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VBS Returns With a Few Changes

After the pandemic, some congregations try a different approach with summer event.

Editor’s Note:  This article originally appeared in The Christian Chronicle, the official publication of the Churches of Christ.  It is reprinted with permission.

Vacation Bible School is back. 

Many congregations had to cancel VBS in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that vaccines are being distributed and restrictions are easing, some churches are putting the summer program back on their calendars. 

“People are really excited,” said Sierra Gustafson, children’s minister for the Levy Church of Christ in North Little Rock, Ark. 

This summer, congregations such as the Walled Lake Church of Christ in Michigan and the Metro Church of Christ in Gresham, Ore., are thrilled by the return of VBS — even if the pandemic has brought changes in approach and new safety precautions.

At the Walled Lake church, VBS — with the theme “Boot Camp” — will be a one-day event instead of multiple days. 

The Detroit-area congregation also is asking attendees to preregister and is planning to offer prepackaged snacks.

“This year’s VBS, to me, has a different flavor to it, not just because it’s one day but because we’re coming out of this COVID slowdown,” minister and elder Roger Woods said. “We didn’t stop being the church, but we slowed down, and it’s giving us the opportunity to reassess why are we doing what we do?”

Churches that have hosted VBS in the past seem eager to offer it again this summer because children have missed out on so much in the past year, said Shannon Rains, an associate professor of children’s ministry at Lubbock Christian University in Texas.

But she said congregations should make sure they have a plan in place before diving back in. 

“VBS is expensive and time-consuming,” Rains said. “I’ve encouraged church leaders to continue to think about their vision for children’s ministry.” They should “not do an activity for the sake of an activity but select programs that best guide the ministry into the future.”

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In the Portland area, the Metro church’s goal is to “encourage families to worship together at home,” deacon’s wife Summer Blachly said. 

The Oregon congregation is inviting the whole family to attend — mom, dad and grandparents.

To help prevent virus spread, Metro is asking family groups to refrain from mixing with the other families, Blachly said. Also, no snacks will be provided and, unless state guidelines change, masks will be required. 

Still, she said, “Everybody’s been really excited and positive about this year’s family-style VBS.” 

‘Kingdoms’ come together

Even before the pandemic, recruiting volunteers for VBS had become more difficult for some congregations. Now, coming out of the pandemic, it was proving even tougher for the Levy church.

“We just have a lot of families who — they’ve either been with their kids for a long time, and they feel like they need to be fed by being in adult Bible classes,” Gustafson said. “Or we’ve had a lot of teachers who are just not comfortable with returning back to the building, which is understandable.”

Nearby, the Pleasant Valley Church of Christ in Little Rock was also struggling to find volunteers. So the congregation suggested that area churches partner and host a combined VBS. 

Several churches will have a weekend event — with the theme “Jesus Lights the Way” — at an area park. Masks won’t be required, and snacks will be prepackaged. 

A play will be performed, food will be provided, and there will be several different “kingdoms” for families to visit. 

“We have different churches hosting different areas, and they’re in charge of three activities in those areas,” Gustafson said. “We’re all kind of spread out, and as families arrive, they do each of these activities together.”

Gustafson said the planning and preparation have been exciting, peaceful, and less daunting as a result of the combined efforts. 

The partnership will continue in the future, she said. 

“We’re just excited about this opportunity to partner with local churches in this area,” Gustafson said. “This is the greater Little Rock community coming together and being involved in something.”

‘Soft opening’

In the northeastern U.S., the Manchester Church of Christ in Connecticut is hosting VBS for the first time in more than a decade. 

The church typically hosts a summer camp each year, but due to the pandemic, the camp was canceled. 

Edward Main, a Manchester deacon and director of group life, is glad to see VBS return. He and his wife helped lead VBS for several years before they became parents. After the birth of their son, they took a step back, hoping someone would fill the gap and keep the program running. 

Instead, the kids only attended summer camp. 

The theme “camp vbs” will maintain the camp culture for the kids this summer, Main said.

Manchester’s VBS will have limited participation. It will be four hours instead of four days and take place mostly outdoors. There will also be prepackaged snacks and multiple sanitizing and cleaning stations. 

“Since we haven’t done it for 11 years, this is kind of our soft opening,” Main said. “And then next year, we’ll use everything we learned … and hopefully be able to bring it to the community.”

About 1,800 miles southwest of Manchester, VBS at the Childress Church of Christ in Texas will look similar to how it did pre-pandemic, senior minister Trey Morgan said.

The four-night VBS at the congregation halfway between Amarillo and Wichita Falls includes classes for all ages, refreshments, and puppet skits, Morgan said. 

Masks won’t be required. Attendance won’t be limited.

The only possible change: Cookies might be distributed instead of self-served. 

“We’re just excited about things getting somewhat back to normal,” Morgan said. 

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Chloe Franklin

Chloe is a Summer Intern for The Christian Chronicle.

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