If you attend a church that has more than 250 Sunday worshipers, or an annual budget of $500,000 (or more), or a pastor between 30 and 48 years of age, odds are good that your congregation offers Vacation Bible School (VBS) during the summer months.
Your church, however, would be in an increasingly selective group, according to a recent Barna Group study. VBS programs have declined 16 percent in the last 15 years, from 81 percent of American churches in 1997 to 68 percent in 2012.
Summer church education "isn't going away anytime soon," notes Barna, given that the current two-thirds of churches hosting VBS has been stable in recent years. But what has changed is the reasons why churches choose to drop such programs.
The biggest change: busyness. "In 2001, only 5% of churches who did not offer VBS stated their reason as not having enough time, or wanting to devote such time to more pressing needs," writes Barna. "In 2005, this number of time-pressed churches more than doubled (13%), and nearly quadrupled just last summer (19%)."
The most time-crunched: African American and charismatic churches. Nearly 1 out of 5 pastors of both traditions (18%) cited lack of time as why their church does not offer VBS.
Overall, the biggest reasons why former VBS churches have skipped out in recent years are: lack of volunteers (cited by 3 in 10 pastors), lack of children (cited by 1 in 4), and lack of time (1 in 5).
Financial cost and congregation size—the amount of supply and demand for such a program—are also key factors that led churches to cut VBS. On balance, the larger a church (and its budget), the more likely it is to offer VBS. More than 90 percent of churches with budgets of $500,000 or more offer VBS, as well as 86% of churches with more than 250 adult worship attenders.
Regionally, churches in the South (nearly 3 out of 4) are most likely to offer VBS, whereas churches in the West (nearly 1 out of 2) are least likely.
And which denomination is most likely to offer VBS at its churches? The Southern Baptist Convention, where 9 out of 10 churches hosted VBS last year.
And which pastors are more likely to have VBS at their churches? Pastors ages 30 to 48, where 3 out of 4 are involved.