I’m proud to say that I grew up in a church that did Vacation Bible School and did it BIG!
We started rehearsing for the VBS drama right after Easter and decorating began before school even let out for summer break. Every wing of the church building was transformed in rain forests, mountain peaks, outer space or whatever other extreme theme for which we had been collecting decorations the previous 11 months.
Members took vacation time to lead the morning Bible story and mission moments in Bible-times costume. I’ve created every possible structure out of Popsicle sticks and Elmer’s glue and witnessed even the most reserved deacons bust out with their rhythmically challenged Baptist “motions” to the Gospel ABC’s put to music.
So, yeah, I’m a VBS expert, a junkie, a pro. As far as I always knew, that was the only way to do it.
In the last several years, our church, Violet Baptist Church in Pickerington, Ohio, has been on this kick to “build bridges to our community.” I was all for it when it meant opening the doors for Upward Sports, inviting community members to free car washes and movie nights on our campus. We built the bridge and welcomed anyone who would dare cross it.
Then someone suggested the backyard Bible club model during our summer VBS. What? Why mess with a good thing? We are getting people into our building, why change that? This year, as a stay-at-home mother to preschoolers, in a moment of desperation to plan summer activities and have adult interaction, I agreed to assist my life group in hosting a “Journey Off the Map” backyard Bible club in a neighborhood.
The week before our kickoff, our life group met and broke into family teams to canvas the neighborhood in which we would be hosting a backyard Bible club. We handed out flyers to any families out playing and prayed for the children and families that we would interact with in the coming week.
My heart began to soften when my almost 5-year-old stopped on the sidewalk and proclaimed, “Dear Jesus, help us tell these people You love them!”
However, the night before our kickoff, anxiety and doubt took over. I worried that we were going to put on a fun event just for our kids. After all, I would never take my kids to a neighbor’s house, right? What if it rained all week? We didn’t want all those unknown children inside the house, did we? This was not the way to do VBS. We had no decorations and only four adults committed to help.
Somehow, I was promoted from “assistant crowd controller” to “recreation leader” just before our first day. But when rec time began, it all fell into place. God had equipped me for this moment! I have play dates with my kids and their friends all the time, this was no different! I didn’t have fancy-themed decorations or expensive equipment. Just a jump rope and a couple of beach balls did the trick!
The neighbors on either side of our host home brought over their children and stayed to help. A mother from two doors down pushing a stroller brought her older daughter over and dropped her off with a quick wave. By the second morning, we had 12 kids and half were from unchurched families living within steps of our host’s home!
I value the camaraderie and synergy from large church events and it’s a joy to serve alongside my entire church family, but the backyard Bible club experience was a true blessing! The simplicity of backyard Bible clubs — just opening up our homes, foregoing production quality and fringe trinkets and really focusing on building relationships and connecting to families — feels so much more like the church in Acts. I’ve had meaningful conversations with the neighboring sheik professor about the wisdom and intellect that makes man different from animals and found mutual friends with another set of parents that never would have happened because they never would have driven their kids to our church building.
It’s not perfect, as very few ministry opportunities are. I felt slightly disconnected from the rest of our church body during the week, but we got to celebrate together on Sunday and share pictures and videos from the other backyards. One of our host homes didn’t have kids register, so a willing host didn’t get the chance. In those cases, we’ve learned it’s best for a host without young children to partner with a family or two with kids to provide a core group of participants and let them bring their neighborhood friends.
I was exciting to see how God used the seeds planted during the week. I heard kids begging their parents to come to our building on Sunday so they could on the platform the songs they had been practicing in the driveway. I’ve seen neighbors meet each other for the first time and make connections through their kids. I’ve even seen a few curious onlookers observing the pop-up tent and yard signs trying to determine if it’s a garage sale or a carnival as they slowly drive by!
And as an unexpected bonus, I’ve seen a seasoned VBS pro learn that there might just be more than one way to “tell these people you love them!”