A generation ago, Vacation Bible School meant munching cookies, drinking Kool-Aid and belting out “Booster, booster, be a booster! Don’t be grouchy like a rooster!”
While snack time and singing remain integral parts of VBS, many congregations have expanded the concept to include full-scale dramatic productions, outdoor marketplaces and elaborate costumes.
At some churches, the idea has given way to all-day Saturday events, summer reading programs and even backyard VBS in neighborhoods.
To provide a snapshot of what’s happening, The Christian Chronicle offers this A-to-Z roundup of VBS:
Avalanche Ranch — The Hanford, Calif., church and the Elmwood church in Lafayette, Ind., are just two of many congregations using a Western theme to deliver a “wild ride through God’s word.”
Backyard VBS — Besides an all-day Saturday VBS at the church, the Silver Spring, Md., congregation sponsors backyard VBS at members’ homes. With the theme “Take the Plunge,” backyard VBS involves inviting neighbors to enjoy “splashing fun” as well as biblical instruction, director Louise Venkatesan said.
Chariot — The Happy, Texas, church keeps rolling the “Gospel Chariot” along. The chariot is a converted cotton trailer pulled by an old tractor.
“Many of the parents and grandparents in town rode the chariot when they were little and are … delighted to see the current generation do the same,” minister Rick Bloodworth said.
Dig it — “Can You Dig It?” is a popular VBS theme this summer. Children in Starkville, Miss., and Eugene, Ore., are among those who will explore the treasures of a loving, humble heart.
Early Christians — Ike Reeser, children’s minister at the Northlake church in Tucker, Ga., suggests that many VBS curriculums “are rather thick on style and thin on substance.” Reeser works to offer deeper biblical study. The church’s marketplace will focus on the life of first century Christians in the Roman Empire.
Flannel graphs — They seem to have gone the way of green leisure suits.
Galilee — The Newark, Del., church and the Sonoma Avenue church in Santa Rosa, Calif., will be transformed into “Galilee by the Sea.” In Newark, the children will try to convert the costumed shopkeepers who are not believers.
“The hardest part of this year will be gathering boats and nets enough to make it look like a seaside!” Newark minister’s wife Gretchen Mahoney said.
Hard work — As a child, Tyrel Hatfield loved the puppet shows, Bible characters and cookies that VBS offered.
As the youth and children’s minister at the South College church in Tahlequah, Okla., he has figured out that VBS means a bunch of work for the adults. “From that perspective, VBS probably has not changed that much,” Hatfield said.
Ice cream — Homemade ice cream is just one of the special treats of the VBS at the Childress, Texas, church. “We try and close out the VBS with a big bang, like a pie in the face of the preacher for the one who brought the most visitors,” minister Trey Morgan said.
Jesus — As the University Park church in Hyattsville, Md., indicates with its VBS theme, Jesus is “The Way, the Truth and the Life.”
Kool-Aid — Lots of sugar, please.
Love — Children’s minister Debby Nickens said VBS at the Melbourne, Fla., church has a single goal: To let every child feel the love of Jesus.
Memories — Another thing hasn’t changed: VBS creates lifelong memories.
Neighbors — Who is your neighbor? The children at the Jenks church in Panama City, Fla., can tell you. VBS featured the theme “Neighbors for Jesus.”
Outreach — Joyce King, VBS coordinator at the Northside church in Jeffersonville, Ind., sees VBS as a crucial outreach. “For some children, this is the only Bible lesson they get,” King said.
Puppets — At the Tabernacle, N.J., church, VBS wouldn’t be the same without the nightly puppet show.
VBS also features skits and a giveaway of paperback Bibles to the third- through sixth-graders, said Ellie Gasior, children’s Bible class coordinator.
Quest — “Quest for God’s 10 Commandments” is the theme of VBS at the Hillsboro church in Nashville, Tenn.
Reading — Instead of VBS, the Parkway church in Fulton, Ky., is offering a summer Bible reading program every other Saturday.
“Spreading the gatherings across the summer gives every person … a chance to attend, rather than be knocked out of the whole thing by a family vacation or summer educational camp,” minister Cecil May III said.
Superhero — VBS at the Brentwood Oaks church in Austin, Texas, has turned into the all-day “Camp Agape.” With the theme “Jesus Is My Superhero,” the weeklong camp includes Bible study, crafts, swimming, sports and special features such as a rock-climbing wall. A “Jesus Painter” will paint a giant mural, said Jackie Boyd, ministry coordinator.
Themes — For VBS, children can join the “Lord’s Army” at the Oakcrest church in Oklahoma City, “Lift Off!” at the Southwest church in Amarillo, Texas, or become a “Camp GoBeDoer” at the Overland Park, Kan., church.
Unusual requests — A recent listing of VBS needs at the Harpeth Hills church in Brentwood, Tenn., included a “small gurney or bed on wheels” and “adult rock star costumes.”
Children’s minister Melissa Roe explained that the props were needed for the VBS drama and singing centers.
Volunteers — Recruiting volunteers to help with VBS has become more difficult at many congregations.
At the Sunset church in Lubbock, Texas, VBS almost died because of a lack of volunteers. Then a group of mothers with small children decided to take it on. Now, to help working mothers, Sunset’s VBS occurs at night. “It is something we love doing as a family, just as I remember from childhood, and kids still come in the hundreds excited to learn about God’s word,” said Kelli Childre, VBS director.
Wednesday — The Ashland, Ohio, church presents a summer program called “Wonderful Wednesdays.” “We used to do a traditional VBS, and it was very successful,” minister Jeff Slater said. “But as more and more women began working outside the home, it became increasingly difficult to find teachers.”
X — It’s all about the cross.
Yearning — Wayne Newland, a member of the Greater Portland church in South Portland, Maine, yearned a bit for his childhood when he recently came across a certificate from VBS in 1950.
Then 12 years old, he received stars for memorizing each of five passages.
Zoo — While minister of the Granny White church in Nashville, Tenn., Dale Jenkins recalls that VBS had “worn a little thin.” So, the congregation spread out VBS over three days — one day each month during the summer. On one of those days, the children traveled to the zoo and learned about God’s creation.
July 1, 2007