By Jana Magruder
For First Baptist Church of Panama City, Fla., Vacation Bible School (VBS) was more than simply “worth doing” last summer. It was a critical need for the community.
Although Hurricane Michael had ravaged the panhandle of Florida in October 2018, the Panama City area still looked like a war zone in June 2019. And the aesthetics of the community reflected the emotional and spiritual condition of the people who suffered.
Many of the families—parents and children—suffered post-traumatic stress disorder from the harrowing impact of the Category 5 storm. They felt forgotten. They felt isolated.
They felt lonely.
But one doesn’t have to endure a life-altering crisis to feel lonely. In fact, loneliness is seeping into the fabric of our culture—and our churches. According to a 2018 Cigna study, nearly half of American adults say they sometimes or always feel alone (46%) or left out (47%).
And it seems the younger the person is, the more likely they are to feel lonely. The study shows that Generation Z—in this study those age 18-22—is the loneliest generation.
The local church isn’t immune to loneliness. But there’s another crisis our congregations must face: apathy toward the lost.
A 2019 Lifeway Research study found more than half (55%) of those who regularly attend church say they haven’t with anyone how to become a Christian in the past six months.
We know the Great Commission is ours to do, but we’re not doing it.
We have an evangelism crisis in our churches.
We have a loneliness epidemic in our communities.
But we—the Church—have a solution to both of these problems. A solution that’s been in front of faces for decades: VBS.
For well over a century, VBS has been spreading the gospel in dynamic ways. The Lord has used this ministry to make His name known to millions. Just in the past 10 years, nearly 800,000 people haven’t only said yes to VBS; they’ve said yes to Jesus. And that’s only one denomination! Imagine the countless others who’ve been eternally impacted.
Kids, teens, and adults encounter Jesus in a powerful way through VBS. Some for the first time; others just at the right time. It’s a proven ministry tool that addresses both the evangelism crisis and the loneliness epidemic like no other strategy the church has today.
But some churches have thrown in the towel and given up on VBS because they think it’s not culturally relevant. Others cite a lack of volunteers. And many simply say it’s too much work.
Yes, VBS is a lot of work. It takes an army of people and resources. And each year, churches ask themselves: Is it worth it?
Lifeway Kids commissioned a comprehensive research project to determine, if, VBS, is indeed still worth it. Here are a few of the findings:
- Six out of 10 American adults have attended VBS.
- Nine out of 10 have positive memories of VBS.
- Perhaps most exciting: Eight of 10 said it was a childhood highlight.
Unlike the adults who responded in this survey, many of our kids have had a full data plan on a smartphone since they were 10 years old. They’re digital natives—the most connected to technology, but least connected to real people and actual relationships.
They need people.
They need God’s Word.
They need Jesus.
VBS combats loneliness by connecting kids with each other—and with adults who can come alongside these children and show them they have a role to play in God’s greater story of the gospel.
But VBS doesn’t reach only children. It reaches adults, too. It’s a bridge builder between the local congregation and the parents of VBS attenders—many of whom aren’t churchgoers.
Can you imagine a better outcome? The church makes a connection with parents who send their kids to VBS. This is a win in combatting both the evangelism and loneliness crises: It connects the parents with both the gospel and a local community of believers that love that adult and their child.
Is VBS Worth it?
The findings from our study conducted through Lifeway Research offer a resounding “yes” to the question, “Is VBS worth it?”
Not only have we found this to be true; FBC Panama City and its surrounding community would say the same thing.
In the wake of Hurricane Michael the church, having suffered major property damage, evaluated which ministries were necessary to keep—despite a lack of funds and facilities.
VBS was a non-negotiable.
During FBC Panama City’s VBS week, nearly 500 area children heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. One-third of them were unchurched.
Within the month following their VBS week, 33 children were baptized. Dozens of traumatized parents received love from the local body of Christ.
And through it all, God was glorified as church leaders and volunteers worked around less-than-ideal circumstances to bring hope to lost—and lonely—members of the community.
VBS was—and is—indeed, worth it.
Jana is strategic initiatives director for Lifeway Kids and author of Nothing Less: Engaging Kids in a Lifetime of Faith. She and her husband, Michael, have three kids.