Is VBS Dead? or Just Not Worth the Trouble?

Keith Tusing March 10, 2011 11

Is VBS Dead? or Just Not Worth the Trouble? Children\s Ministry YouthVBS – The origins of Vacation Bible School can be traced back to Hopedale, Illinois in 1894.  Hey, that means VBS has actually been around longer than me! Many churches have long been committed to an annual VBS as a part of their summer programming for kids.  Now, a large percentage of churches have discontinued or they are considering discontinuing this summer tradition.  One of the questions that is being tossed around: Is VBS still an effective tool for Children’s Ministry?  Let’s take a look at a couple of facts:

A shift in children’s ministry since 1997 has been the 12% decline in the percentage of churches offering Vacation Bible School (or VBS) – from 81% to 69%. The number one reason given for not offering VBS was a lack of available volunteers. – The Barna Group, Ltd, 2009

By contrast V.B.S. continues to have the greatest evangelistic impact in the Southern Baptist Convention with 26% of 2006 baptisms in convention churches coming as a direct result of V.B.S.

Today over three million children attend Vacation Bible School annually.

So what is all the debate about?  It seems that many churches believe the expense both financially and in man-power does not yield the desired results.  I believe the lack of measurable success may be more a result of the way VBS is presented than anything else. Also, a lack of planned follow up after VBS by the church leads to limited long term benefit.

So what are the some of the benefits to a church that provides a VBS program?

  1. A unique week of presenting the gospel multiple times to the age group most likely to be receptive to accepting Christ as Savior.
  1. An opportunity for church members to make a short term commitment to the Children’s Ministry which in turn can open the door for the proactive leader to recruit the right individuals to the Children’s Ministry team.
  1. VBS is one of the unique ways for the entire church body to be involved in a large project together which often produces a special camaraderie.
  1. VBS offers an opportunity to have guest families visit your church multiple times allowing you an opportunity to interact with them.
  1. It can become a lasting impression on each child that church is fun and a place they would like to be often.

A lack of effectiveness may fall more on the quality of the program and the ensuing follow-up than on the program itself.  A great VBS contains lively music, interesting crafts, fun games, and new friends.  Sounds like something that most kids would love. Oh, and we get to present the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

What do you think? Is VBS dead?  Are there better alternatives? Should you rethink your view?  Let me know…share your comments…share your experiences…share your opinion.


  1. Chelsea Anne March 10, 2011 at 7:45 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article. It frustrates me to hear about Vacation Bible School programs being cut due to lack of volunteers, the amount of effort it takes to produce the program, etc. The church I minister at hadn’t had a VBS for several years for these reasons. As a new staff member, I saw the potential for such a program. We put a VBS together in under a month. Yes, it was a lot of work – but the reward was great. Our church was packed! We saw kids commit their lives to Christ and have seen the lingering effects in the community. VBS takes time and energy, but given the outcome it seems more than worth it. 

  2. Keith Tusing March 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm - Reply

    I totally agree with you, it is a lot of work and it can pay off in great rewards.  Thanks for sharing your perspective!
    Looking Up,

  3. Karl Bastian March 11, 2011 at 2:49 am - Reply

    I think it is important for leaders to clearly and accurately define the purpose of VBS before they undertake it. I think the reason many churches cancel it is they start to think it is child care for Christian kids from other churches doing the VBS circuit – which it can be, though there are ways to avoid that (I won’t get into that here.) Many people claim VBS is evangelistic, I actually don’t think that is the purpose of VBS (!) As shocking as that sounds, I think decisions for Christ are a benefit, but not the purpose of VBS – there are far more staff and cost effective ways to reach the lost, and we canceled VBS for two summers to pursue that with success – but then I brought BACK VBS for a more refined purpose: to create significant spiritual memories for children within the church, anchors that would bring them back to the church years later, when 53% of them leave the church, according to research. Yes, some get saved, but 100% of them have a GREAT time, learn and have a positive experience at church. AND, if you do a family VBS, have a family experience at church. So, I think VBS is a great thing to do – if defined well. If you have realistic and clear goals, you are sure to hit them! 

  4. Keith Tusing March 11, 2011 at 1:55 pm - Reply

    thanks for sharing your perspective. Great job on the “refined purpose” that you’ve shared here. I also would love to hear more details about your approach to VBS.

  5. Dawn Farris March 30, 2011 at 2:53 am - Reply

    Thanks for posting this ever so important topic. After recently attending San Diego CPC where I heard the mixed messages of “Remember, VBS isn’t one of the 10 commandments” along with “Hey, come by our booth and purchase our VBS today at a discounted rate” (or for free. . .You Go, Go Fish Guys!) I’ve come home to discuss with our leaders what the right course is for us this year. Reading your thoughts reminds me why it is we do what we do where we are, and how important that is in a day when so many things compete for the hearts of our kids. Thanks as well to Karl Bastian for leading me here through his post at Kidology and for his great thoughts on this topic as well. VBS 2011, here we come!

  6. Chris Giddens May 26, 2011 at 12:21 pm - Reply

    VBS isn’t dead.  It is the center of our summer months. (now only two months).  Here’s how to keep it alive.
    1)  Pray about it, for it, with it, by it…. somewhere in the vicinity of it… 
    2)  Go all out.  If VBS is boring, folks lose interest, it dies…. GO ALL OUT.
    3)  Pump up volunteers instead of finding someone who’d rather not serve have to fill a spot.
    4)  Envolve EVERYONE at church.
    5)  Get your Senior Pastor on board. 
    6)  Get the word out to your community and prepare for them to show up.  
    7)  Did I say have FUN with it?  oh no… I didn’t.  HAVE FUN WITH IT.  IMAGINE SOME.
    8)  Talk about VBS all year, not just a month before your start date.
    9)  Plan it so a 4th grade boy will be excited about it.  No cheezyness, No mamby pambyness.  Get an idea of what gets his attention daily and get there too. (within reason)
    10)  Make SURE everything you do shows that Jesus is risen, Jesus is real and Jesus really loves those kids.  Never back down from the TRUTH!!

  7. Craig Wilson June 1, 2011 at 10:56 pm - Reply

    For years we did not do a VBS. being in Southern CA at the time we had a program that rivaled the cost of a week of childcare and kids went to a different amusement park every single day. (Benefit of So Cal). Because the cost was drastically cheaper than a week of childcare and they got so much to do it attracted a lot of unchurched from the community. We had a short worship program in the morning then the rest of the day…all day was at the parks. the focus was the relationships for the week. That program became more costly and more difficult to proper leaders for over years.

    I now find myself doing more of a VBS program. Sure we all call it something else “Summer Spectacular” “Summer Blast”…it’s still a VBS right? I think Karl hit the nail on the head “Refined Purpose” For me it has never been seen as a huge evangelistic event but more of an encouragement for the body. Sure we want kids to bring their friends and many will hear the gospel for the first time, but it’s also a great event that rallies our body together in so many ways.

  8. John July 25, 2011 at 2:30 pm - Reply

    VBS is dead.  Stop it now.

  9. Rev. James Fry July 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm - Reply

    I have been writing the Bible schools for our church for the past 18 years. We began as many other with a meager amount of children and a meager amount of excitement. That’s when I decided to write our own and do it our own way. Last year we averaged 462 per night in BIble school and had 1000 at our Sunday program. We are a country church 2 miled outside a town of about 600. It is by far the biggest thing we do. We pray individually with the kids who desire to accept Christ as their Savior and have anywhere from 40 to (one year) over 100. Our first VBS was Sinbsters complete with smoke machines and strobe lights. Since then it has been themes like Independant Jones and the Search for Eternal life, Jesus Book, Kids in White, The Cornerstones, Hooked on Jesus…and this year Joystory. We have a unique system with comedy/drama lessons each night, activities, music and a very succesful 4 tier approach to convey the lessons to our kids. If anyone is interest in using any of our Vbs programs or system please contact us we would be more than happy to help get you started. No charge….God have this to me to reach childen and there is no charge for the Gospel…it has already been paid for.

    • David Barber March 12, 2015 at 9:16 pm - Reply

      James, I’m definitely interested in your program. How do I get in touch with you?

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