This story is a follow up to a Baptist Press story from May 26, 2020
It’s called Virtual Vacation Bible School and is considered a safe approach during these social distancing days of the COVID-19 Pandemic. It also provides a 21st century spin on an age-old summertime church tradition that dates back to the late 1890s.
VBS TLH (short for Tallahassee) is set for the week of June 15 and will feature a Worship Rally on Facebook Live each day, along with access to on-demand videos and PDF files that instruct and equip children and their families to participate in such rotational tracks as crafts, music, recreation and snack. Those interested can register online at vbstlh.com, which also has links to the Facebook group where you’ll find more details about the event and fun engagement ideas.
What began as a group of five Tallahassee churches uniting to plan a joint virtual effort, has since grown into partnership of 35 churches in five states. Registration has already reached 678 children, representing some 98 churches – from a variety of faiths – in 15 states and three countries including Canada, Brazil and Taiwan. Organizers said they’re still welcoming more children to register and more churches to partner with them.
“We saw the need to do VBS differently this year and knew that not all churches would be able to produce a virtual VBS experience, so we started brainstorming ways to help and the idea just grew from there,” said Jenny Whitaker, children and family ministry director at Bradfordville First Baptist Church in Tallahassee. “What started out as a vision to help one another and work together in this crazy time, God took that and grew it into this monstrosity that it is now. It’s exciting to see what God is doing with this.”
Virtual VBS encourages parents and children to experience this together and allows them to participate each day at a time that is most convenient for them. Some families may choose to join the live worship rally each day at 9 a.m. via social media, while others may opt to download the video and participate in the evening. Also, each of the rotational tracks feature both advanced and simple options for families to choose.
While the theme for this citywide effort is “1 Savior, 1 City, 1 Week,” the VBS curriculum is “Concrete and Cranes” from the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources. Although the curriculum was written two years ago, Whitaker said the Biblical content is “so relevant to our current situation, demonstrating that God already knew where we would be this summer.”
“If you will build your life on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ and his love for you, you won’t be shaken no matter what wind or storm comes your way. I can’t think of a better message to share with children and families right now than that,” she said.
Many of the partnering churches are producing the rotational track videos that will be used. And a supply list is already available, giving parents a shopping list of what they will need for doing crafts, recreation, snack and more.
The recreation track offers a simple game that fits with the theme but also a ramped up DIY option that offers families the opportunity to build outdoor games and such in the backyard that they can continue to enjoy all summer.
Partnering with churches throughout Tallahassee and beyond also provides the follow-up component that is crucial to VBS, Whitaker said. Organizers can now ask partnering churches to follow up with participants from their zip codes who don’t already have church homes, which is about 10 percent of those registered.
“VBS is an important evangelism tool,” Whitaker said. “It’s great the week of, but if we don’t have a follow-up strategy in place, we kind of miss a big part of what VBS is all about.”
And while VBS will definitely look different this year, Whitaker said that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“God can bring beauty from ashes. He has taken something that could have felt very negative and sad and just blown it open,” she said. “He’s turned it so positive and cast this new vision. This is all God working through this team and doing what he wants to do. We have this opportunity and potential to reach way more kids than we might have been able to reach if we had been doing this the traditional way.”