DULUTH — This is Jenni Carter’s busy time of the year. However, that’s not to say Carter has an “off” time when it comes to VBS.
Carter’s role as a state missionary with Groups and Faith Development of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board lends to her traveling to GBC churches throughout the summer. But her visits during VBS week aren’t just to meet the children participating. They’re also to check in on leaders she’s come to know through the variety of training she leads the rest of the year.
That training, she asserted, greatly increases the chances for churches to have a successful VBS. Vacation Bible School remains a popular part of church for parents, not just children. That’s reflected in 20% of respondents to a childrensministry.com survey citing parent/child satisfaction as the measurement most likely used to deem VBS a success. Seventeen percent noted success as seeing more children attending than the previous year while 16% pointed to more faith commitments from children and adults than the year before.
Considering her travel schedule and the number of VBS’ she attends, Carter would have to be considered a worthy source for gauging the importance of preparation for VBS way before June rolls around.
“When the training numbers are up, the number of professions of faith go up. When our training numbers are down, so are professions of faith we see reported,” she stated.
In 2018 some 1,300 Georgia Baptist churches reported holding VBS with 189,000 enrolled. That led to more than 5,000 professions of faith.
“Those are the reported numbers,” said Carter. “I’m sure there are others who haven’t reported.” (To send in your church’s report download the form and send to Groups and Faith Development, 6405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Duluth, GA 30097.
Equipping for VBS
In January, a group of about two dozen Georgia Baptist children’s ministers and volunteer leaders traveled to VBS training at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. It represented a cross-section of larger and smaller churches, Carter says, with the cost covered by LifeWay and the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.
By that point Carter has spent the fall enlisting her training teams and making site locations for Equipping Events, previously termed VBS clinics. In addition, gatherings called “Jump Starts” led by her team give Georgia Baptist VBS directors and pastors the opportunity for training in connecting the community to Vacation Bible School.
Equipping Events, held in March, provide training in music, crafts, recreation, and other aspects of VBS. “This year we held those from Friday to Saturday,” said Carter. “Friday had a worship rally and ideas on subjects such as decorating. Saturday led to a smaller worship rally, breakout groups, Bible study training, and others on areas like how to lead a child to Christ, reaching out to your community, and preparing snacks.”
Approximately 200 attendees came to each of the four events. Carter also noted that around 200 attended both Hispanic Equipping Events held in the southern and northern parts of the state.
The GBMB restructuring should help those numbers increase, she said.
“Going to this regional approach means we’ll have six Equipping Events next year. It’s going to be so much more accessible for churches,” she pointed out.
Any Georgia Baptist association, Carter added, can send a training team for free to any of the regional clinics to then train churches at the associational level. “Plus, I personally try to help with as many associational trainings as my calendar will allow,” she said.
Better in the morning or evening?
Carter was in her early teens the last time a summer passed where she wasn’t a VBS leader. Later as a director, she attended Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of VBS. She only missed Thursday and Friday after going into labor and giving birth Wednesday afternoon.
So, yes, her devotion to VBS and children’s ministry is pretty strong. So it also goes regarding the importance of consistent training for it.
Decades of experience have brought a perspective as to trends in children’s ministry.
“Safety and security are the biggest concerns,” she said. “You have to make sure you know who is dropping off a child and picking them up. Churches are stepping up in this regard.” Carter also mentioned the lengths to which churches will go with their decoration. And while one may think only large churches do that, smaller congregations have shown they can get creative with VBS, even going so far as making a submarine.
And while VBS may be associated with the morning, Carter estimated she sees more held in the evening hours. The observation, she related, is “you may get more kids in the morning, but there are more volunteers available in the evening. This is especially true of men volunteers getting off work. Some churches want to be intentional about their men being involved.
“Those times typically go from 6:30-8:30, but I’ve seen them extend to 9 p.m. Some churches include a meal time for volunteers as well.” Some larger GBC churches, she added, have both morning and evening VBS.
“Another trend I see is churches doing a morning VBS and then offering an afternoon event such as a sports camp for those parents needing a full day for their child. There may be a small fee for that afternoon program, with the children bringing their own lunch and the church providing a drink. Of course, the church can also have a lunch to those children needing one.”