Updated: May 16
Here at Grace Community Fellowship, we have been known for some great things. Among those things is that in summers past, we would put on an epic VBS for kids age 4-5th grade. So epic, that in 2018 we sold out in just under 10 minutes after opening up registration! It was a week of excitement, fun, and TONS of kids.
"But Josh," you ask, "why isn't VBS on the schedule for our Summer Events? Doesn’t it make sense to bring it back now that the pandemic has passed?"
Before I answer that question, let me tell you what's been going on behind the scenes.
ASKING HARD QUESTIONS
In December of 2020, I began to ask myself a question: "Had we done everything possible to prepare kids, parents, and volunteers in our ministry to live out their faith WITHOUT us?" The answer was no. I realized that too many parents had depended on us to train their kids to have faith. Too many parents had been relying on the church to make their kids into spiritual champions.
The sad thing is that I bought into the same idea. I thought I was supposed to take a kid, teach him some Bible stories in a fun way, give him a craft page to take home, and then - voilà! - he would be a follower of Jesus for life. But I was wrong. God never gave me the job of raising kids in their faith. That is, and will forever remain, the job of parents and grandparents.
So what was I supposed to do? Everything we did was basically centered around…ME. I would teach the kids on Sunday. I would do fun activities with the kids. I would take them for a week of VBS and train them in the way of the Master (wax on–wax off 😏).
Now, before you chide me, yes, I’m aware that none of these things would have happened without amazing volunteers backing me up. But that doesn’t change the fact that parents were, in large part, relying on, counting on, depending on the church, volunteers, ME to teach their kids to follow Jesus.
As I prayed about these things, God began to show me some things that needed to change in the way we did ministry to kids and families. We were doing lots of things, but were we doing the best things?
SAYING 'YES!' TO THE RIGHT THINGS
Just as in life, GCFKIDS has a limited amount of time, resources, and abilities to accomplish our mission of meeting kids and families where they’re at and helping them follow Jesus. It’s our job to use each of those things in a way that will have the greatest impact. And that’s exactly what we are moving towards.
We want to say “YES!” to the right things. Those things include three very important groups of people. Three groups that we have incorporated into our vision for the next 2 years of ministry. They are:
Parents/Grandparents: We want to train parents and grandparents to see themselves as the primary faith-trainers. We want to support and encourage them with resources and opportunities to both learn and practice leading their families in spiritual growth.
Volunteers: We want a team of volunteers committed to showing up, leading, and loving kids to Jesus. We want to create an environment of friendship, support, and fun.
Kids: We want a ministry for kids that is fun and helps to introduce them to and follow Jesus. We want to be “the place” for kids on Sunday morning to learn God’s Word, why it’s important, and how to obey it.
Let me break it down for you even more…
PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS
You’ll notice that parents and grandparents were listed first. You may think that’s odd considering we are a KIDS ministry. But considering parents and grandparents are the primary influencers in a child’s life for the first 12-13 years, I think we are right to do so. Also, our kids ministry, and the events we host, will only account for 30-45 hours (less than 1%) of influence in the life of a child per year.
How are we going to partner with parents? How are we going to support and encourage them in their role as primary faith-trainer to their kids?
Here are a few things we are doing/planning:
Weekly Blog Posts: Content to chew on and encourage you
Resources: Supplying families ideas for books, podcasts, or events that will help them to grow.
Family Church: Providing families the experience of worshipping and hearing God’s Word taught together.
Family Events: Designed to give families a chance to make fun memories together.
Parenting Conference: For helping parents think through challenging aspects of the parenting journey.
Dad Bible Study: Challenging dads to think more deeply about their roles as the spiritual leader of their home. (Coming in July)
Family Service Projects/Mission trips: Helping families find ways to serve together and be the hands and feet of Jesus.
Our GCFKIDS Team is the backbone of our ministry. We could literally not do what we do without these wonderful people. They play a more important role than I do as the Kids Pastor. Why? Because they are the faces that continually show up for your kids. They are the ones who are building relationships with kids. And those relationships lead to influence. Because that is the case, we want to invest even more in their success and encourage them along the way.
What makes serving on the GCFKIDS Team unique? What things are we doing/planning to help strengthen our current and future team members?
Here are a few things:
Screening: A thorough screening process for current and new volunteers is the first step.
Support: We want our team to focus on relationships, so we go the extra mile to prepare everything they need for a Sunday in advance.
Weekly Blog Posts: Content to challenge and grow them as leaders.
Family Church: It’s not only a fun time for families, it’s also a bit of a break for our leaders who have served all year.
Pre-service Huddles: We gather each Sunday before the service to talk about the day and pray for kids, parents, and each other.
Celebrations: We are trying to host at least two Team Celebrations each year that remind our team how important they are and provide some fun and entertainment.
Training/Conferences: In the next two years, I hope to be able to host a training conference for all KidMin leaders and volunteers in our area. It’s amazing to see just how many people in our area are on the same page when it comes to leading kids and families to Christ.
Last, but certainly not least, we want to have an exciting environment for kids each and every week. It needs to be engaging, safe, and fun, but more than that, it needs to be a place where kids hear about God’s Word.
Kids are bombarded with thousands of messages each week. Parents, teachers, friends, YouTube influencers, billboards, networks, and more have a message they want to communicate to your child. However, God’s Word is the only message that can change the course of their eternity. The Bible is the only message that can transform their heart and show them how and why they were created.
We want kids to have fun, yes. But we don’t want that fun to crowd out the most important message the world has ever known. So what are we doing/planning to help kids come to know, love, and serve Jesus?
Here are some of them:
Kids Church: We sing, play games, and then present an engaging story from God’s Word.
Small Groups: Kids gather to talk about the story and how to use it in their life. They also build great friendships with other kids their own age.
Monthly Bible Verse: We want to encourage kids to hide God’s Word in their heart. Each month they can work on a verse and say it on the last Sunday for a fun treat.
Family Church and Events: We don’t just do these things for the benefit of adults (parents/volunteers), we do it because we see kids worshipping, and watching their parents do the same. That’s pretty awesome if you ask me.
The Summit: This leadership team for 4th-5th grade students meets weekly to study the Bible in depth, then they serve the kids ministry in various ways. Training the next generation of church leaders is a cool thing to watch.
Curriculum: We are evaluating the curriculum we use in order to make sure that we are using our time with your kids to the fullest extent.
STARTING TO SHOW
Focusing on these three areas has already started to show some incredible results.
At Family Church last year, a dad led his family in reading a verse and praying for the very first time.
A team member shared how encouraged they are by the weekly blog posts.
A mom was encouraged to find a book on our resource wall that helped her with an area her kids had been struggling in.
A small group leader got to be a part of the baptism celebration for one of their students.
Students who are a part of The Summit have already served the church by leading worship, running our service tech, guiding new families to classrooms, and passing out flowers to moms on Mother’s day.
These results are just the beginning of what we are praying to see over the next couple of years. And I believe we will because our focus has shifted in a big way.
WHERE DOES VBS FIT INTO ALL OF THIS?
VBS is one of the things we were known for in the church community. Unfortunately, even after thousands of dollars, months of planning, minutes of registration, weeks of preparation, days of training, and 15 hours of controlled chaos, we had very little to show after it was all said and done.
Consider the following:
Out of over 300 kids registered for VBS in 2019, only 15 kids (5%) had no church that they identified with. The remaining 95% of kids and families were either a part of GCF or another surrounding church in our community.
Also in 2019, at least 25% of our volunteers were from churches other than GCF. We did not have the volunteer capacity to run our last 3 years of VBS without the assistance of people outside of our own church body.
Measurable, spiritual decisions (trusting in Jesus, deciding to be baptized, a commitment to reading the Bible more, unchurched families joining the church) were minimal at best.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m NOT saying that we will never do VBS ever again (we may bring it back in the coming years). I'm NOT saying that we don't like hosting kids from other churches (I love kids and want them all to be in church). I'm NOT saying that we are only interested in large numbers of decisions and baptisms (although that would be awesome to see).
What I AM saying is that our vision has shifted, and at this time VBS doesn't help us toward what we hope to accomplish in the parents, volunteers, and kids at GCF. Instead of a big show, we want to focus more on a big God. Instead of a ministry based on a personality, we want to focus more on families and volunteers, and helping them succeed. Instead of large crowds, we want to focus more on building up and discipling individuals.
This vision is different (and I think better) than before, and one that we pursue with humility and prayer. The psalmist wrote, “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90:17, NIV)
We echo that prayer, and ask you to pray with us. May God establish the work of our hands, as we meet kids and families where they’re at, and help them follow Jesus.