June 24, 2021

The Secret is Out

The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial on Vacation Bible School and had some interesting things to say:

Vacation Bible School, or VBS, differs by denomination, but churches that offer it share a common goal: to expose children to the Gospel, and maybe, just maybe, recruit their families into the church. For Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., VBS is the most effective tool of evangelism, the impetus for 26% of baptisms in 2006. Nearly three million children and adults attended VBS at Southern Baptist churches last year, resulting in 94,980 “decisions to receive Christ as Savior” and 280,693 “Sunday School prospects discovered,” according to Southern Baptist Convention statisticians. “Vacation Bible School is today’s revival,” said Jerry Wooley, the VBS specialist for LifeWay, the SBC’s publishing agency.

My first thought here is “Wow.”  Having argued against doing VBS because of my belief that it has lost its way, I’m staggered at the statistics.  Some churches have VBS as their biggest outreach budget item.  Some are seeing children and parents start attending their church because of VBS.

However, they also say that people are aware of what they are getting into– mainly, that the Gospel will be shared.  When comparing VBS with other summer activities, they know that they will be told that they need to make a decision for Christ, which I believe is a good thing.  It needs to be transparent.

So, what about your VBS?  If you ran one, how was your turn out?  Did you get any decisions for Christ?  Any new people coming to your church?

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10 thoughts on “The Secret is Out

  1. Our church does not use the VBS model, but rather have families put on “Backyard Bible Clubs” in their own neighborhoods. This provides for actual ministering to people you know rather than large groups of children who no one knows. The church provides the materials and the training (Children Desiring God). This material isn’t designed just to entertain and provide fun, but rather to teach the deep things of God in a manner a child can comprehend.

    The other VERY important point is that we are to realize how simple it is to get a “decision for Christ” out of a child. Any well-meaning adult can easily manipulate a “decision” and a repeat-after-me “prayer” out of a child, resulting in a false conversion. We do understand that children can and do come to Christ, but we teach the parents to be very, very careful to work only with individual children (instead of groups) and do the best they can to discern the child’s true heart when they express interest in spiritual things before leading them to Christ.

    So…I look at the SBC numbers with a great amount of skepticism, especially regarding how many are actually saved versus how many repeated a prayer but don’t have a changed life. The basic VBS model is broken….


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  2. I agree with Charley about the numbers. Praying a prayer one time does not a disciple make. It is also rather popish to rely on that sort of benchmark for “salvation.” You might plant a seed or spark interest with VBS but you count your chickens when they’ve hatched 10, 15, 20 years down the road.


  3. Impressive stats, but I agree with the above comments. I once worked in a Baptist VBS program, and was bothered by the pressure put on all ages of children to accept Jesus into their lives. I think many of the converts had no idea what they were doing, they just wanted to appease the VBS workers. VBS needs a better approach and follow-through for the ones who are making this decision.

    Hopefully our VBS programs have made an impact. It’s not an obvious one…most of our VBS kids are the same community and church kids that attend our Awana program, and quite a few don’t attend our church…yet. The parents made a pretty good turn out to our last night’s program though. At least they know a good place to turn when they eventually feel the need for God in their lives.

  4. I had suggested to our church that we do a more “Good News Club” model because I thought that we needed to be reaching out rather than entertaining our own kids. Perhaps, in the south, it works better to have VBSs because parents still trust churches, but in my area it seems that it’s hard to invite kids in.

    I totally agree with you that I think that VBS can have the problem of being too light, of having unengaged workers (that are just there because they have to be there) and that things may not come out of it. It takes good follow up and a dedication to the truth to really have these things be pleasing to God, in my opinion.

  5. There is one more potential issue with the entire evangelism to children idea…and I throw this out just for consideration.

    When you look at the Bible, the normative example is to approach parents (usually the father) with the salvation message, and then often the entire family is subsequently saved. A solidly saved parent WILL be a more effective witness to the children than any church program could ever be. So basically, you don’t find Biblical examples of evangelism targeting children…. Therefore, if the Bible is our guide, why are we doing things this way???

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  6. That’s a great point, Charley. Sadly, I think this is a child-focused culture, which is why we do these things to get the kids and hope that mom and dad will eventually follow.

    I agree though, it’s the dad that needs snagged, and so often it’s the dads MIA at church. At least in my history of pastor’s daughter. We’re very blessed to currently be in a church with a largely active group of men.

  7. I actually think it’s something from the article that explains why we go after children, regardless of whether we believe that going after “dad” is the most effective. It has to deal with what we believe about salvation and who we think is the most receptive.

    First, what we believe about salvation: A lot of people preach and teach that all that is required for salvation is praying a prayer, or being sorry for your sins. We’ve really cheapened salvation to mean “pray this prayer and you’re set.” In this case, it’s really easy for us to have nominal conversions of children– they are receptive, they pray the prayer, we broadcast that they’re saved (and for the rest of their life they have to be propped up because of doubt, etc.)

    Second, it’s who we think is the most receptive: Reaching an adult male in the US is really tough. The whole camel through the eye of a needle thing. Men are not going to want to look to “an invisible God” for help if they think that they can do everything themselves. But children, especially young children, are receptive to the message of the Gospel. So, we reach children in the hopes of getting a toe-hold in the family and reaching the rest of it.

    Is it backwards? Sort of. If we’re doing the second and are truly preaching salvation (not doing the first) I don’t have a problem with it. If we’re doing the first, we’re actually doing more damage than if they did not hear, because we would be giving them a false sense of security.

  8. M…

    Your conclusion is right on the money. One of the biggest errors (heresies?) in America today is that of “decisionism.” I wrote a piece about it HERE. I have also become a huge proponent of the preaching of Paul Washer. A large part of Washer’s passion is for true, solid conversions. Someone took one of his best sermons and did a short video compilation of it. I put it on my blog HERE

    Somehow our Christian culture has reduced the Gospel down to four little “laws,” a “decision,” and a repeat-after-me “prayer”… and the result is a culture that calls itself “Christian,” but lacks the power therein. Why? Because most truly do NOT KNOW GOD!

    We do a great disservice to children by approaching them first and by using our techniques on them. Think about it. What child in that setting wouldn’t say they “love Jesus?” What child in that setting wouldn’t say they “wanted to go to heaven?” What child in that setting wouldn’t agree to close his eyes, fold his hands, and repeat a prayer after an adult? Was that child truly convicted of his OWN sin? Was that child desperate before God as his only hope? Was that child crying out to God and throwing himself at the foot of the Cross for mercy and forgiveness? Was there true repentance and belief (trust)? Sadly, I dare say this didn’t happen in the numbers represented by the SBC.

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  9. Great discussion! Charley I really appreciate you pointing out that the biblical model is normally reaching the household through the father. That had never occurred to me.

    Last night I heard an update on Awana’s High Powered Soccer VBS program, which I think I had mentioned in comments on a previous post here. When churches ran it in parks and used it as an outreach into the neighborhood, they had large numbers of parents from the community sticking around and actually hearing the gospel message presented.

    Summer, especially late summer just before back-to-school, is in many people’s minds an opportunity for a fresh start. Thus it is an opportune time for churches to reach out. The cults all knocked on my door last week. Where are we in our communities?

  10. In the church building, where we’ve always been?!

    Sadly, I think that this is pretty much the correct answer– and I’ll be the first to admit that it’s tough to get out there and witness and it’s mostly because we’re not in practice. We worry about what they will think, whether we’ll say the right things, or whether we have enough time. For some strange reason, the Savior that gave us a home in Heaven is the last thing that we want to talk about– and yet we truly believe people will go to Hell if they are not saved and that we should have more people coming to our churches.

    What a crazy, lazy people we are.

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