Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Vacation Bible School - Going Beyond Outreach (Part 1)

Vacation Bible School is one of the most evangelistic things most American churches do, and is usually the biggest outreach event of the year. When it comes to children's ministry and outreach, there are several things to think about when planning and producing a VBS.

The first big question any and every children's ministry needs to answer is fundamental to all ministry and event planning. It is a pretty easy question to answer as well. 

Is our children's ministry a first-generation or second-generation ministry? 

A second-generation children's ministry has as its primary goal to "bring children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” - Ephesians 6:4. The church and parents partner together to disciple children, teach them the scriptures, instruct them in wise living, and model how to follow the command to love your neighbor as yourself. The assumption of this kind of ministry is that the super-majority of the participants are being reared in a Christian home. Outreach is assumed to be through friendship networks of the families already involved, and events like VBS are intended to be easy on-ramps into the children's ministry programs of the church.

A first-generation children's ministry has as its primary goal to "preach the gospel where Christ is not known" - Romans 15:20. Rather than partnering with believing parents to deepen the discipleship of children, this church seeks lost children from lost families to share the gospel and fundamentals of following Jesus, and also reach their parents. The assumption of this kind of ministry is that the super-majority of new participants will come from outside the church body and have little orientation to church life. Events like VBS are intended to be primarily evangelistic and a relationship builder between the church and unchurched families.

One primary philosophy will drive the children's ministry of the church. Any church that is primarily empty-nesters and beyond must return to first-generation children's ministry, if it is to have a children's ministry at all. Churches with many child-bearing age families will naturally need a second-generation children's ministry. The two philosophies are so different that a children's ministry must be one or the other. It shapes everything they do and the way they do everything.

  • The programs of second-generation children's ministries are better and much more polished than those of first generation children's ministries. 
  • Most curriculum and children's ministry programs are produced for second-generation children's ministry.
  • Smaller churches tend to wish they had good second generation children's ministry programs, and when they seek to implement them, at great cost, they do not see results of sufficiently increased participation rates in the children's ministry. (If you build it, they will not come, and if they do, you are luring them away from another church, not from the harvest field.)
  • First generation children's ministries do not have their own self-sustaining momentum and funding like second-generation children's ministries. (Think of first generation as uphill and second generation as downhill).
  • Churches that hire children's ministers to direct the ministries to the children they have, usually have good success in their hires. Churches that hire children's ministers to more effectively reach children, usually have disappointment with their hires. (Again, this is because most Children's ministry training programs are designed to give second-generation ministry skills.)
Back to VBS

I mentioned earlier that VBS is one of the most evangelistic things churches do. This comes from nationwide VBS statistics by LifeWay Christian Resources. Accordingly, 25% of SBC baptism nationwide come from Vacation Bible Schools. 

That said, there is still a fundamental difference in the way the gospel is presented at a second-generation children's ministry VBS and a first-generation children's ministry VBS. Second generation philosophies (most published VBS curriculums) focus on discipleship matters ("Jesus is with us when we are afraid", or "I wonder what spiritual gifts God gave me?"), but they do have an evangelistic element. The gospel presentation is primarily focused on how to respond to the gospel, rather than the gospel itself (Just do a web search for ABC Admit Believe Confess to see what I mean). 

First generation VBS is extremely selective and spends most of its time carefully presenting God as creator, who Jesus is and what he has done, and how all people must respond. The focus is not on life lessons, getting along, serving God, or teaching morals. Rather, first-generation VBS is exclusively evangelistic, including only Bible verses and narratives that lead towards a decision to follow Jesus, following the example of John. Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. John 20:30-31

I hope this helps.

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