At lunch today we were talking about Coble’s post about vacation Bible school (or VBS, for the hip) and NM was asking if it wasn’t just basically a big old baby-sitting thing.
And as she was asking, I realized what it is that VBS is supposed to do, at least for us small town Midwestern girls, and why a woman like Coble might find how VBS is done now disturbing.
In a small town, VBS is certainly not done as mission work, since, in a small town, who goes to what church is already well-established. So, it’s not about drawing new families into the church, which, in a larger town seems to be the focus of almost every church related activity.
No, when we were growing up VBS was only for the children under the flimsiest of pretexts and specifically did not require expensive doo dads with which to do it because that would have worked against its purpose.
VBS was about training young teenagers to be a part of the life of the church.
We helped with crafts, we handed out cookies and punch, we even, as we got older, taught some of the VBS classes. It was a trial run for Sunday School teaching and church funeral dinner throwing. It was a safe, structured way for young people to practice being the church.
Now, I haven’t been to a vacation Bible school in years, bt I’m betting that, if you’re paying tens of thousands of dollars for materials and considering it as a moment to reach new families, you aren’t letting 14 year olds be in charge. You’ve handed it over to people who already know what they’re doing.
So, the whole moment in which to show your young people that they aren’t just observers, but participants in the life and health of the church–that they have a stake and that they have responsibilities–is gone.
It’s now about indoctrinating the kids who go there and impressing their parents and not about bringing teenagers into the life of the church.
A church is almost always going to lose most of its young people after they hit about 16, maybe 18. But, if they’ve been made to feel a part of something important, a vital part, they usually come back.
I’m not sure how it works to bring folks back if you don’t do the work to make them seem like they have a place and a role before they go.