Historians trace the origins of Vacation Bible School either to 1870s Canada or to a beer hall in New York City in 1898. Either way, it remains one of the most successful ways of getting kids into religious instruction. It’s also one of the few proven ways of attracting kids whose families don’t normally attend religious services into sacred precincts.

As you drive around our county you’ll see a wide variety of yard signs, church signs and pretty much everything short of a billboard or a blimp outlining this year’s crop of Vacation Bible School offerings. Everything from “To Mars and Beyond” to “The Incredible Race” to “GiddyUp Junction. Not to mention Splash Canyon and Shipwrecked.”

If these seem echo headlines, theme parks or prime time TV, it may be for the same reason: locking into the current culture to present unchanging teachings.

Faced with these facts, Our Faith turned to Landry Holmes, manager, Kids Ministry Publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources, for help. LifeWay is a publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest creators of Vacation Bible School content.

“Each year, we approach development differently,” Holmes said. “However, we always involve individuals outside of LifeWay who are in ministry in their local churches. Sometimes, we glean information from kids themselves. Regardless of the source of our ideas, we continually monitor what is going on in the lives of kids. The lengthy development process results in a direction for both the theme and the biblical content.”

Our Faith wanted to know how you blend volcanoes, shipwrecks and bright, tropical birds, only one of which was commonly mentioned in the New Testament, with an unchanging gospel message.

“We prefer to keep the gospel presentation simple, yet true to the biblical text,” she said. “We provide a video demonstration, written scripts and other tools that equip teachers and leaders to point to the gospel during every worship rally, Bible study session and rotation (snacks, recreation, crafts, music, etc.), everyday.”

To truly test a new Vacation Bible School program, it may mean staffers playing the roles of small children. Something along the lines of grandparents, down on their hands and knees, checking their house for hazards before the grandkids arrive for a visit, but with the developers acting as children to test out the crafts, snacks and stories from a kids-eye view.

“Our writers, editors and graphic designers teach kids in their local churches throughout the year, so they know how kids learn best and what teaching methods work in a church setting,” Holmes said. “In addition, we test our crafts with kids every year.”

A typical curriculum comes packaged in a colorful, over-sized can. Inside are professional banners and other graphic elements, craft and Bible lessons, and detailed directions for everything from log-ins to game times. Often a CD with a raft of songs that kids can sing and dance to is also included.

It’s been suggested that producing the contents of the can is equivalent to writing a new Broadway musical with production notes, but one that will only be performed for one year before vanishing forever into the haze.

She closed our interview with an appeal to churches to consider hosting a VBS annually and to enlist their members as ambassadors for it.

“Recent research tells us that 69 percent of American parents will encourage their child to participate in a VBS event at a church they don’t attend, if they are invited by one of their friends,” she said. “Knowing that, LifeWay provides materials for churches to use to reach parents and families with the gospel, including music, printed take-home booklets, an app and even toys.

“Churches and individuals are in crisis, and there is a timeless solution that can help them avert it by evangelizing people with the gospel and providing community for today’s isolated kids and adults. VBS is the one week that mobilizes the entire church to reach the community with the gospel, while simultaneously providing a unique discipleship experience for the individual child and volunteer.”

Next week in Our Faith: A number of local and national businesses will donate a portion of your purchases to help local charities, including churches and parachurch ministries. Learn how you can tap this free funding resource.

Rick Cousins can be reached at rick.cousins@galvnews.com

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