Southern Baptist churches are preparing for their most effective evangelism effort – Vacation Bible School.
The typically weeklong summer sessions for Christian students and neighborhood kids is an over-century-old outreach. But the traditional body worship and singing and arts and crafts approach continues to contribute a significant proportion of baptisms in the nation's largest Protestant denomination.
Last year, over 26,000 Southern Baptist churches conducted VBS and saw a total of over 2.9 million kids enroll. Nearly 95,000 VBS attendants made decisions for Christ, and over 212,000 "prospects" were added to Sunday school prospect files.
"These are great numbers," said Jerry Wooley, VBS ministry specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources. "Vacation Bible School stands alone in its evangelism and outreach."
Of the Southern Baptist Convention's total baptisms last year, 26 percent came from Vacation Bible School. With baptisms having dropped for the second consecutive year, VBS is viewed as the single most effective evangelism tool in the Southern Baptist Convention, according to LifeWay.
While Southern Baptist churches continue to embrace the traditional kids outreach, fewer churches are offering the summer sessions, a 2005 study by The Barna Group found. According to the research group, only 69 percent of churches are continuing the VBS tradition compared to 81 percent in 1997.
Survey respondents indicated a lack of teachers as the most common reason for not offering VBS, and pastors are also becoming increasingly likely to mention that their church has "no time" for VBS.
In the meantime, more Southern Baptist churches have been offering VBS in the evenings to accommodate more adult workers who typically have day jobs. According to LifeWay, 66 percent of churches hosted nighttime VBS last year.
Southern Baptist churches were among the congregations most likely to offer VBS amid the decline, The Barna Group found.
More than three million students attend Vacation Bible Schools every year, based on estimates by the publishing industry, USA Today had reported.
VBS themes change every year, offering the kids a different experience each consecutive summer. This year, LifeWay is promoting "Game Day Central" and is partnering with the producers of Facing the Giants to encourage churches to either kick off or wrap up their summer sessions with a public screening of the movie on faith and football.