LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - Although there is disappointment in moving Vacation Bible School away from in-person formats, Matt Flanagan, children and student ministry consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, reminds church leaders “we believe in the ministry of VBS, not simply the traditional program of VBS.”
Childcare facilities are not scheduled to reopen until June 15, so online VBS is the most viable option. But not having VBS shouldn’t be an option for churches, Flanagan said.
In 2019, Kentucky Baptist churches reported 1,282 salvations, 68 calls to vocational ministry and over $200,000 collected for missions offerings from VBS. “Our churches need to creatively think through ‘how’ to do VBS, rather than asking the question of ‘if,’” Flanagan said.
The KBC leader and other children's ministry leaders noted several benefits of doing VBS online.
“Online VBS offers a significant opportunity to involve the entire family in the spiritual formation of a child through the activities and lessons provided. Churches need to think creatively to involve all family members rather than focusing simply on the child,” he said.
“Offering an online VBS is such a great way to include those that may not have otherwise been able to attend a VBS,” said Alissa Stratton, children’s ministry director at Crossland Community in Bowling Green. “It’s also flexible in that if families are not available at that specific time, they may be able to go back and watch the lesson at a later time.”
“VBS is an incredible outreach opportunity and we don’t want to miss it,” said Rachel Riquelme, children’s ministry director at First Baptist in Murray. “We hope virtual VBS will give our families something fun to look forward to and something that will bring them closer to Christ.”
“To do an online VBS, we have to consider new ways to connect and build relationships with families that may not have a church family already,” said Chad Lynn, children and recreation pastor at First Baptist in Shelbyville.
Once deciding upon online formats for the summer, children’s ministry leaders expressed diligence and intentionality in what they are including in their programming.
“First and foremost, we want to be able to provide the Bible story aspect of VBS,” said Rachel Tingle, one of the youth and family directors at Springfield Baptist. “We also decided to incorporate music, crafts and recreation into our virtual VBS. With each rotation we are finding fun and creative ways to interact with children from our church to their homes.”
Lynn said, “Sharing the gospel is crucial,” and activities for a virtual VBS will need to be family-friendly, simple and require minimal supplies.
“The biggest way virtual VBS will help encourage and teach kids in our ministry is by allowing them the opportunity to learn and discuss lessons and Bible stories with their parents,” said Stratton.
Many children’s leaders explained they will use take-home packets with anything from craft supplies to Bible story worksheets to help reinforce what children see and hear online. “We hope to make our virtual VBS as interactive and instructive as possible,” said Tingle.
But planning a multi-rotation event that typically involves dozens of volunteers is no easy task over online platforms, Riquelme said.
“We are leaning toward including a worship rally that is streamed on Facebook and uploaded to YouTube. In some activities that will teach the gospel, we will also host staggered Zoom calls so that kids can connect with other kids in their age group.”
“We plan to post a VBS video each Tuesday night in June. This will allow families to watch when it's convenient for them. We will ask them to complete or participate in different activities including opportunities to serve our city and county,” Lynn said.
Flanagan knows planning VBS online isn’t a simple task. “Our team stands ready to help your church think of a strategy and point to helpful resources.”
A few of these resources include the recent webinar “Leading VBS in the Days of Social Distancing” and other training videos available on the KBC website at kybaptist.org/vbs.
“Another source of encouragement and help is to be in conversation with other children’s ministry leaders across state. If you do not have a network in place, contact our office and we can introduce you to other leaders,” Flanagan said.
Even if online VBS isn’t feasible for a church this summer, Flanagan encourages ministry leaders to find a way to integrate it in other ways. “There are many ways to utilize this ministry through weekend VBS, fall break or weekly programming. The possibilities are numerous, and the ministry is essential.”
“We hope our virtual VBS communicates to our children and families within our ministry that we still care! We want them to know that through hard times, Christ followers find a way to serve others and teach the message of the gospel,” Tingle said.
“Online VBS is not what we hoped for, but our hope and prayer is that the Lord will continue to work while we are at home and use this format for His glory,” Riquelme said. “We are very blessed that we have the tools to engage and connect virtually while we cannot connect in person.”