SIDNEY, Ark. — It’s not Sydney, Australia; it’s Sidney, Ark.
VBS director Jennifer Shaw and her crew of volunteers took the Boomerang Express Vacation Bible School theme to heart and offered children, youth and adults at Sidney Baptist Church the opportunity to learn about Jesus through the Aussie-themed VBS curriculum from LifeWay Christian Resources.
Sidney is small — the population is about 250, and that includes people who don’t live in the town proper in northern Arkansas. But that statistic doesn’t even come up when Shaw and her volunteers talk about Vacation Bible School. They could list several reasons not to have VBS. After all, it is a challenge to host VBS in a small church, but Shaw and her team don’t whine or give excuses. They debunk them.
- Excuse 1: “Our community is too small and we don’t have enough kids.”
Sidney doesn’t have many kids either, but that provides an opportunity to reach out to the community. Sidney Baptist leaders encourage their church’s kids to invite their friends from all around the area. The ones who do receive prizes.
- Excuse 2: “We don’t have enough workers to plan every detail for VBS.”
Using the VBS Super Sampler, Shaw had just about everything she needed, including instructions and suggestions. She ordered posters, inflatables and other items that made decorating easy. She handed off the appropriate information to the grade-level workers, the “snack ladies,” the audiovisual coordinator, the music leader and others. They all took care of their responsibilities and let Shaw know if they needed her help.
- Excuse 3: “There aren’t enough snack, craft or other ideas to keep kids busy, and they get restless.”
Sidney Baptist Church handles this by using ideas provided with the curriculum along with some original theme-centered ideas. For instance, a VBS craft teacher recycled the cardboard mailing tubes from the VBS posters and used them to make Aboriginal rain sticks.
It helps to have an experienced leader heading up the crafts. Joyce Hancock has served with VBS for 43 years. She knows what the kids like and how to customize craft ideas to appeal to them. “You have to make sure there is plenty for them to work on,” she said.
- Excuse 4: “We are concerned about security when the children leave. It’s too hard to keep up with them.”
Everyone indeed should be security-conscious. At Sidney, Shaw had every class return to the sanctuary for a 10-minute closing session. She had a prize giveaway, read announcements and offered a closing prayer. This time also allowed her to account for everyone. After that, children were dismissed to the person picking them up, and it wasn’t a free-for-all in the parking lot. Shaw knew every child was safely on his or her way home, and she didn’t have to worry about anyone being left behind.
- Excuse 5: “Our children and adults don’t have time to memorize all the songs and drama for our parents’ program, so we just don’t do one.”
Alana Green, the VBS music leader at Sidney Baptist Church, also is a certified financial planner who understands a good plan. Knowing that memorizing all the words to the songs and the drama for the parents’ program is difficult, she came up with a solution. On family night, a screen is placed at the back of the church so everyone on stage can see the words. Green said this relieved the actors’ anxiety and helped the singers feel more confident.
- Excuse 6: “We are a very creative church and we don’t want to do VBS ‘by the book’ like everyone else.”
VBS is all about being creative in telling children, students and adults the Good News of Jesus Christ. God is a God of creativity! A church can start with a VBS sampler then find ways to personalize the program for its community.
Green said that several years ago she saw a white-gloved group use sign language and motions while signing under a black light. She liked the idea and, for the past few years, the youth and some older children have performed one of the slower VBS songs in the dark with glowing hands. She said the audience looks forward to that song because it’s different and fun. It’s not “by the book,” but it’s special to them.
At Sidney, they get creative with the snacks as well. The “snack ladies” prepare themed snacks, like this year’s kangaroo tails (chocolate-dipped bananas on a stick), but they also prepare other snacks the children like, such as this year’s homemade chocolate-dipped strawberries and some veggie-stuffed squash fresh from the garden.
In a small church like Sidney Baptist, the workers aren’t many, but each one has a heart for VBS. They look forward to each summer and spend hours in planning and preparation.
Part of that preparation is being alert to opportunities for outreach to children and youth throughout the year. In her small community, Shaw comes in contact with many people who are past or future VBS attendees.
“We draw kids from all around the area,” she said. “When I see little kids at school or in town, they look at me and remember me from Bible school. It’s funny; they look at me like ‘I know you’ and say they went to Bible school.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE — House is a corporate communications specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources.)