Christian Retailing

VBS draws the unchurched Print Email
Written by JERRY WOOLEY   
Tuesday, 07 October 2014 04:41 PM America/New_York

Retailers who connect with local churches play a vital role in community evangelism

LifeWay-5072While the sights and sounds of Vacation Bible School (VBS) have changed significantly in the last 20 years, the foundational reason for conducting VBS is as solid today as when it first was conducted more than a century ago—connecting people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Providers of VBS curriculum have created a true success story when it comes to changing methods without changing the message.

At its core, VBS is evangelism—or at least it should be. Doors that are tightly closed to the gospel message and church participation 51 weeks of the year are suddenly thrown open by parents who are eager for their kids to share an experience from their own childhood, spend a week with grandparents or simply get out of the house. With this openness to the gospel and the church, it is not surprising that more kids make professions of faith each year through VBS-type ministries than any other short-term ministry.

Reports gathered by LifeWay Christian Resources from 20,000 Bible schools reveal an average of four professions of faith per school. That’s 80,000 decisions recorded during the week of VBS and does not begin to account for the many professions of faith that result from VBS, but are not made public until weeks later.

If an average of four professions of faith per VBS is not reason enough for a pastor to choose to conduct VBS, how about the opportunity to quickly discover large numbers of unchurched families? An average of 10% of VBS participants are unchurched.


Based on the combined registration of the 20,000 Bible schools reported to LifeWay, approximately 300,000 kids, teens and adults indicated they do not have an ongoing relationship with a church. When family members of these participants are included, the total swells to 1,050,000 individuals or 52 per church. Many churches minister for an entire year without identifying 52 unchurched individuals who show some interest in the church, yet VBS can produce 52 prospects in one week.

It would not be uncommon for many of these individuals to claim to have no desire for a relationship with a church. However, in reality, by participating in VBS, or allowing their child to do so, they have revealed an openness to a relationship, and in the process have typically provided names, ages and contact information—basically everything a congregation needs to build on the relationship begun during VBS.

Hopefully you picked up on the phrase “basically everything.” While unchurched families do their part to initiate a relationship by allowing their kids to participate in VBS, its up to the congregation to provide an environment and the encouragement for the relationship to grow. Far too many church leaders assume they have done enough by offering a week of VBS. In their opinion, once the week is completed, it is up to unchurched families to keep the relationships or connections going.

A common statement heard in church halls during the weeks following VBS goes like this: “We went to all the time, trouble and expense to show those kids a good time, and not a single one came back the following Sunday.”

The solution to this lament is hidden in the statement itself. The week might have been the most exciting experience of a kid’s life, but if a connection to the church and to the gospel was not made, there is no real reason for the kid, much less his family, to return—at least not until the next big event.

Kids have fun at amusement and water parks all the time without an ongoing connection or relationship being made with the park staff. The day may be a mountaintop experience, but the connection ends the moment the kid and his family walk out the gate. The same can be true for VBS unless making ongoing connections is a priority of the pastor and VBS leadership team. LifeWay’s VBS team calls the relationship aspect of Bible schools “building bridges” to unchurched families that connect them to the gospel and the church.

Ensuring that VBS is evangelistic and results in building bridges doesn’t happen by accident. It requires intentionality that begins before curriculum is chosen or the first worker is enlisted. Building bridges becomes a priority that permeates every aspect of VBS from the moment the date and time are scheduled to the training provided for workers, to the duties of the registration team, to the follow-up connection actions that are planned for the weeks following VBS.

To successfully build bridges, VBS leaders must plan to connect with the entire family—not just the kids. Kids might be the primary focus of VBS, but they are not typically the decision-makers who determine the level to which the family will or will not connect and become involved with a church. Churches that fail to connect with parents typically struggle to maintain a long-term relationship with the kids.

Building bridges is not only a work of intentionality but also a work of endurance. Strong relationships are established and strengthened in time and are made up of many shared experiences. A relationship may begin during the week of VBS, but it is the investment of time in the following weeks that will determine the real impact of VBS.

As I write this article, I can see four bridges from my office window. Each is different in appearance, width and length, but structurally they are similar. They are all anchored at each end of a span that crosses over other roads or train tracks. However, not far from here is a partially finished structure that was supposed to be a bridge. Construction began with an anchor at one end followed by the beginning of the span. But for some reason work stopped, leaving a ramp to nowhere.

If we are not careful, the relationships begun during VBS can become a ramp to nowhere unless those relationships are intentionally nurtured and encouraged. As churches begin preparing for VBS 2015, they have a choice: They can build bridges by intentionally emphasizing the evangelistic aspect of VBS and doing the work required to connect people to the gospel and to the church, or they can provide a week of fun, but let the connection end the moment the kid walks out the door.


As a provider of VBS resources, you have a choice as well. You can offer your customers curriculum for a week of fun, or you can offer them the motivation and purpose for conducting VBS—and for doing it year after year even when the going gets tough.

Each year, hundreds of churches that have traditionally conducted VBS make the decision not to do so. The surface reasons are many, but in truth, the decision boils down to whether church leadership sees value in the week. Many have lost the vision that VBS is one of their best opportunities for connecting unchurched families to the gospel and to the church.

As the retailer who will help church leaders choose which curriculum to use, you also have the opportunity to help them catch a vision for building bridges to the unchurched by emphasizing the evangelistic aspect of VBS. Start by sharing the statistics found in this article, but go further by collecting and telling the bridge-building stories of the churches you serve.