10 Myths People Believe about VBS, Part 1

When I was six, a friend invited me to Vacation Bible School at a tiny Primitive Methodist church in our neighborhood. I’m not sure why my mother said yes to the invitation. In those days Methodists and Catholics rarely crossed each other’s liturgical thresholds. Perhaps she thought since the gathering didn’t occur on a Sunday morning, it wouldn’t count against us. 

What I remember most about the experience was drinking orange Kool-Aid out of Dixie Cups, eating flower-shaped butter cookies during snack time, and memorizing Bible verses for candy. Oh, and the end-of-the-week program. I had a speaking part – two lines – which I’d learned backward and forward. Unfortunately, when my moment in the spotlight came, that’s how I delivered them – backward. 

VBS remains one of the greatest evangelistic tools for churches, reaching an estimated 3,000,000 children in 2009. At least 10 percent of those were unchurched. As you and your church look ahead toward VBS 2018, let’s take a look at ten myths about this beloved summer outreach. 

Myth # 1 It’s a Southern Baptist Thing. 

Christianity Today, in the article, “From Beer, to Bibles, to VBS,” tells us, “It's possible to trace the roots of VBS as far back as the 1870s, when the Methodist Episcopal Church offered summer Sunday school institutes to the general public near Lake Chautauqua, New York. 

“In 1873, Bishop John H. Vincent proposed the movement should include educational and cultural programs, and soon other Christian groups across the country followed suit with their own summer retreats, many of them offering services for children.” 

In contrast to today’s VBS, which usually lasts for five days, early gatherings often lasted all summer. While Southern Baptist churches are among VBS’s greatest supporters, it’s safe to say they happily share the fun with many other denominations. 

Myth #2 It began in the church. 

Vacation Bible School as we know it today began in the 1890s. Initially, it was a plan of a compassionate doctor’s wife who sensed a need to get children off the streets of New York during the summertime. “VBS – An Historical Perspective,” tells the story: “Mrs. Walker Aylett Hawes went to New York City from Charlottesville, Virginia, with her husband who was specializing in a medical ministry to children. 

She noted that many of the children attended to at her husband’s clinic received injuries as they played in the streets of New York City. She surmised that they needed something safe and fruitful to occupy their time. “In 1898 and 1899, Mrs. Hawes rented a beer hall in the city’s East Side to conduct her Everyday Bible School. Thus, Bible School began with an evangelistic thrust of taking the study to where the people were.” 

Myth #3 VBS is old-fashioned and out dated. 

While some equate VBS with days gone by, Vacation Bible School has transitioned nicely into the 21st century and continues to be immensely popular. “According to a Barna study commissioned by Gospel Light, more than two out of three churches in America (68%) offered VBS in 2012, and 91% of Southern Baptist Churches sponsored the annual event. 

In recent years, this level of involvement has remained fairly stable.” Two-thirds of the churches in America offer VBS programs. The pastors most likely to champion VBS for their churches are the Boomers, people aged 30-48. Perhaps they remember their own VBS experiences or are more likely to have VBS-aged children. 

Myth #4 Children are too young to make lasting decisions for Christ. 

Many express doubts about the authenticity of children’s faith decisions, saying that peer pressure or a desire to please their teachers prompt many children to “walk an aisle” or pray to receive Christ. Researchers who surveyed adults who identify themselves as born again believers, however discovered a strong link to their childhood VBS experiences. 

A Barna research study indicates “nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (43%), and that two out of three born again Christians (64%) made that commitment to Christ before their 18th birthday. “Additionally, the trajectory for a person’s lifetime habits and behaviors—including spiritual behaviors—are often set in childhood, an idea explored in George Barna’s book, Transforming Children into Spiritual Champions.” 

Myth #5 VBS is for big churches. 

While it is true that large churches (more than 250 in attendance and an operating budget of $500K or more) are 91% more likely to sponsor a summer program, 56% of smaller churches do also. These statistics give a nod to the very real cost of hosting VBS. Curriculum, craft materials, and snacks all cost money, especially since the programs are usually offered free of charge to participants. 

Larger congregations also provide a greater pool of volunteers from which to draw, a significant factor in the success of such an endeavor. Smaller churches, like the one I attend, can still successfully host a VBS. 

During the year we keep an eye out for craft material sales, and have sometimes borrowed VBS curriculum from a larger church in our city. Older members who are physically unable to volunteer contribute by providing snacks and doing prep work. A special offering allows members to supplement what the church budget has allotted.

I don't know how many people can look back at their spiritual lives and point to Vacation Bible School as an invaluable step in their faith walk. Only heaven will reveal it, but I know I can. If you're involved in VBS this summer, may God richly bless you! 

Tune in Monday to read Part 2 and learn five more myths people believe about VBS. You might be surprised :)

This article originally appeared on and is shared with permission.

Here's a fun photo from our 2016 time together.

Next month, I'll be leading a one day seminar at Good Shepherd UM Parish in northwestern Pennsylvania on Saturday, July 14, 2018. 

I'd love, love, LOVE for you to join us if you're anywhere nearby. Two years ago I met readers from Delaware, Ohio, and Pennsylvania in this same location -- how fun is that? We got to learn, worship, and pray together. It was a day-long glimpse of what heaven's going to be like when we're all together. If you're too far away, I'd love to work with your church's women's ministry to put together a one-day or weekend retreat or special women's event. Click on the Speaking Ministry tab to contact me.

Here are all the details about Today You Have Two Choices:

What: One-Day Ladies Seminar
Where:  Brookville, Pennsylvania
When: July 14, 2018
Cost: $35, which includes lunch and a prayer journal
Cost Saver deadline: June 15
How to Register: Contact Kathy Shaffer (814-328-2034)

Three Fantastic Sessions:

Session 1 - Today You Have Two Choices: 
Grumbling or Gratitude
In this hilarious session, Lori shares a story from her life that demonstrates how life can go from cruising to crashing in an instant. We'll examine the two options that usually accompany a crash and see what God's Word (and modern-day research) have to say about them.

Session 2 - Today You Have Two Choices:
Bitterness or Forgiveness
Bitterness, it's said, is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. We know it's destructive, yet we often struggle to overcome it. Sometimes we're not even sure we want to. In this powerful session, we'll study two women who made two very different choices, learn from their examples (good and bad), and discover what God can do when we surrender our bitterness to Him.

Session 3 - Today You Have Two Choices:
Fear or Faith
Hebrews 11:6 says, "Without faith it's impossible to please God," yet it's often easier said than done. When the circumstances of life hit us hard, fear often becomes our default setting. How can we resist fear and choose faith instead? Practical and personal, this workshop will lift your eyes beyond your circumstances to see what God can do if you commit your life to wholly trusting Him. This session includes a simple yet profound method to make your Bible reading come alive.
Melissa Sylvis will lead us in worship. 

When you register, please let me know so I can look forward to meeting you!

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