I just dropped three (two of my own, and one borrowed) children off for their first day of Vacation Bible Camp (VBC). I am both delighted and surprised that this week is a highlight of the summer for all three kids. My daughter went to pony camp a few weeks back and even that can’t compete with VBC. Two weeks of hockey camp were awesome, but my son still can’t wait for church camp. He is already talking about next year when he becomes a junior leader at the camp.
I guess it shouldn’t surprise me since Vacation Bible School (VBS), as we called it, was a highlight of my summers as a child. My Dad, our minister, led VBS, often with a student minister and a few volunteers. I loved the singing, the Bible ‘drills,’ the stories, the games, and the crafts. I would bring my friends and it was a great week for all of us!
When I later began working at St. Giles Presbyterian Church in Ottawa, leading VBS was still one of the highlights of my year. I loved writing the curriculum. I loved welcoming the children and getting to spend a whole week with them. I loved working with other church leaders. At St. Giles, we partnered with one or two other churches to host a full-day VBS. The children would meet at St. Giles in the morning for a fairly traditional morning of VBS. Then we would walk them to the local United church where they would enjoy lunch (prepared by volunteers) and enjoy larger afternoon activities. The afternoon leaders were willing to do things I wasn’t and that made for a better program for everyone.
I know some churches have stopped hosting summer camps. Some have had difficulty securing volunteers. For some, it has been for financial reasons. Some churches have just found that the children no longer attended so it didn’t make sense. I have even heard a few rumblings that it was just being used as free daycare for families.
I might sound dated praising summer church camps. I am sure there are others who think we shouldn’t continue with such an outdated ministry model. Yet, I think there are still countless reasons to continue. VBC is a time of commitments. VBC is a time of concentrated Bible learning. VBC is a time to get non-church kids into the church. VBC is a great time for your church leaders to get excited and experience joy and laughter. VBC is a chance for your congregation to do outreach. VBC provides leadership opportunities for your youth.
Obviously, it’s not the model for every church. There are good reasons to stop or change the way you minister with children throughout the summer. It doesn’t work for every church or in every situation, but today I give thanks that my children are enjoying their morning at our church. I give thanks for our amazing coordinator and countless volunteers. I give thanks for a church that commits people and money to this week. I give thanks for church staff that work two to three times their required hours to make camp happen. I give thanks for the songs we will be singing in the car for the next year. I give thanks that the love of God is being shared with my kids! Thanks be to God.