It’s back to the drawing board for congregations offering Vacation Bible School thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“A lot of us are really digging deep into our creativity and figuring out how we can offer something for families and for children that is accessible and doable without feeling like one more thing to do,” said Carrie Veal, minister of children and community life at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Children’s ministers typically use May to prepare materials and decorations for VBS. This year, things look a little different as some churches transition to virtual formats. Yet others are still deciding whether to move forward, postpone or cancel altogether, said Veal, former president of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s Children’s Ministry Network.
The summer program at Myers Park Baptist will center around a 20-minute Zoom call enabling children to log on to watch live or watch the recorded program at a later time, she said. The call will follow a simple format which includes a song and a daily question.
The church also will provide takeaway bags that families can pick up. The activity materials will be available for download online for families unable to make a trip to the church, Veal said.
“The virtual opportunity gives us a great chance to experiment with activities that might appeal to some kids and don’t appeal to others.”
Veal said virtual VBS allows parents to adjust activities to fit their children’s interests.
“For kids who don’t like crafts, the kid doesn’t have to deal with the annoyance of going to the craft rotation and the parents don’t have to worry about the craft supplies,” she said. “Instead, there might be a cool science opportunity that the child could get really excited about.”
While technology provides opportunities, Veal said, it is not the same as face-to-face.
“One of the biggest missed opportunities virtually is really connecting with the kids and with their parents,” she said. “Not having VBS in person means there’s a whole group of families that I won’t have a real opportunity to connect with.”
And there’s the fact that children are growing tired of using virtual platforms like Zoom.
“It has lost all of its excitement and appeal,” she said.
One parent predicted his 9-year-old will struggle to connect through an online-only VBS offering.
“It’s just kind of soulless,” said Clay Courson, a resident of Fleming Island, Florida, which is located about 30 miles south of Jacksonville.
Previous in-person VBS experiences have helped his 9-year-old daughter, Paige, open up, he said. They contributed to her spiritual and social growth.
“She’s a little bit shy and VBS always opens her up,” Courson said.
But he doesn’t see that opportunity for her online.
“When you take those live interactions away, it’s like living in a shadow world,” he said.
The move to online also is impacting the bottom lines of companies that produce VBS materials, said Thom Schultz, president and founder of Group Publishing.
“Ordinarily we’d be entering into the busiest time of year for us, but right now it is much quieter than it’s ever been in the past,” he said.
LifeWay Christian Resources recently reported a significant drop in revenue due in part to falling VBS bulk orders from churches and resulting in plans for layoffs, spending and hiring freezes at the Nashville, Tennessee-based company.
Schultz said that he can’t think of a more important year for churches to hold VBS than 2020.
“Kids today are filled with fear, confusion and are experiencing a loss of hope,” he said. “There’s not a better time for something like Vacation Bible School to come along with a message of hope and a sense of God’s love and protection for them.”
It’s why some churches are going ahead despite the drawbacks.
“This will allow us to still hold VBS and teach children about building a foundation on Jesus Christ,” Bridgette Poag, children’s pastor at Dunwoody Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, told Baptist News Global via e-mail.
Ministers are striving to make the experience an impactful one, she added.
“It will not be the same as an on-campus VBS in terms of energy, but we will do the best we can to capture that in our videos,” she said.
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