Should vacation Bible school programs be smaller?

For some church congregations, summer means hosting hundreds of children at vacation Bible school. At Fourteenth Street Christian Reformed Church in Holland, Mich., efforts are focused on fewer children to make a big impact.

Twenty children from grades three to five attended the church’s Passport program, which offers academic enrichment through a faith-based perspective.

Once a week for three weeks, the kids - many of whom are transported to and from the church by volunteers - played games, cooked, read books, learned Bible stories, painted pots and went on a variety of excursions. They toured the police department and they used math skills to spend $1 at the candy store. At a local nature center, they learned about French explorers and got a lesson in tomahawk- and spear-throwing.

While some kids attending Passport are from the congregation, many are students who are tutored by church members during the school year.

Before the program began three years ago, co-directors Laura Keeley and Chris Wood considered how best to serve these students during summer break. “We discovered that these kids, for the most part, come from loving homes,” said Keeley, “but didn’t have a daytime environment that encouraged them to keep up the things they had learned in school.”

The directors also wanted to bolster relationships between the students and church members. “We had been involved in the schools tutoring for 10 years and never made the connections between the kids and our congregation that we wanted. The tutors sometimes had relationships, but the rest of the church didn’t,” Keeley said.

Now, with a high ratio of volunteers to students, and as some of the children return from year to year, relationships are developing.

Although “one-on-one relationships are much messier and labor intensive,” Wood said, “they have the potential to yield greater results.”

What Do You Think?

  • Have vacation Bible school programs become too big?
  • What are some of the benefits of a larger program?
  • What should the primary goal be for vacation Bible schools?


Comments (3)

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I don’t mind if a VBS (or VBC, Vacation Bible camp) draws a lot of kids. It’s when numbers become the goal that I bristle. Large numbers are not a measure of success. Christ is our measure of success.

If the programming at a huge VBS/VBC is indistinguishable from the programming at a secular day camp, then there’s not much reason to run the VBS/VBC. If Christ is presented, preached, lived out at the camp, then it doesn’t matter how many are there because with Jesus there it couldn’t be better attended.


There is always a place for smaller fellowships - certainly, that is where most of the sharpening and deeper relationship development happens.

However, when we look at the fact that there is only 1 church for every 10,000 citizens in the US, then combine that with the fact that the average church size is around 300, we have to be careful with placing limits on what we will and will not allow in whatever ministries we’re trying to offer.

I’ve been in and volunteered for VBS programs that have been large and small.  One thing I’ve noticed is that the smaller ones tend to have less energy and excitement.  And while this may allow for deeper relationship building, this often doesn’t happen.  The kids get bored, the adults get bored.  Or even worse, the adults are happy because they’re doing something important meanwhile they’re not really connecting with the kids… which means they’re not really doing anything important to begin with.

Larger VBS programs typically have more energy in them.  They’re larger because they’re more hospitable - there is more to do, more excitement…. all kinds of things.  But this makes it a bit more difficult for kids and mentors to really build deeper relationships.

But in the end, we have to realize, it isn’t the program that makes the difference.  It’s not really the teaching or the music.  It’s the fellowship.  Big or small, the sponsors have the opportunity to lay the groundwork to develop relationships in the future and continue to grow and deepen current relationships.

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