By Bob Boswell
We love Vacation Bible School at Plainfield Christian Church! Above all other annual activities, I must say this particular summer event is the “most wonderful time of the year” for us. It reaches about 1,000 of our area children, taps into the creative juices of around 265 volunteers, and our entire church staff is heavily involved in all aspects. It’s just a thrilling week! Nothing else on our calendar reflects such a churchwide effort with focus and intent.
Those who witnessed our Friday morning closing session this summer will never forget the impact of 2007’s VBS. This 15-minute, happy, chaotic gathering of all of our children (3 years old through eighth grade) to sing and hear the daily statistics and offering total, was filled with palpable suspense. We had set an overly ambitious offering goal of $10,000 to provide a roof for a sister church in Mexico. As it happened, we weren’t able to have a “live” missionary from the field, so our mission presentations were somewhat improvised. When Friday morning began, the offering was only half-way to its goal. The kids were convinced we would make the goal. Those of us who count money and post results were more realistic and somewhat resigned that we would fail to meet our goal for the first time ever.
Then the counting began.
It is a PCC tradition to count by tens in the language of our mission until the daily total is reached. But on the last day, that total is kept as a surprise for the VBS director.
This particular morning, he was told to keep counting, and keep counting, and that counting continued all the way until the $10,000 amount was reached. As you might suspect, there was an explosion of praise and celebration. The auditorium—filled with kids, workers, and parents—erupted in deafening shouts of praise. One little boy, with tears streaming down his face, looked up at his teacher and said, “I knew we could do it!”
But the counting was not over. It continued until it reached $15,319.36, which produced a sound of joy and praise like we’d never experienced. And if that wasn’t enough, as our director choked back tears, he announced, “Kids, we set the goal at $10,000 because it was a far higher goal than we’ve ever had before. But the actual cost of the roof is $15,000!”
That’s our God. And that’s why we love VBS at Plainfield Christian Church—we see him work in amazing ways each year. Sometimes it’s through the children’s praise. Sometimes it’s in their grasp of the truth. Sometimes it’s in their heart for the world. But year after year, there’s never any doubt that his blessing is on our week.
This provides a glimpse of the importance we place on this ministry opportunity to kids. It is a thriving, rewarding experience—but the success we enjoy comes via a somewhat conventional approach. We run a five-day, morning-session VBS that is classroom-based. It takes more than 250 workers to run it, and we rarely have to beg to recruit them. Some may argue that we succeed at VBS because we’re a larger church with plenty of people resources and a generous budget. Those things may be true, but they’re not the reason Vacation Bible School functions for us. Here are some basic principles that can work for anyone:
AN ADEQUATE ORGANIZATIONAL SCHEDULE
• In January, the codirectors meet with department leaders and other key leaders to develop the chosen theme/curriculum and consider new ideas for expanding the program.
• In March, recruiting begins with mailing and/or phone calls to past workers and potential candidates.
• In April, a kickoff meeting is held with all workers on a Wednesday evening to introduce the overall scope of lessons, activities, crafts, songs, etc.
• In late April-May, five Wednesday evenings of departmental training sessions are held to work through each day’s lesson and craft.
• Rooms/hallways are decorated one week before VBS.
• On the Sunday afternoon before VBS begins, rooms are completely set up and last-minute decorations put in place. At 4:30 pm a general meeting is held with all workers to make final announcements and provide a devotional time of prayer for the week.
PREPARING THE WORKERS
Adequate training and preparation are crucial to the health of each class and the temperament of each worker. Preparing the teachers and helpers not only makes VBS a pleasant experience, but increases their willingness to reenlist, and readies them to tackle other teaching opportunities in the church.
Our April kickoff meeting is followed up with five weeks of departmental training sessions in which the department leader teaches each of the five daily lessons to the other teachers in that area. The rooms in which these sessions are held are fully decorated to “prime the pump” for creative thinking. In this way the whole departmental team becomes actively involved in the exchange of ideas.
INVOLVEMENT OF THE CHURCH STAFF
At PCC, the entire ministerial staff is involved in our VBS efforts. They serve as directors, music leaders, and teachers. They may be in transportation, don a costume, or serve in crafts, stage design, or the VBS office. They serve in the trenches, shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other volunteers, and they love kids!
Perhaps that’s why we don’t struggle to recruit workers! Volunteers find an example in our staff. As a side note, even though we conduct a morning Vacation Bible School, 15 percent of our workers are male.
AN EMPHASIS ON THE WORLD
Whenever possible we try to have a missionary with us for VBS to give a real face to mission work around the world and to expand our horizons. We also look for offering projects the children can understand in which they can make a difference.
Because we believe in establishing relationships with the children, we strive to have fewer students per teacher and provide more classes. It creates a healthy learning environment and reduces the number of discipline problems.
Much more can be said, but hopefully you have a better idea of why we look back year after year and marvel at this wonderful outreach to young people and know that it is worth every penny spent and every aspirin consumed. Don’t write it off as an outdated method or a worn-out idea. Dust it off. Consider it again. It is certainly alive and well at PCC and continues to be our “most wonderful time of the year”!
Bob Boswell serves on staff with Plainfield (Indiana) Christian Church.