Publishers make this summer-outreach program easier than ever for churches
Christian retail stores and local churches often team up this time of year for an effective ministry opportunity, Vacation Bible School (VBS). In this roundtable discussion, we talked with four publisher representatives to learn more about their 2015 programs and their hopes for the kids—and adults—who participate in them.
Jill Frahm, VBS specialist, Group Publishing
Julie Horner, solutions strategist, Assemblies of God National Leadership and Resource Center
Karen McGraw, associate managing editor, VBS, Gospel Light
Pam Nummela, editor, VBS and family materials, Concordia Publishing House
CHRISTIAN RETAILING (CR): What are you most excited about with your 2015 VBS program(s)?
FRAHM: We are very excited to release a brand-new format for 2015 Vacation Bible School. It’s called Cross Culture VBS: Thailand Trek. It’s everything you love about Group VBS, plus a fresh way to ignite kids’ faith. At Thailand Trek, you’ll meet four kids from Thailand, on video, who love Jesus. You’ll explore everyday life through games, snacks and cultural experiences and help kids see the big picture—an exciting world of faith beyond their own backyard. We can’t wait to watch kids grow closer to Jesus in 2015 at Thailand Trek VBS next summer!
HORNER: I am always most excited about how many kids will hear about a relationship with Jesus for the first time because MEGA Sports Camp draws kids who don’t normally attend church.
McGRAW: We are super excited about kids getting to know Jesus through the whole Bible. Kids will learn about God’s plan of salvation through Jesus, beginning in Genesis, moving through the New Testament account of the early church to today’s church. They will discover that through Jesus they, too, are a part of God’s plan. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, we’ve got an amazing and exciting theme. Through fun science-object lessons, kids will have a blast—in some cases literally—as they discover that when God created the world, He created the principles that control how the world works.
NUMMELA: The opportunity to impact so many young lives and connect them to Christ is such a privilege! Our theme and content engage children in a fun dynamic manner, immersing them in God’s great plan and purpose for their lives. Concordia Publishing House’s [CPH] central verse at Camp Discovery is 1 John 4:19: “We love because He first loved us.”
CR: How can retailers encourage their church customers to purchase your VBS curriculum?
FRAHM: Group VBS really shines as a leader in creating experiences for children, youth and volunteers during VBS that will help them grow in relationship with each other and with Jesus. We focus on single Bible Point learning each day, and it is reinforced in every station the kids visit at VBS. When a child attends a Group VBS, you can expect they’ll have a blast, but you’ll be surprised how quickly they remember the Bible Point and how they apply it to their daily life. Retailers can ensure that churches will experience life change in their kids and volunteers through a Group VBS. Another aspect that we introduced last year, KidVid Cinema, was a big hit with kids across the country. We’ll have all new topics and relevant experiences where kids will again dive into “real life” issues that they face through engaging stories of other kids just like them.
HORNER: MEGA Sports Camp is unique in that about 50% of the time is spent in sports training, and 50% is spent in small groups and children’s church-style rallies. Not only has MEGA Sports Camp been a four-time winner of Outreach’s children’s resource of the year, but our customers tell us why. According to surveys, about half of the kids who attend are guests of the host church, and about 20% of the kids ask Jesus into their hearts and lives. Plus it’s a great way to get men and youth groups more involved in children’s ministry. They love the sports aspect!
McGRAW: Gospel Light’s SonSpark Labs is the most flexible program out there. We’re working hard every year to find better ways to communicate with churches and provide a curriculum that is simple to use and adaptable to any situation. One way we’ve done that is with our Reproducible Power Pack. In this pack, churches have the power of reproducibility at their fingertips. They can print, email or post on their secure site leaders’ guides, student pages, music files—even our videos! It’s truly never been easier to get material into the hands of your volunteers. We’ve also added a Weekend Adventure VBS to go along with SonSpark Labs. It has all the fun and excitement of SonSpark Labs condensed down to three sessions in two days. This is a great alternative for any church and makes the program adaptable to any situation.
CR: What’s different about your VBS curriculum for the coming year?
FRAHM: Aside from creating our brand-new Cross Culture VBS, we have made some intuitive changes to the preschool area of Everest VBS. Preschoolers will now begin their day in Exploration Stations. This new station allows little ones to naturally gravitate to a fun hands-on activity that they enjoy—one of the stations is a newly designed Bible Activity Page—which helps them transition into a day of VBS. Preschoolers will also now end their day in Closing Circle Time instead of the larger Finale with elementary kids. We have tested these changes at the Everest field test, and preschool kids loved it!
HORNER: A fun new feature for athletes is that this year’s theme, “MEGA Sports Camp Get Ready,” will have videos featuring a competitor who is getting ready for American Ninja Warrior, which is a sports-entertainment competition on TV. Also, the kit packaging and theme art are targeting the sports person who may not be attracted to a traditional VBS. We refocused on MEGA Sports Camp instead of theme art only because our customers want to invite kids to a sports camp primarily and then let the character-based theme come out in the large group rallies.
McGRAW: We have reinvented our decorating resource into a theme guide that includes a Theme Center Guide with awesome hands-on science activities for kids. We’ve added some amazing resources that will make the job of decorating for your church a snap—wall murals, doorway covers, super-sized MEGA Decorating Pack, beakers and test tubes, and so much more! Our director’s Planning Guide now includes a Week-by-Week Checklist of action items for the director. Never before has a director’s job been so clearly laid out. We believe the whole church family can be involved with VBS, so we’ve had youth and adult Bible studies created to correspond to SonSpark Labs VBS. These guides can be used as part of a parent’s Bible study, volunteer Bible study or an afternoon Bible study for youth helpers. And our very popular ShowTime! Assemblies DVD is now included in the Deluxe Kit.
NUMMELA: CPH’s Camp Discovery brings a number of exciting updates. First, VBS leaders, parents and children will be able to engage in God’s Word with the Bible Challenge, an online experience designed just for Camp Discovery to provide hours of sharing and exploring God’s plan in His Word. Also new in 2015 is The Science Behind It. In this new feature, children and parents are equipped to actively experience science demonstrations and fun activities that explore the wonder of God’s creation. A big focus for CPH continues to be making VBS easy to use and organize. Knowing that planning and executing a smooth VBS is a huge job for leaders and volunteers, we intentionally focused on offering an expanded and comprehensive Volunteer Training section. Camp Discovery has a host of helps for leaders and volunteers, providing inspiration, tips and tricks, videos and instructions, all with the volunteer in mind and all online.
CR: What kind of support is your company offering for VBS 2015?
FRAHM: We will continue to offer a free online tool called VBS PRO to Promote, Register and Organize your VBS. We will also provide training sessions across the country called FunShops happening at local churches, as well as VBS Previews with many retailers across the country. Our website and trade partner’s site is also stocked full of images, song and video samples, order forms and many other extras.
HORNER: The megasportscamp.com website as well as Facebook and Pinterest are great support for those who host a MEGA Sports Camp.
McGRAW: This year, we have more decorating resources than ever before. In addition to our popular wall murals (we have two), we have included a Jumbo Lab Backdrop, which can be used to decorate the assembly room. We also have the MEGA Decorating Pack, which has supersized graphics that can be cut out and, in some cases, taped together to form 4- to 6-foot graphics! And we can’t forget the Reproducible Power Pack, youth and adult guides, and tons of fun theme-related items like Fiber-Optic Lab Lamps and SonSpark Lab Glasses!
NUMMELA: For online support, we’ve redesigned the Concordia VBSMate online-registration tool for 2015’s Camp Discovery. This handy, online tool provides a user-friendly way to track and organize volunteers and registrations. We want to equip VBS leaders to have access to their specific information and be able to manage their team, whether from the comfort of a laptop or the ease of a tablet.
CR: How are you using all that the Web has to offer to enhance your VBS programs?
FRAHM: We have a robust online network of VBS directors with Group VBS Facebook, Group VBS Pinterest page and Group VBS forums. We encourage VBS directors and volunteers to get online for support, to share ideas and network with thousands of churches across the country. Our website, group.com/vbs, also has Bible content, music clips, video clips and much more for directors to quickly access information and dive into our programs. One other item of note from a digital perspective is that we have been offering a phone/tablet application for a few years now and are excited to be offering it again with all-new tools, games and, most importantly, Bible-focused content related to our Everest program. In Thailand Trek, we’re launching an all-new, interactive student piece that kids will engage with via phone/tablet/PC both in VBS and in their home—it’s very cool!
HORNER: Last year, we added music-training videos on the website to help volunteers access them on their own schedule. This year we are looking at ways to expand that with other helps for busy volunteers.
McGRAW: In addition to our website, gospellightvbs.com, we have our VBS party site,myvbsparty.com. On myvbsparty.com, VBS directors from all over the world get to talk to each other—and us! It’s a great way to gather tips and suggestions and get questions answered. Another great thing about myvbsparty.com is our Anytime Anywhere Training. We have dozens of videos covering a variety of training needs. Since the videos are online, training can take place anytime, anywhere! VBS volunteers can watch from the comfort of their couches, or directors can show the videos at a training meeting—whatever works best for the church. And our online training is free! We also have active discussions on our Facebook page and lots of bonus ideas pinned to boards on Pinterest.
NUMMELA: Camp Discovery will provide samples, planning documents and downloads through a dynamic, theme-rich website. CPH also supports dealers with an exclusive For Dealers Only site to get the tools they need at cph.org/tradevbs.
CR: What do you want the participants to walk away with once they’ve completed your VBS program?
FRAHM: Our prayer each year for our VBS programs is that, ultimately, they bring kids closer to Jesus. We intentionally design every moment of VBS to reinforce the daily Bible Point for kids. I was fortunate enough to follow up with a VBS director in New Jersey who had just finished Weird Animals VBS. The message of “Jesus loves you” hit home with their kids because often they do feel afraid or don’t understand or feel left out. This director heard from parents that it was exactly what their kids needed to hear before they were about to start a new school year. It’s stories like this that encourage us as we pray over our VBS programs and friends in ministry each year.
HORNER: I hope they will be shocked at how many kids come—typically way more than a church expects—because sports is such a draw in most communities. If it’s like the MEGA Sports Camps I’ve been a part of, they will walk away thrilled to be a part of introducing kids to a relationship with Jesus. MEGA Sports Camp intentionally builds to that special moment when adult believers pray with kids who attend. For many volunteers, this is the first time they have prayed with someone when they asked Jesus into their heart and life.
McGRAW: At Gospel Light, our mission is “To Know Christ and to Make Him Known.” This is our desire for children who attend SonSpark Labs, their families and all the wonderful people who give of themselves to volunteer at VBS. VBS is still the most effective outreach at any church. We believe that introducing kids to Jesus is the most important reason we create VBS materials. The one thing we would love everyone to walk away from VBS with is a deeper understanding, appreciation and love for Jesus.
NUMMELA: It’s simple—we want Christ’s love and God’s plan to shine through our VBS. CPH intentionally crafts a VBS with purpose to help churches and families connect children to “the God stuff.” The lasting message of God’s love for everyone is at the heart of Camp Discovery. It is our prayer that the kids leave at the end of the week having had fun learning about God’s great, endless love for them. We hope that the churches hosting Camp Discovery have as much fun learning about God’s love for them as the kids do during the week. At the core, we all need to be reminded that God loves us.