Summer is a busy season in children’s ministry. Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a ministry tool that Kathy Miles and her staff train churches across the state to use to engage children and their families this time of year. While visiting one church’s VBS, Miles, Director of Children’s Ministries at the South Carolina Baptist Convention, witnessed the magnitude of what the ministry provides to a community through the local church.
“I looked around and listened to 1,000 children saying together the Bible verse they had memorized. I thought ‘today, each of these kids gets to hear the Gospel, open and learn God’s word, have an adult invest in them, experience grace and love, and feel safe.’ VBS is needed now more than ever with fewer families having access to the Gospel, and biblical literacy at an all-time low,” Miles says.
She goes on to cite LifeWay statistics that reflect VBS as a primary part of a child’s church experience, and that 95 percent of Americans whose child has attended VBS, agree that VBS was one of their child’s most meaningful church experiences. Miles sees another important correlation.
“When training numbers are up, the number of professions of faith go up. To help support our churches in this, the South Carolina Baptist Convention’s VBS leadership team holds three VBS Expo trainings in March and April to help with hosting a successful VBS. Some of the breakout sessions include leading a child to Christ, how to connect to your community, Bible Study trainings, making crafts, worship rallies, and developing safety and security teams,” she says.
Michelle Witman is the Children’s Ministry Director at Riverbluff Church in North Charleston and led a missions breakout at the VBS Expo. Riverbluff Church uses VBS to launch missions and outreach into its community. It’s also an opportunity for young believers to practice evangelism.
“At Riverbluff, every child who is already a Christian is equipped to have Gospel conversations, so leaders aren’t the only ones who can lead others to Christ during VBS. Throughout the year we talk about how to have a Gospel conversation in different scenarios. We choose local mission focuses so the kids can experience missions and think about how they can serve in their own space,” Witman explains.
The majority of children who attend Riverbluff Church’s VBS are unchurched. Witman considers the week a success if every child has at least one encounter with Jesus because “we have three hours a day with them here that we can’t get during a Sunday morning.”
In addition to missions, Witman is passionate about partnering with other churches to share resources and take VBS to underserved areas around Charleston. She met Deadra Ross last year when Ross and a group from Destiny Worship Center joined her VBS Expo missions breakout session. Ross’s church was looking to reach local families in a meaningful way and curious about how to use VBS.
“Starting in the parking lot we were amazed at the excitement from the people at the Expo. We were greeted by smiling faces, decorations, snacks, a worship rally and many classes to help us prepare for VBS. On the way home we were so excited. Everyone, adults and children, were hoping that our VBS could be like that and keep the kids curious and interested in learning about the word of God,” says Ross, who took Witman’s contact card that day and later reached out.
“Deadra and I talked about how to do VBS from the ground up and God equipped a Riverbluff team to answer the call. We gathered folks from both churches and discussed their vision and heart for children. We listened and had many conversations and prayer times about how to make it happen,” Witman recalls.
During Destiny Worship Center’s first VBS in 2018, the Riverbluff Church team was onsite to lead as Destiny members apprenticed with them. This summer the teams helped during the other’s VBS week, and the Destiny team led their own. Witman says this model has worked well, allowing Destiny Worship Center to take ownership of its VBS program.
“We had such a blessed time in the Lord last year, I think we continued to celebrate our VBS experience two weeks or more afterward,” Ross says.
“I love equipping, encouraging and resourcing kids, families and communities to help them do VBS on their own. We’re on this team together for our city. Stand back and watch God work because He is going to, and it will be beautiful,” Witman says.
“VBS is an opportunity to strengthen families, disciple adults and children, and create opportunities for building relationships while providing the opportunity to speak faith, hope and truth into their lives. Through VBS, the entire church is on mission to see every life saturated with the hope of the Gospel. God is up to something big, VBS is just the beginning,” Kathy Miles says.