By Grace Thornton
The Alabama Baptist
Mechell Bice says she doesn’t remember the name of the man who prayed with her in 1977, but she does remember his face. She was 7 and attending Vacation Bible School (VBS) at Lighthouse Baptist Church, Ashville, and she remembers that VBS volunteer teaching her about the love of Jesus.
“It was a very real moment in my life, and I very much wanted Jesus to come into my heart and to live my life for Him,” she said. “I always think back to that moment in the sanctuary of that little church and how wonderful and different I felt. I don’t ever want to forget that moment.”
As an adult, Bice — now a member of Evening Star Missionary Baptist Church, Pell City — said she will “forever appreciate” the value of VBS and the commitment of volunteers to show her the gospel.
Kelly Jones, a member of 3Circle Church, Mobile, agreed.
“I was saved during VBS at age 10 — 30-plus years ago — when the gospel was presented by the pastor,” she said. “I believe in VBS.”
It’s because of stories like Bice’s and Jones’ repeated over and over that Landry Holmes, author of “It’s Worth It: Uncovering How One Week Can Transform Your Church,” writes that churches should not consider VBS expendable.
“VBS is worth it — all the effort, all the expense, all the hours, all the tears,” Holmes writes. “Why? Because VBS is the one week that mobilizes the entire church to reach the community with the gospel, while simultaneously providing a unique discipleship experience for the individual child and volunteer.”
Statistics bear that out. In 2017 alone, churches reported these stats to LifeWay Christian Resources:
- 21,376 churches held VBS
- 2,494,059 people enrolled
- 65,301 salvation decisions happened
- 835 decisions were made for vocational ministry
- $7,012,010 given to missions during VBS.
And roughly 10 percent of those national numbers can be attributed consistently to Alabama, said Daniel Edmonds, director of the office of Sunday School and discipleship for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.
“It’s been a longstanding, great tool that we’ve been blessed with,” said Edmonds, who oversees state VBS efforts.
Holmes agreed it has a rich history — and it all started in a bar.
Virginia Hawes held the first VBS in a rented beer parlor on New York’s East Side in 1898. In 1900, they tried to move it to a church building, then they tried it in a neighborhood to see if they could get better attendance.
By the next year it was a movement — the New York City Baptist Mission Society picked up the banner and spread VBS. By 1924, Southern Baptists’ Sunday School Board had a dedicated department for VBS.
In 1926 it began publishing materials to help guide churches as they planned, promoted and held VBS.
“I would argue that VBS’s historical longevity proves it is a dependable ministry and a successful strategy,” according to Holmes.
It’s an effective way for churches to involve the community and use the week as a missions tool, Edmonds said. “People around Alabama are learning more and more to think of VBS as missions and take it into areas underserved by the church.”
For more information about VBS training contact Edmonds at 334-613-2285.