The original purpose of Vacation Bible Schools was “to use ‘idle students’ and ‘idle churches’ to teach ‘idle children’ the Word of God.” Now after little more than half a century, Christian leaders have recognized the Vacation Bible School, or Vacation Church School, as one of the most important resources of Christian education in the development of youth. Although churches and church leaders were slow to see its values at first, it is accepted today as an integral part of the program of Christian education. A conservative estimate is that more than 7 million pupils and workers are enrolled in the schools each summer. These millions testify with enthusiasm that the values of Vacation Bible Schools far outweigh the work and expense which they require.
LEADERSHIP FOR THE SCHOOLS
One of the factors that has sparked the unusual success of the Vacation Bible movement has been the work of dedicated leaders. Nearly a million workers make up the mighty army serving as “missionaries to childlife” each summer. Many of them are highly trained, and some receive remuneration for their work. Yet, the great majority are volunteer workers giving of their time because they love the Lord and love children.
Their training, however, has been one of the real problems. Progress is being made in that pastors, ministers of education, and principals or directors of Church Schools now make their plans and preparation earlier in order to allow time for adequate training. Through state, associational, and church clinics or workshops the workers achieve skills with specific age groups. Those who take this training seriously have shown remarkable progress in the quality of their work and the results achieved.
CURRICULUM IN THE SCHOOLS
A second factor in the rapid growth of Vacation Bible School work is the curriculum materials that are provided. Placed in the hands of dedicated workers, these materials can make Bible stories come to life for boys and girls.
At first the curriculum was very limited. Teaching was confined to story telling with major emphasis on regimentation and routine. Gradually program and methods became varied and planned according to the needs of different age groups. Many features of the earlier schools were retained, such as the opening or closing worship session with its certain amount of ritual, Bible study, recreation or recess period, character study, creative activity, and special events. Today the emphasis has shifted from content and routine to boy and girl participation in guided activities.
Some denominations are now publishing their own materials and arranging them on suggested schedules. Other groups have joined in cooperative publication efforts. Demands for these curriculum materials are rising as more churches include Vacation Bible Schools in their budgets and calendars of events.
The individual church usually assumes responsibility for the choice of materials to be used in the Vacation Bible School. Selection is made according to the needs of the boys and girls, the purposes of the church sponsoring the school, the abilities of the workers, and other courses of Christian teaching offered by the church. Nearly all churches having schools plan and provide at least for ages four through fourteen. Many include a three-year nursery department and provide for 15- and 16-year-old pupils. An increasing number of schools also minister to small groups of young people and adults. In all these materials there is a trend toward shorter and less expensive texts, or textbooks which may be used a number of times in a given cycle.
VALUES OF THE SCHOOLS
The unusual success of Vacation Bible School work is seen in the values or blessings received by the children, the workers, churches, and communities. These blessings serve as a constant reminder that here is a program of Christian education that really works. We may enumerate some of them.
1. Establishing new churches and missions. Vacation Bible Schools bless the churches in which they are held. New churches get started, dead churches are revived, and the life of other churches are revitalized. One denominational leader said: “I consider the Vacation Bible School approach the best possible way to establish a new church.”
2. Cultivating mission interest. Vacation Bible Schools also incite interest in missions and in giving. Pupils and workers learn the importance of world missions, and through mission offerings they not only form the habit of giving but give with specific needs in mind. Thus their gifts make the Great Commission personal and alive in the church’s ministry. No doubt, many of the missionaries had the fires of missionary passion kindled in a Vacation Bible School.
3. Reaching the unreached. Reaching the unenlisted is another blessing Vacation Schools afford. In this realm they have become one of the greatest forces at our disposal. By this means entrance may be gained into the homes and hearts of the people of the community. Each year reports reveal thousands of children enrolled in the schools who are not enrolled in any Sunday School. Using the information gained from the registration cards, dedicated leaders may visit the homes to enlist parents and children in the total life of the church.
4. Enlisting and developing leaders. Vacation Bible Schools enlist and train additional leaders for churches. Some of the best church workers got their first taste of leadership in a school. The very nature of the Vacation Bible School made it possible for them to serve in some capacity. They responded to training, gained confidence, and remained available for other duties after the school was ended. By making these workers available, Vacation Bible Schools have made it possible for Sunday Schools and other organizations to grow and improve the quality of their work.
5. Bible teaching. Churches are always in need of additional time for this important task. A Vacation Bible School provides one of the finest ways we have of teaching the Bible. Since the children have no textbooks, emphasis may be placed on learning by experience and participation. With younger children this may be achieved through Bible stories, dramatizations, the use of appropriate and meaningful Bible pictures, and guided activities. For older boys and girls group discussions and more serious Bible study may be introduced with satisfying results.
Under a well-trained and dedicated faculty, the average child will learn as much about the Bible and its application to life as he would in six or more months in an average Sunday School.
6. Appreciation of good music. Vacation Bible School worship services have provided many children with their first opportunity to praise God through song. Choir directors have also learned that here is one of the most fertile fields for the discovery and development of musical talent. Many churches can attribute the raising of the quality of their music in public worship to the influence of Vacation Bible Schools.
7. Evangelism. No greater value is afforded by a Vacation Bible School than that of winning boys and girls to Christ. Day after day consecrated workers have opportunity to guide the older children toward considering this most important decision. In many of the schools a brief evangelistic service for those nine years of age and above is planned for the last day. No pressure is put upon the children, but after the claims of Christ are presented they are given opportunity publicly to declare their acceptance of Christ as Saviour.
Results of evangelism in Vacation Bible Schools are manifest particularly in the months that follow. Registration cards reveal not only those in the schools who are non-Christians but also valuable information about parents and other members of the families, some of whom are church members and need to be reclaimed.
In a large Vacation Bible School clinic, one woman testified that her entire family had been won to Christ by a well-timed visit following Vacation Bible School sessions in her community. With a display of quiet emotion she related how her home had been completely changed. Now three years later she was attending the clinic preparing to become the principal of the school in her church.
No one can know what the future holds for Vacation Bible School work, but every sign indicates that the future is bright. What if a 10-day school could be held in every church? And what if it could be done this summer?
Preacher In The Red
DURING MY STUDENT DAYS I had the privilege of serving a small Welsh church in the county of Denbigh, North Wales. There were just three steps to the quaint pulpit, and unfortunately the middle step gave way, which caused me a nasty injury to my leg.
On returning to college, my fellow students asked regarding my lameness. I explained that the wood on the particular step must have rotted.
In a fortnight’s time our college magazine was published, and there on the front page was a remarkable sketch of me standing in a pulpit, and the apt(!) caption on top, reading “Dry Rot in the Pulpit.”—The Rev. R. M. ELLIS-GRUFFYDD, F.Ph:S (Eng.), Market Square Church (Congregational), Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorzan, South Wales.
Jacob J. Vellenga served on the National Board of Administration of the United Presbyterian Church from 1948–54. Since 1958 he has served the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. as Associate Executive. He holds the A.B. degree from Monmouth College, the B.D. from Pittsburgh-Xenia Seminary, Th.D. from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and D.D. from Monmouth College, Illinois.
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