By Chris Snyder
Like so many churches, Vacation Bible School has long been one of the highlights of the year for the Adrian UMC. Every year we put a lot of prayer, energy, time and finances into offering a high-quality VBS. Over the past several years we have had strong attendance of approximately 50-60 kids and 30-40 helpers annually (not bad for a church that averages 100 in worship). When the leaders were reviewing the VBS program last summer we noticed that our attendance numbers had remained relatively stable over the past few years while the work going in to it seemed to increase. We had increased our emphasis on areas such as decorating and creating a high-quality experience, but we had failed to dedicate much time or energy to inviting beyond the typical ad in the local paper and sign in front of the church.
We set a goal that this year would be different. From the beginning of the planning the question was asked about how we can better promote VBS in our community and attract more people, especially those who hadn’t previously attended and those who don’t currently have a church home. Two weeks prior to VBS the congregation was given a postcard with details about VBS and how to register with the instructions that the card was not for them. They were then invited, during the morning prayer time, to think about a neighbor, friend, family member, co-worker or someone else who they might extend the invitation. Later that week, members gathered to meet and distribute over 200 fliers and invitations throughout the community. By the end of the week, our registration for VBS had already surpassed the previous year’s number by more than 20.
VBS begins on Monday each year, but a few years ago we began holding a kickoff the night before VBS begins. This kickoff is held at a local park and includes a meal (we are United Methodist after all) and activities for all ages (including train rides, face-painting, snow-cones, and an interactive mission experience). This year we added a concert by a very talented local Christian artist (Stephen Rew & Decided) and concluded the evening with a fireworks display. In previous years we had an average attendance around 100 people at our kickoff. This year we had over 250 people attend the kickoff and countless more enjoyed the fireworks display throughout town. There was buzz around town for days about this event.
By the time Monday evening and the beginning of VBS arrived we had around 80 children registered and more than 20 additional children showed up that night to participate. Supplies were short, space was tight, volunteers were recruited and rearranged and the energy was off-the-charts! In the end, our invitational emphasis and community outreach resulted in a growth of more than 65% in attendance, many of those claimed no relationship with a local congregation. We give God thanks for bringing more people to VBS than we ever could have anticipated and look forward to continuing the invitational emphasis in the future.