Charleston churches collaborating to bring alternative VBS to kids’ homes

With social-distancing restrictions still being implemented as COVID-19 lingers into the summer months, churches are having to explore options for holding Vacation Bible Schools. Several Charleston children’s ministers have found a unique alternative. They’re collaborating in creating a virtual VBS experience for families.

“In children’s ministry, as in all ministries, we’re trying to strategically plan things that have kingdom impact that we don’t want to lose [during the pandemic]. And VBS, of course, is one of those things,” said Michell Witman, director of Riverkidz children’s ministry at Riverbluff Baptist Church.

Her church was already planning to work with several sister churches in the Charleston area by sharing VBS materials, creative ideas, decorating resources and people. “But it kind of took the next step; that is, now we’re working in collaboration,” Witman said.

The idea of an alternative VBS originated with the members of a Children’s Ministry Connect group, Witman said, but they hope to soon open the project up to help other churches. Among her partners from the project’s start are Sara Wallace at First Baptist Church, Charleston; Lauren Jackson at Ashley River, Donna Faulk at Grace on the Ashley, and Robin Crisp at First Baptist, Mt. Pleasant. Kathy Bowman at Charleston Baptist and Angelica Annichino at Deep Water, a church plant on the Isle of Palms, also have joined them.

“We’re going to do some prerecorded pieces, things like the worship rally, the Bible study and the missions components,” Witman said. “We’re all going to work together to prepare and put together all of the elements of a traditional VBS. But all of us, all of our manpower, all of our resourcing will be going in together,” she explained.

Every day of VBS will kick off with worship, and music videos will show the moves that kids can do to be engaged in the music at home. But some members from the youth bands of the Charleston churches will be playing the music live. “We’re really capitalizing on the gifting of the people that God has sent us to put together some videos,” Witman said.

“We’ll still do it as if we’re doing a worship rally right in our own churches with the kids present,” she said. “Somebody will be teaching those moves. We will be encouraging kids to learn the movements as we normally would in a worship rally. It will just be remotely because we’ll be in one place and they’ll be at home.”

The alternative VBS will include some key elements to assist parents. “We really want the VBS to be family-driven. So, we’re encouraging people to do this in their homes, and maybe even with a group of friends that they’re already playing with or [that the parents] feel safe inviting into their homes,” she said.

Since livestreaming the worship and Bible studies may pose problems for some parents who may be heading back to work, they hope to create a website where prerecorded videos and VBS materials will be accessible when convenient. A target date to have everything ready has been set for mid-July.

Interactive elements will allow parents to play and pause videos to discuss key points throughout Bible study lessons. The VBS will be based on LifeWay Christian Resources’ “Concrete and Cranes” curriculum, and guide tools will be provided so parents will feel better prepared.

And, yes, music and hand movements still will be a huge part. “We’re going to use LifeWay’s music, because part of what kids love about VBS is that music,” Witman said. “They love those songs. They get stuck in all of our heads for the next nine months. Part of what makes VBS unique is those great songs.”

A missions project for families is in the works, too. For instance, food banks are running low because a lot of people are out of work now. So a missions project could be making a collection box to place at the end of a driveway for neighbors to help replenish the food banks or a church food pantry, Witman suggested.

“This alternative VBS is also a way that we can get other churches involved,” she said. “We want to share this VBS with everyone, including those who would not normally have a VBS. They can access this VBS online. We want to reach our city with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”