Thinkin' Out Loud


Sean has been to several VBS’s this summer.  For those of you like me, who until several years ago did not know what VBS stood for, it’s Vacation Bible School. 

Well into my 30s, I had never heard the term VBS.  I was raised Catholic and we did not have VBS.  We never really had B or V.  We did get a lot of BS. But that’s another story. Or a whole lot of stories actually.  (Yet I embrace my inner-Catholic school girl, I do. She is me.) 

About ten years ago, at my previous chuch, someone threw out the term VBS and I asked “What’s VBS?” and everyone looked at me like I was the dumbest Martian from Mars.  That made me feel great!   Clearly, I wasn’t in “the club” and didn’t know the lingo.  Coulda used some of that Grace! Grace! Grace! (flick fingers three times here) that my friend Lysa talks about.

So suffice it to say, my knowledge of VBS could be put into a thimble. But I’m learning. I’ve even helped out at one. 

Maybe because we live in a metropolitan area where resources are plentiful, the VBS’s we have been to thus far have been extravaganza’s. The amount of effort and energy expended to put on these broadway style plays and interactive classes is — well, astonishing.  Sean has loved going to them and I think it’s fantastic that so many adults are willing to give their time and money to make that happen for so many kids.


Something in me pines for small.  And intimate.  Something in me longs for a VBS experience that is just a group of ladies, cardboard and paperclips. 

Bigger might be better.  But small is nice too.

32 thoughts on “VBS

  1. I guess it depends on how big your church is. Our church does VBS about once every 5 years because we don’t have the manpower, the oomph, to do one every year. Although it’s a lot more fancy than Sunday school, it doesn’t sound as glamorous as the one you went to.
    I liked the VBS’s I’ve seen in the past that were done in backyards – no stage, no lighting, limited space for crafts and snacks so it has to be simple, and it’s easier to get more non-church kids to come since they only have to walk there. And hopefully they’re already familiar with the family who’s throwing it.

  2. I like the sound of your VBS, that local kids could walk to it. I seem to recall that VBS used to be held during the day as an outreach to kids in the neighborhood who were home while their parents were working. Now VBS is at night and I wonder about the reach, if it has become more inward than outward.

  3. Our VBS never had blow-up bouncy castles or giant slides or extravagant plays. It was pretty much what you said (only men were involved, too)–people, cardboard and paper clips. People would come up with period costumes out of the closet where we stored the Christmas costumes (Mary, Joseph, wise men, etc.). The most elaborate thing ever was when my dad built some sort of waterfall out of a garden hose, a kiddie pool and a bunch of black plastic. Ha! But we loved it, and it got the gospel out there to neighborhood kids who hadn’t heard it.

  4. I so agree.
    When my kids were little, I think the big “theme” VBS programs were just starting to hit churches. The amount of work involved in pulling these week-long programs off was astonishing. And yes, I was a full time helper. It was exhausting. The children loved it but I think they would have loved the simple, macaroni frame version just as well.
    Up to a year ago my daughter (who is 14) was going to many VBS programs just for the fun and socializing in the evening. The funniest one was when she said “We’re all going to the Baptist Church VBS this week.”

    “Oh, which of your friends goes to that church?”

    “Nobody. We just saw the sign and think it looks fun.”

    There are many worse things a young teenage girl could be than a VBS hopper.

  5. My current church is a whole lot bigger than the one I grew up in, and VBS is kind of an extravaganza there. And yet they never have as many kids as when I was growing up in our little church and the main source of entertainment was being sprayed by the water hose outside. 😉

  6. You rang a bell with me this morning. I have volunteered for our former church’s VBS. It was like preparing for a marathon, running the marathon, and finally crossing the finish line, exhausted. I am not sure if they actually groaned when I woke them up each morning to go to VBS, but the enthusiasm wasn’t apparent. Once there, they did have a good time. I struggled somewhat with my feelings about the experience. We have also gone to VBS at smaller churches. We just finished one last night. The staff did a wonderful job of presenting the theme and got the message across to the children without resorting to Tony Robbins life coach tactics. My daughters really enjoyed themselves and couldn’t wait to go each day. It is sad that we think that in order to teach our children about Jesus that we have to put on high-tech over the top productions just to keep them from becoming bored. I vote for simple every time.

  7. I like smaller better too. Something just feels a bit off when it seems like there is more effort put into entertainment than intimate teaching. But that’s just me. And…there’s nothing inherently wrong with entertainment either…

  8. Yeah, something in me kind of cringes at the labor intensive VBS programs so many churches feel the need to put on. And, as you said, it seems the focus has become more inward than outward in a lot of cases.

  9. VBS is becoming very popular in Catholic churches, too — all the local churches in our area offer them, or network with other churches to get the necessary “manpower”. I think it’s because so many people are coming in to the Catholic church from other Christian traditions now.

    I’m in charge of the one at our church, and my evangelical background gives me a template to work from. Last year it was “Canaan Quest,” focused on the Ten Commandments and sacraments. THis year it was “Parable Power,” with the parables and works of mercy. Next year (I’ve already started writing the curriculum) it’s the missionary journeys of St. Paul and the Apostles. Great fun … and the kids love it!

    I know there are many people who have been hurt by individuals in the Church — that’s true no matter where you put your envelope in the collection plate. But I have to say, it wasn’t until I became Catholic that I developed such an appreciation for the rich history of the Church, or the graces available through the sacraments. As a mom, I don’t know how I’d do what I do if I didn’t have those things.

  10. My church not only has a full-blown extravaganza, usually with farm animals and concert lighting — but this year we CHANGED it. No longer VBS, but now SBA. Yes, that is Summer Bible Adventure. I don’t know what was wrong with VBS? I’m with you — sometimes smaller with some juice boxes and fingerpaints is the way to go.

  11. I agree, AM. And as a PK … (Whoops! More lingo!)… I mean, pastor’s kid, I can also add that trends like this are exhausting to the modern church.

    As many already stated, VBS extravaganzas are marathons that drain everyone. Plus, there’s no small amount of “Keeping Up with The Saddlebacks” mentality.

    And in the end, kids don’t really care. Their expectations are usually so much lower than ours.

    So why do we do this again?

  12. No VBS is complete without macaroni art, paper plate tambourines, and lots of sweat – why can’t we do it when it isn’t 103 degrees outside? It’s the Baptist Way, I guess (at least in Texas).

    My son calls it “Bible B’cation”, by the way.

  13. We just finished ours and it was quite a “woop de doo”, but they still did some old school activities like macaroni art. My family didn’t go to church when we were kids so I never really had the VBS experience.

    I love hearing about your Catholic upbringing. We never went to church, but I always, always wanted to be Catholic. I talk about here:

    I’m a new reader and also an “antique mommy” so I love your stories.

  14. I attend a Catholic church and we have VBS.

    I too miss the simple VBS of years past. Growing up VBS was bible stories and crafts that consisted of dried beans, macaroni and yarn. And the songs we sang were accompanied by a piano and not a sound system, syntesizer, drum set, etc.

    I am sorry that you left the Catholic Church. Perhaps one day you will want to write about it here.

  15. Ditto all the older women here – VBS isn’t what it was when I was a kid. I fondly remember going for 2 weeks and it being like 3 hours of Sunday School every day. My kids now go for 5 days from 9 to noon and it’s all about the CD, the videos of the required dances that go with the songs on the CD, and tons of arts & crafts from Oriental Trading Co.
    We VBS hop too! This year we only did 2 but next year I’m doubling that if possible.
    I would love it if we could find one withOUT all the bells and whistles so that my kids could learn all the songs and have peaceful fun.

  16. I hope this doesn’t sound defensive. I’m passionate about our VBS and am simply trying to share why. ;o)

    I would agree whole-heartedly that many churches go so overboard in presenting their VBS events that the true reason for holding a VBS (sharing the gospel with lost souls) is overlooked. Though we have a rather large event nowadays, I believe that nobody who has attended our VBS over the last 10 years would say that about us.

    A few years ago, we changed ours from VBS to Summer Breakout (SBO) and began writing our own curriculum. Last year, we broke our event into 2 separate weeks; one for preschool/kindergarten and the other for 1st-6th grades.

    To some, these changes may suggest that we’re trying to impress the kids or the community or even that we’re trying to keep up with some other church. Of course I’ll say that’s not the case, and I could go into all of our rationale, but it’s boring. Suffice it to say that whether we like to admit it or not, kids HAVE changed since we were kids. We believe in staying relevant to today’s kids.

    While we do work hard and leave a lot of blood, sweat and tears behind, we’ve consistently reached the neighborhood in amazing ways. We have seen many families come to Christ through SBO. That has always been – and will always remain – our primary goal. Of the 350+ kids that attended SBO and SBO Jr this year, more than half were visitors to our church.

    You can go here ( to see a sampling of our weeks via the slideshows created. I hope they show that we had a great mix of traditional activities and “big” ones!

    Our youth dept acts out the dramas and is very involved in the classrooms. Many parents take the week off work in order to be a part of our incredible volunteer team. It’s a true love effort and I couldn’t be happier to be part of such an extravaganza.

    Again, hope this wasn’t defensive. I grew up in a simple VBS atmosphere — and loved it. As a semi-antique mommy to a 5-year-old, I now love watching her face as she gets to praise God “with the REAL band, Mom!”

  17. My most favorite memory of VBS from childhood was making a paperweight out of marbles that we “fried” in a heated pan. It made the marbles crack on the inside and we glued them together in the shape of a pyramid. It was a beauty and a coveted item in our house!! Until someone dropped it and it shattered into a bazillion pieces!
    Our church still does macaroni and glitter. The same woman teaches the crafts that taught the crafts 30 years ago. She is a veteran of glue and glitter and we all love her. She has a way with kids. She can get the most unruly to behave. Her favorite saying. “That is not for doing” If she catches little johnny writing on the table, she will re-direct him by telling him “That is not for doing”. If a child says something naughty, she says “That is not for saying”…….she is a wise wise woman and our congregation would revolt if they took her out of the loop to replace her with “Art kits”!!!

  18. I live in a small town, and VBS is the highlight of my summer. I used to take the week off from work to be able to help out with whatever I could.
    I understand what you mean about the diference between small and big. When my boys were little (The youngest is 17), we did not use a curriculum, or put on shows. We took 9 days and did homemade crafts and read from the Bible (or picture books). There were no student pamphlets, just yummy snacks, and fun songs. And about 100 students from all different churches.
    As it turns out, when we did it the ‘small’ way, it was homey and uplifting. We were not trying to read a goal- the program at the end. Now, it is the oppposite. We have all the commercial stuff. The preprinted programs that we are striving to make work out. It is not the hectic what will we do next, but somewhere along the line, it has become… a big deal. And yet, we have consistently lost our crowd. The 100 I mentioned before was up to grade 6. Now, it is around 45 children through highschool. I wonder if…
    I should have posted all this in my blog. 🙂 No, wait, if the drop is all about people working, or if the changes to the structure have something to do with it.
    In any case, I am glad you are having a good experience with your son, and I am looking for more VBS for my daughter (7). It may be different than it used to be, but it is the HIGHLIGHT of the summer.

  19. Hugemongo VBS extraveganzas are the brain-child of hugemongo cities OR regular cities with hugemongo churches. I live in one of the aforementioned cities, but our VBS’s have still tended toward not so theatrical. Either way, if the kids enjoy it and learn from it and beg their parents to come back, then it’s good.

    Every summer we had full week VBS’s. You were saving pagan babies while I was waiting for stale cookie and Kool-aid time. 🙂

  20. Still chuckling at “dumbest Martian from Mars”… totally how I felt when I would ask those questions as a new believer.

  21. “We never really had B or V. we did get a lot of BS.”

    Bwaaa Haaaa!!! Love it. My kids go to VBS at our Catholic church. Ironically, the VBS theme is the same at several of the local churches, regardless the religion. They get the program from a VBS theme store or something. Who knows. I guess the music hoopla part is generic Jesus stuff? Weird.

  22. Until three years ago, we attended a megachurch with all the VBS bells and whistles and gizmos and gadgets.

    Now we attend a much smaller church that relied on the church’s donations of snacks and toilet-paper cardboard tubes to keep the kids appropriately sugared for the morning and to make simple crafts.

    The hope for lots of participation because the church is small and this is a big outreach event. My older girls volunteered and my younger kids participated, and it was that “small church” feel. I loved it. They loved it. It was different–it’s not to say that the megachurch variation was better or worse; only that I loved the simpler experience.

  23. My kids are VBS-hoppers – so we spend much of our summer attending all the local churches vacation Bible schools. Good times, good times.

  24. I attended VBS 8 million years ago and it was a production even then. The best part is that at age 37, I still here those tunes in my head when the situation is appropriate…

    “I am a promise. I am a possibility. I am a promise. with a capital P…”

    “We’ve got I trouble (I trouble). Everybody’s lookin out for number !. Me , Myself, and I trouble. What’s gonna become of all this I trouble?”

  25. I remember VBS when I was young. There was kool-aid and home made cookies for snack time, craft of cardboard and matches and tempera paints, and good old Bible stories. I agree that some are overboard today, even the ones at our church. There are skits and backdrops and musicals and, one year, an end of the week carnival with live animals! I guess kids today would not be impressed with cardboard and match sticks given what most of them have already.

  26. We have participated in both kinds of VBS, the big broadway-type productions and the popsicle stick puppets.

    I do have very fond memories of the popsicle stick puppets and I feel sorry for them and their felt figure friends who are languishing away in their storage bins remembering their glory days.

  27. You forgot flannelgraph–or maybe you never experienced that particular delight of my childhood. 🙂 And don’t forget the grape Kool-Aid. Do these new and advanced VBS’s still have Kool-Aid? Or are they all technical and individual Capri-Sun now?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *