This is the third article in a four-part series about winning hearts and minds in the summer through Vacation Bible School.
By this time, initial planning for this summer’s Vacation Bible School is underway, and the countdown has begun. We’ve selected a program, scheduled the date, and begun recruiting leaders for the many activities required for a successful program. An enthusiastic team of volunteers is busy brainstorming ideas for games, snacks, decorations, and skits. Whether creating a rainforest waterfall or figuring out how to roast marshmallows without a fire, the team has their creative juices flowing.
While the VBS theme may be what gets the team excited, this is really about faith formation. Regardless of where we plan to take our children—outer space or an island—sharing the Scripture message with children is the key to a truly successful Bible school. When I think back to the many programs I have directed, I can remember most of the themes and what years we turned the parish into an African savannah, a rainforest, a county fair, a construction site, or the city of Jerusalem. But for how many of them can I remember the Bible message?
Honestly, the Bible message often gets lost in the grand production of the whole event. How do we get our team to focus on the message rather than the decorations? How can we make the peripherals embellish the message? Here are four ways to keep the faith in Vacation Bible School.
The first thing I do when I receive my VBS materials is prepare a one-page summary of the Scripture message for the week, which usually includes an overall Scripture verse and five daily supporting verses. Every volunteer will receive a copy of this, and it will be referred to regularly throughout the planning and implementation of our program until we can recite it (or sing it) in our sleep. At our first planning meeting, we use lectio divina and begin to discern what God has planned for this year’s program. After we have fully prepared ourselves to receive the Word of God for our program, we can begin reflecting on ways to share that message with others. When our hearts are focused on the Word, God’s Spirit can take over, and we see things really start to happen.
The VBS team will need constant reinforcement during the planning and implementation stages. Things will go wrong, props won’t work in the way expected, supplies will run low, and people will disagree and disappoint. It is up to the director to keep the team inspired, motivated, and faith-filled. Pray for them. Pray with them. Affirm them, recognizing the ways God is using them to make this a successful program. Thank them for sharing their time, talent, and treasure. Encourage them to be adventurous in bringing the message to life.
Just as the team is living out the Gospel by giving of themselves for the sake of the Kingdom, we want the children who participate to develop a lived faith through this effort. In what ways can we help participants act on what they receive at Vacation Bible School? Daily tools for living the message should be incorporated into the week’s activities. At-home activities to share with family and friends should be included. A week-long service project is also a good way to help children connect with the message. And don’t forget that teaching children to pray—to turn to Jesus when we struggle to live out the message—is just as important as any other action we do. Incorporate prayer and worship throughout the week. Include a closing Eucharistic liturgy if possible, showing how the Mass gathers us together and sends us out into the world to build God’s Kingdom.
Yield to the Spirit; let God lead in all things big and small. No matter what the summer’s theme or Bible message, when the leader’s heart is in the right place, the message will come through, often in unexpected and powerful ways. I am constantly amazed at what God can do with a group of faithful people who truly desire to share God’s message with children.
This article is by Kathy Olenik Henry and was originally written in 2012. Now an Educational Consultant at Loyola Press, Kathy has been involved in the faith formation of children and adults for 20 years. She holds a Masters in Religious Education from Loyola University, New Orleans, and has served as a catechist, DRE, youth minister, and retreat director. She lives in Ohio with her husband and five sons.
Read the first two articles in the series:
Choosing a Vacation Bible School Program
The Gifts of the Community in Vacation Bible School