although larger churches are more prone to host VBS (70 percent compared to 53 percent), smaller churches attract more kids, proportionally, when compared to Sunday morning worship attendance. Larger churches (300 or more) average 164 kids, with medium churches (101-300) averaging 110 children, and smaller churches (100 or fewer) average 60. Smaller churches tend to spend more per child with larger congregations spending the least. It is estimated that, each year, the 38 million kids will consume half a billion cookies and down 15 million gallons of Kool-aid!
Is it worth it? In the year 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention reported that 91,000 children made decisions for Christ in SBC-sponsored VBS events. In fact, more people have come to know Jesus as Saviour through VBS than through any other single church event.
In our church, we held our first-ever VBS a couple of weeks ago. Why did a nine-year-old church wait so long? Well, for the first six years, we met in the chapel of a funeral home and were unable to conduct a week-long anything. For the next two years, frankly, it didn't occur to us. And, as a pastor of over 30 years, but with limited VBS experience, I have to admit that I wasn't sure it was worth the effort and expense. Boy, was I wrong!
Thanks to Jodie Jenkins, a veteran of many VBS events who kept after me for a couple of months to make a decision about hosting a VBS, we set a date and Jodie was named as VBS director. If I was worried about getting things done, I needed have worried. Jodie, a Senoia resident who is married with two VBS-age kids, worked as hard as anyone I've ever seen to make the event a success. We didn't really advertise outside our church and, since this was our first, I didn't know what to expect.
During VBS week, our church and parish house was turned into a proper setting for a "safari," 19 people pitched in to help, and around 50 children learned more about prayer, the scriptures, listening to adults and participated in such activities as games, crafts, and music. Some people came straight from work to teach their classes and our director took a week's vacation and dedicated herself to the VBS.
Well, they made a believer out of me! By the end of the week, the kids were just as enthusiastic as they were at the beginning and most adult leaders said they were looking forward to next year! I no longer have to be convinced and next year, since we are now "experienced," we'll open the VBS to the broader community.
As a kid who never regularly went to church before the age of 15, I never attended a Vacation Bible School. I really didn't know what I was missing but I do now. Next summer we'll have another great VBS! And your kids are invited!
Copyright 2004-Fayette Publishing, Inc.