Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, Orange VBS Director Amy Fenton joins hosts Mike Clear, Gina McClain, and Kellen Moore talk leveraging VBS to create your Very Best Summer.
LISTEN TO THIS WEEK’S EPISODE
FEATURED ON THIS EPISODE
Amy Fenton is mom to Jadyn, Pierce, and Blaze. She has been in kids ministry for 25 years. She now works at Orange where she is an Orange Specialist, as well as Executive Director for Orange VBS. In her spare time, she is always on the search for the perfect slice of pizza and the world’s best cup of coffee.
LET’S GET IN TO THE EPISODE
Welcome to the Orange Kids Podcast, where we talk kids’ ministry and discuss practical solutions to our weekly challenges. This week, hosts Mike, Gina, and Kellen dive into every kid min leader’s favorite acronym.
Mike confesses to a long history and conflicted relationship with today’s topic. But he’s come full circle. A hero’s journey, if you will.
Yes, we’re talking about none other than… Vacation Bible School!
And we’ve brought in the VBS expert, Amy Fenton. Among other roles at Orange, Amy serves as Executive Director of Orange VBS.
Fun Fact: Amy and Gina both live in Franklin, Tenn. Neighbors! Yeah!
Mike decides this is a safe place to get something big off his chest:
1. Why do we call it Vacation Bible School? Those words just don’t seem to go together.
Amy: it’s an old tradition from the early 1900s.
Kellen surfs up the old Wikipedia: VBS originated in Hopedale, Illinois in 1894.
Amy: I don’t like the name “Vacation Bible School.” It kind of makes me cringe; it creates tension. We refer to it as VBS because that’s what people know.
Fun Fact: For years, Orange released a Summer XP. No one got that it was actually VBS. Summer XP went the way of dial up.
Gina: Parents have nostalgic memories around VBS, so we use familiar terms that they recognize.
Mike: But who is this for? The kids. To get them excited, there has got to be a better term.
Amy: We say VBS means Very Best Summer. We don’t want to just give kids a great week; we want to give them a great summer.
There’s an official rule change in the room: VBS is now Very Best Summer. Someone submit to Wikipedia, please. If you make it happen, we’ll provide fame and fortune with an OKP shout out.
2. Does VBS still work? Is it still effective?
Amy: Yes. I’ve seen it work. In my role, I see churches doing it well. It can be used as a great on ramp to reach the community. It depends on the person leading it and their intentionality and vision.
Ten years ago, I would have said VBS was starting to die. But many churches are coming back around to do VBS.
Families are looking for something. We were trying not to distract from Sunday, but families want an experience outside Sunday morning for their children.
3. Is VBS primarily for the families in your church or for the community?
Amy: We did an FB survey and asked why people do VBS? Many of them said they wanted to evangelize kids.
We gave pushback and said: “Great. What does that mean?” We started giving vision to leaders we are engaged with us. We saw that really they’re using VBS for two things:
- Leveraging relationship with families in the church. It’s time aside from a Sunday morning to connect with a small group leader. It provides bonding, inside jokes, etc. like student camp for teens.
- Leveraging VBS as an opportunity to build relationships with those not in your church. You can help those kids see that church is fun. They can make new friends and connect with a small group leader.
You need a healthy balance of both.
Gina: VBS offers a concentrated time to build “remember whens” for preschool and elementary students with their small group leaders.
If I was not connected to a church and my kid went to VBS, they would gain a connection with a leader. They might say, “I want to go back.”
Mike: They say a week’s worth of student camp is worth a year’s worth of ministry. VBS can be that for kids since you have focused time with your small group leader.
Kellen: I like the idea of VBS being a concentrated week of teaching and fun with an end game—We want you to show up on Sundays to go a little more in depth and spend time with your small group leader.
VBS can be concentrated time to come have fun, be part of a community, learn who Jesus is, and come back.
We feel like we need to teach these kids everything about the Bible in a week of the year when they just want to be outside and be their friends. I think if our strategy changes a little bit, it can be Very Best Summer.
Amy: Small group leaders are the secret sauce that make or break VBS. Start casting vision now to the small group leaders who will serve. Get the Sunday morning small group leaders to be there at VBS.
There are people who will never set foot in your church on a Sunday, but will let their kids to come to a week of summer fun.
Train your small group leaders how to make the most of this.
Gina: You want to make sure the team serving at VBS are the people that are there Sunday morning—so that’s the face a new kid sees when they come
Amy: You’ll have people who haven’t served yet. Say to them, “if you’re going to come serve in VBS, we would like you to come back Sundays for the summer.” That gives them a taste of hanging out with a group of kids for the summer. Then you have an ask to bring them back for Fall.
Mike: The Orange VBS is strategic to what’s happening on Sundays.
In Mike’s first ministry position, he was in charge of VBS. (“Great. What is it?”)
People came out of the woodwork to volunteer. There were resources and money he didn’t know existed. Then as soon as VBS was over, all the money and platform and spotlight and volunteers went away. He want back to his under-resourced corner of the building.
Why do we put so much into one week of the year? Don’t just give them a great week— give them a great summer.
Connect VBS small groups to Sunday small groups. Then if they come back, it’s a similar format. There’s a comfort level.
Orange VBS offers the same theme as the Orange Kids summer curriculum – so you can invest more resources.
Amy: If your budget for the year is $25K and you’re spending $20K on VBS, then you’re doing it wrong. That is not where your money should go.
Pour energy into the relationship and getting families to return—instead of 18 bouncy houses.
Kellen and Amy get into it over this. Because: bouncy houses. We’re not saying bouncy houses are bad!
Mike: Environments should be fun, but at end of the day, the secret sauce is the small group leader. Give me a place to belong and I’ll come back.
4. What needs to happen the week after VBS?
Amy: The key is DO SOMETHING.
At the end of VBS week, everyone is worn out. Create a plan in advance to be intentional when VBS wraps.
I love the opportunity to follow up with a postcard or email to tell them about the rest of the summer.
A lot of people will take the FX (Family Experience provided with Orange VBS) and use it as a part of Sunday morning the following Sunday. Parents: you can get a taste of what we did this week!
One leader Amy knows followed up with families by phone for any child who didn’t have a church home at all. He told them: we have other fun things this summer, and we’d love to have you come. Usually he would leave a voicemail, but tell them about the email he would be sending.
Plan now. Friday evening after VBS, you will be exhausted.
Gina: I love that it’s not just blasting an email. Making a personal phone call is so much more personal and intentional.
Kellen: If you’re a non-church person and you get the voicemail, you think: “Oh wow, they care about my kid enough to tell me about it.”
Gina: Ask questions – If they do have a church, the follow up question is: Are you part of a small group? If they’re a “no,” you have another opportunity to connect them.
5. Some churches don’t do VBS because everyone else does it. Some churches are shifting to a sports or arts camp. What do you say to those churches?
Amy: Know your community. She shares about a church in Mississippi that is in a huge sports community. So their VBS week has become sports camp week. They still use VBS curriculum.
There are churches that do VBS on the five Saturdays of July because blue-collar families in their communities can’t do evenings.
A lot of churches do a nighttime VBS, since both parents work and kids are at daycare during the day.
Mike: It’s knowing your community. The heartbeat of VBS is reaching your community through whatever method works. VBS needs different skin on it based on the needs of the community, but the heartbeat stays the same.
Amy: Some churches without a building will turn it into a backyard kids club in neighborhoods. They go out into the community.
Consider simple things you can implement for this summer and bigger picture ideas for 2020. Ask:
- How are we leveraging VBS to reach families in our church AND in our community?
- How can we connect VBS with Sunday mornings (small group leaders, theme, etc.)?
- What is our plan to follow up with families after VBS?
- Would a different format for VBS (sports, arts, backyard, etc.) better serve our community?
As Kellen melodiously reminds us: It’s the very best summer. It’s way more funner with the very best summer!
If you want to join the VBS conversation where churches are helping each other think outside the box CLICK HERE!
Executive Director of Children’s Strategy at Orange
NextGen Pastor at Crosspoint Church - Nashville, TN
NextGen Pastor at Our City Church - Corona, CA