Sunday, December 26, 2010

When and Where Did Vacation Bible School First Begin?

I've been working with Vacation Bible School for seventeen years - initially I was a consultant for Gospel Light and then Group and have been writing reviews for fourteen years, but I never actually heard the history of VBS. When and where did VBS first begin? I found an article by Steven Gertz in Christianity Today and learned a lot about the history of VBS. Apparently it all began in the 1870s when the Methodist Episcopal Church offered "summer Sunday school institutes that included educational and cultural components" to the people in it's community in New York. Apparently it isn't anything new for churches to notice what other churches are doing and then implement the same type of ministries in their own as it didn't take long for other "Christian groups across the country to begin planning their own summer retreats" - not just for children, but for everyone in the family.

Vacation Bible school began to look more like what we know it to be when "the Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City noticed large numbers of immigrant children in their neighborhood". In July 1898 a Mrs. Hawes "rented the only place she could find —a saloon—to run a Bible school for six weeks during the summer". Can you imagine any of us renting a saloon for our VBS? Well, Mrs. Hawes put together a program of "singing, Bible stories and Scripture memorization, games, crafts, drawing, cooking" . . . sound familiar??!!! . . . and it really caught on: in just three years she directed seven different VBS ministries! From there it grew and spread across the country.

In 1923 Standard Publishing was the first publisher to create a full-scale VBS program and by 1987 millions of children attended VBS programs every year. Standard was the first to develop a single-theme concept and divide the teaching by age levels. They are the ones who fully developed the model we now know as VBS. I still remember the Standard Publishing crafts from the VBS' I attended in the 1960's!

Today VBS is one of the, if not the, primary evangelistic outreach for most churches in this country and around the world! According to George Barna - in his book Transforming Children into Sprirtual Champions - he says most people make decisions for Jesus before they are 13 years old. This one fact is enough to highlight the importance and need for VBS! In the coming week we will look at how to find the best VBS "fit" for your ministry and will consider the most important features of any VBS and then next week we will begin my Top Ten VBS Countdown for 2011!

Please plan to join me for the focus on 2011 VBS over the coming month and tell people you know so they can join in the conversations!

1 comment:

  1. I loved VBS as a kid. I did not grow up in a christian home, but my single mom did not discourage it. In 1983 I was a camper at a Royal Ranger camp and on August 17th God called me to be his. I think that VBS is one of the greatest things Christians can tithe their time to. Please be open to the little snots that you want to wring their necks, because like me ( yes I was one of those little snots) God may use you to direct them to him. I know that Billy Grahm was really a strong supporter of VBS. I serve God to this Day with all that I am because he is my I am.