VBS: What’s changed? What hasn’t?
What a thrill to innovate Group’s VBS for 25 years!
Innovation equates with failures, bloopers, and trial runs. Maybe that’s what led to Group’s popular “field test findings” found in every station leader guide. We take you “backstage,” get vulnerable, and make the mistakes so you don’t have to.
We also value field testing with real kids and real leaders. We painstakingly get feedback on each activity, each question, each Bible point. We want to know what worked and what didn’t work. We take that information to design a VBS guaranteed to bring your kids closer to Jesus.
Just for fun, I looked back and thought I’d share how Group’s VBS has evolved. Thanks to thousands of dedicated leaders willing to give us honest feedback, we’ve innovated to learn a boatload! For example…
What changed from our first VBS 25 years ago?
—PACKAGING: Vacation Bible Ship arrived in an oh-so-clever 3-D cardboard cruise ship! Cute, but flimsy, tricky to construct, and hard to store. Sunk that idea.
TODAY: Sturdy, compact, colorful, collectible cans.
—THEME SONG: Why did we ever think adding a new verse every day would catch on? Everyone was ready for the song to be over—way too soon. Farewell to “Welcome aboard, it’s time for us to take a trip. Welcome aboard on the Vacation Bible Ship…”
TODAY: Now our VBS brings some of the world’s most popular Christian music kids, families, and children’s ministers sing all year long!
—CRAFTS: Easy! Leaders needed only one craft item that morphed all week. Anyone remember Brite-tites? (Brightly colored recycled pantyhose—I can hardly write this without laughing out loud.) They did creatively transform into koosh balls, tennis rackets, and crazy ball tosses. But VBS leaders (and kids) wanted something different to stretch their creativity.
TODAY: Static crafts transformed into Imagination Station with sciency-fun gizmos kids interact and play with, using STEM-like imagination and energy.
—VIDEO: Knowing kids like videos, we wrote cliff-hanger video episodes relying on Chadder, a furry chipmunk puppet. As charming as Chadder and his escapades were—Thom even showed up in a few—times have changed savvy viewers’ expectations.
TODAY: KidVid Cinema captures real kids’ lives on screen, bringing the real world into your VBS. Leaders challenge kids with real kids’ stories and Scripture bringing Bible points to life. (For nostalgia’s sake, Chadder lives on at Lifetree Kids YouTube. 😊)
—THEME-WEAR: Every person got a bright orange plastic vest to wear! Nice and sweaty-hot for those sweltering summer days. They were supposed to be pretend “life vests.” Deadly.
TODAY: Kids can enjoy fun-loving designs on “cooler” t-shirts. And leaders can get fun colored Staff T-shirts so they’re easy to spot in your VBS crowd.
Well, the list can go on and on. Twenty-five years and millions of kids make for many opportunities to change.
Something’s NOT changed:
—JESUS: Remember: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). With Group, our relentless mission means we create experiences to help people grow in relationship with Jesus and each other. VBS brings Jesus to nearly two-thirds of America’s population each year.
—ONE BIBLE POINT: each day. Every simple, unforgettable, life-relevant scriptural truth gets reinforced through every song, game, imagination station, snack, video, and Bible experience. Everything cements one clear kid-connected message so it lasts and emerges when the Holy Spirit flows. We’re blessed with your stories of God’s goodness, like these:
*A mom overheard her second-grader talking with his younger sister, who was scared to sleep alone in her new bed. He comforted her by reminding her, “When life changes, God is good so you don’t need to be scared.”
*A family on the brink of divorce who faced addiction, marital infidelity, and brokenness discovered Jesus. They were covered in prayer after their daughter attending VBS accepted Christ. The church invited her family to visit. Knowing they needed a change, the family came to church, became baptized members of the church, and restored their lives!
*A marine endured “Hell” week because of a VBS he attended as a child! He told his children’s minister he made it through Hell week singing “I Will Not Be Afraid,” the theme song from Crocodile Dock!
—INTENTIONAL RELATIONSHIPS: Small, multi-age “crews” led by caring teen or adult leaders create a safe, fun atmosphere. Kids are known by name—they can’t get lost in a crowd. They get real “responsibilities” with necessary roles. They hear and share real-life examples of how the Bible point matters in their day-to-day lives. Jesus becomes really real as a friend through human friendships.
—SERVING IN GIFTEDNESS: Unlike a traditional classroom where the teacher needs to resemble a Swiss Army knife expected to do a little bit of everything, Group’s VBS simply requires people to serve where they’re passionate. Do you like sports? Lead games. Beckoning your inner chef? Help with snacks. Budding Picasso? Do decorations. Love the Bible? Lead kids in experiencing God’s story. And when people serve how God made them, they gladly return year after year.
Twenty-five years sounds like a long time, but in God’s eyes, it’s flown. Thank YOU for partnering with Group in bringing kids, adults, and families the BEST gift of all— JESUS!
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I have been blessed by the Group Publishing materials and people for all 25 years! Great Job keeping it REAL! May God continue to bless your ministry for 25 more years at least!! Thank you Joanie and Thom! An. all the Group staff!
I remember all of the above! It was a joy to lead that development team 25 years ago, and a joy today, to see where the journey has taken Group and so many kids as they learn to know, love, and follow Jesus!