I know this is as tired a rant as possible. Every year around this time bloggers choose to write about this topic. I think I’ve already done two or three of these, but I’ve gotta do one more. I just have to. I have no choice, because this is weighing heavily on my heart, as we say in ChurchSpeak.
Wherever I go I pass at least one church. Usually two or three and, if I’m travelling very long distances, four or more. It’s VBS season so that means every church I pass has a big, expensive banner outside advertising their big expensive VBS. Since I don’t have kids I realise I’m far from the target market so crocodiles and extreme sports and tropical islands with a salvation theme are not really geared toward me at all.
That disclaimer aside I feel qualified to assert my points because I am a Christian. That makes me a member of The Church. I’m also the member of a local church (which does have a VBS program.) Churches in America are continuing to be flummoxed about why their churches are losing attendees. I think that I can be confident in saying that one of the answers can be found in VBS.
The message of Vacation Bible School has always been a simple one, and one that was easily conveyed to me in the 1970s through macaroni art, grape Kool-Aid, graham crackers and The Wordless Book. I know my childhood home church made an investment in VBS, and I know the message was worthwhile. But as the Gospel seems to have taken a back seat to Glitz it has become harder and harder for me to see VBS as a net gain for any local church. While the Gospel message is of paramount importance I no longer see that as the primary driver for modern VBS. I’ve been told by more than one children’s pastor that the event-driven Bible School is a loss leader designed to attract families. With its slick packaging, broadway-style showtunes and Martha Stewart style crafts the VBS of the new millenium is clearly designed to attract the parents of children as much as the children themselves. It’s designed to impress parents with the wealth and resources of the church and to make that particular church stand out in the minds of potential givers. It is a way that the church has allowed the world to light its path–instead of vice versa.
For nearly every family that VBS draws to a local congregation there are families like mine that are alienated from those same congregations. That very visible expenditure on non-essentials is galling when one considers the many out-of-work, ill or displaced Least Of These that are being ignored in favour of selling church to wealthy Christians.
So as churches continue to wonder where their attendees have gone allow me to suggest that perhaps those attendees have decided to take matters into their own hands and are now giving tithes and time directly to those in need instead of allowing funds to be funnelled through a congregation that acts more like a country club. It’s just a thought.