Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Outward Focus of VBS

Smith Chapel just completed its most successful Vacation Bible School (VBS) ever, "Praise Him." It comes as we are in the middle of a study of Paul Nixon’s book, I Refuse to Lead a Dying Church, and VBS was instructional for us. VBS is Smith Chapel’s best bridge event to the community (to use language from School of Lay Ministry) and is the most outwardly focused ministry we have at Smith Chapel. From it we gain lessons that will aid in broadening other ministries.

From the perspective of Nixon’s main points:

Nixon adjures us to “Choose life over death.” We have one active child at Smith Chapel. Two or three others attend once every couple of months. It would be easy to say that the church is dying. We had 18 children at VBS this year! And listen to this: We had 14 on Monday, 16 on Tuesday and 18 on Wednesday! How’s that? That’s life.

Choose Community over Isolation. We began with cards and personal invitations about two months before VBS. We then mailed out over 600 post cards to mail boxes within six miles of the church. I talked to mothers who sent children on days two and three. They had received the post cards and when others came home excited about their day, they were already aware of VBS and did not hesitate to send their children. Sending 600 post cards is something new to our little church, but it is a decision to choose community. Of the 18 kids, five attend Smith Chapel occasionally, the others have their own church homes. But for that week, Smith Chapel was the spiritual center of our rural community.

Choose Fun over Drudgery. We selected a new venue this year because some of our kids were getting older, and we wanted space to “let it out.” (See Frontier over Fortress.) The kids had a ball and so did we just watching them. Recreation required minimal organization and structure for the kids to have fun. I think we too often choose drudgery when we overly structure play time. We chose fun.

And music time. We had a 14 year old dancer as song leader. While structured, the music was great, and the kids responded. The music spoke to me and music time was fun time.

Choose Bold over Mild. Another way we expanded the ministry of our church was to invite those beyond our walls to leadership roles. Kim led Bible study two days and boldly took the opportunity to declare Jesus as the way and to clearly outline for the kids the way to eternal life. It was as if to say, “Some of these kids may only have one chance to hear the good news. I’m not going to miss it.” She was a wonderful teacher, mild in manner, participative in technique, bold in message! The kids will not forget their study with her.

Choose Frontier over Fortress. For our first four years of VBS, we squeezed into our 30 by 50 building and on rainy days overcame stir craziness by bowling down the aisle with tennis balls and water bottles as pins. This year we moved lock, stock and barrel to a multi-purpose facility a half mile away. It was wonderful. Ministry does not have to be limited to “our” space. I’m hoping that the combination of using leadership resources from beyond our walls and other venues that we can find whole new ways of doing a variety of ministries that would be too much for our membership and resources. Frontier!

Choose Now rather than Later. We began VBS five years ago after a 40 year hiatus at Smith Chapel. There were no longer any children. Five years ago, we had only one. A few members asked why bother? We had 13 kids that first year and have had 11 or 12 each year since. Had we said “later,” we would not have had 18 this year no the experience of life, community, fun, boldness and frontier that has ensued.

At School of Lay Ministry I loved Forum Christian Church’s purpose statement, “Intentionally connecting people to Jesus.” That’s what we were doing this week at Smith Chapel. An outwardly focused church plans every event to intentionally leave a chair open and provide a handful of invitations to every member and beyond. We are on our way to choosing life over death.

“Choose life, that you may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.” Deuteronomy 30:19-20