Leaders say VBS impacts lostness, encourages discipleshipby C. Walter Overman
After serving in children’s ministry nearly 20 years, Cheryl Markland never tires of seeing a child understand something new about God.
“The greatest joy is seeing a child’s eyes light up when they grasp a new truth of who God is,” she said. “That gives me the greatest personal and professional joy, knowing that their life has been impacted for the Kingdom of God.”
Markland, Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSCNC) childhood ministry consultant, believes the future of the church is dependent upon how well parents, adults and the church partner together to reach children.
“From Deuteronomy 6 on, if the parents did not teach the children well, the faith would die,” she said. “It’s still that way. If adults are not teaching and modeling and joyfully serving, the faith will die.”
Teaching, modeling and serving requires adults, not just parents and church staff, to work together to reach the next generation. Yet, a common challenge in children’s ministry is convincing adults that children can understand theological concepts and experience a relationship with God.
“People don’t understand that kids can go to these places,” Markland said. “When you understand the special relationships children can have with God, and when you could experience that with them, how could you not want to be there?”
Markland points to Vacation Bible School (VBS) as a model of cooperation that also demonstrates the potential for children’s ministry. Vacation Bible School, which often requires adult lay leaders, parents, church staff and sometimes multiple churches to cooperate together for its success, also returns high numbers of professions of faith each year.
On average, the number of professions of faith reported from Vacation Bible School is about 25 percent of the annual baptisms recorded by the Southern Baptist Convention. This fact alone makes VBS an important outreach for the church and demonstrates that children can respond to the gospel.
“There is a very clear presentation of the gospel during Vacation Bible School that we don’t do anywhere else,” Markland said. “Bible School is so intentionally evangelistic, the gospel is so clearly presented, that it has a huge impact on lostness.”
Ryan Chapman, children’s pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Youngsville, said the annual success of Vacation Bible School speaks for itself.
“If you just look at statistics, year after year VBS continues to be one of the largest outreaches among Southern Baptist churches,” he said. “More people come to know Christ as a result of VBS than many other outreach opportunities.”
Chapman added that Vacation Bible School pays dividends for the church in multiple ways, namely because it results in discipleship among the adults who serve.
“VBS is one of those events where it takes a lot of people to come and serve. It takes the church to pull together as a body,” he said. “So you get a rally factor of the church serving together and out of that come relationships that are built among people who are serving, and out of those relationships come discipleship relationships.”
Chapman sees God moving through Vacation Bible School every year through its impact on the lives of children, their families and the overall health of the church. He said many times the results go unnoticed because they happen weeks, months or even years later.
“I've seen families who have come to church as a result of their daughter being involved in VBS or their son being involved in VBS who join the church a year later,” he said. “But then I see the discipleship and growth of our own people who serve and they begin to see that God can use them as they serve. You begin to see those relationships develop and the church becomes closer.”
One way churches can partner together to impact lostness through Vacation Bible School is by participating in link-ups, which is when one church helps another church host Vacation Bible School by sharing its resources.
Every year Faith Baptist gives away its decorations and curriculum materials to various churches. Chapman connects with churches that need Vacation Bible School materials through Faith members who know about a church in need or through the local association.
“It helps them and it’s a blessing to us to be able to serve. We are glad to pass along anything we can to help other churches any way we can,” he said.
Gail Ledbetter, BSCNC Vacation Bible School specialist, said link-ups are critical for many churches.
“Churches that participate in a link-up share much needed resources such as curriculum, decorations and volunteers to assist another church in providing a VBS,” she said. “In most cases, without that help, a VBS would not have been possible. We praise God for that cooperation.”
In 2012, link-ups accounted for about 25 percent of North Carolina Baptist churches that participated in Vacation Bible School. Chapman said it’s important for churches to partner together for the sake of the Kingdom.
“I encourage other churches to be good stewards of their resources,” he said. “It’s not just about our church. It’s about the Kingdom and doing Kingdom ministry.”
In 2012, 771 North Carolina Baptist churches reported their participation in Vacation Bible School, with a statewide enrollment of 100,950 children and 2,252 decisions to receive Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. Preliminary 2013 statistics will be available in December.
For more information about Vacation Bible School, including church report forms and link-ups, visit www.ncbaptist.org/vbs.