6 things I learned from virtual VBS
My congregation held virtual VBS a couple of weeks ago. As I’ve continued to reflect on the experience, I keep returning to these six things I learned from virtual VBS:
1. The problem isn’t Zoom. Four months into this pandemic, you’ve no doubt heard that kids are zoomed out. I, too, have heard this. I, too, have felt this. I worried about this as VBS approached, especially since we made VBS an event and asked kids to be on Zoom for 90 minutes a day for four-days straight. Here’s the thing though. They had a good time. When we got to the end of the week, many of our kids were sad VBS was over. It turns out, Zoom isn't the problem. The problem is the way we’re using Zoom. No one wants to be talked at over and over again, just like kids don’t want to be talked at in person either. They want to be engaged. If you design engaging content, then Zoom can be an effective vehicle for engaging people.
2. Student leaders are important. I know this. I even believe this so strongly that I’ve written an entire book on the matter. Yet, virtual VBS reaffirmed this for me. Student leaders are important not just for their own discipleship BUT as a means for discipling others. During virtual VBS, we enlisted teens to serve as student leaders. Some were small group leaders. Others led our music. By the end of the week, our VBS participants were dreaming of the day when they, too, could be VBS leaders. Student leaders give little kids a model for what their faith can look like in the future as well as how it can be lived out. Both are key to their faith formation.
3. Risks are worth it. For years, part of my student leadership team covenant has included a promise to “Take risks, even if you fail.” I wholeheartedly believe that risks are worth it because even if we fail, we’ll learn from that failure and become better. Despite knowing this, I’m actually pretty risk adverse. My husband would say I’m EXTREMELY risk adverse. Virtual VBS was a big risk. As we planned, we worried about the cost of failure. Would it forever scar or ruin or well-established VBS ministry? In the end, we decided it was a risk worth taking and I’m so glad we did. Virtual VBS was fun. Kids were discipled. Kids connected with one another and so did our leaders. It’ll be a highlight of the summer for some of our participants, including my five-year old daughter. Beyond that, however, it gave our congregation a boost of energy during a time when energy feels LOW thanks to extended time apart. What’s more, it gave us a vision for what could be if we need to continue online ministry come fall.
4. Constraint fosters creativity. In some ways, we had to get MORE creative with VBS than we’ve been in the past because we couldn’t just rely on our VBS toolbox and playbook. We had to rethink everything. Those constraints bred creativity and that creativity led to some things that worked BETTER than we’d done them in the past. Throughout the week, you could occasionally hear our leaders say, “We should do it this way even when we can gather again!”
5. There’s nothing like intergenerational connections. One of the things we wanted to encourage during virtual VBS was intergenerational connections. So, rather than read a Bible story, we asked a few families in our congregation – including that of our senior pastor – to make a video that creatively told the Bible story in a fresh way. One of my VBS highlights was watching the faces of our kids as they saw people they recognized from church in a TOTALLY different context! This was a great, easy way to begin to build intergenerational connections between our kids and others in our congregation.
6. VBS is MORE than a glorified babysitter. Our church’s VBS has been large the last several years partly because many parents from the community view it as a cheap, effective babysitter. On the one hand, there’s nothing wrong with this. We embrace VBS as an outreach to our community. On the other hand, there was something refreshing about doing VBS in a virtual space, where parents had to be more involved. Although we didn’t saddle parents with the responsibility of doing VBS on their own, they still had to get their kids situated each day and in the case of our preschoolers and kindergarteners, participate with them. We considered this a win. Parents heard and experienced VBS more than they typically have in the past… And that can only lead to better conversations between parents & kids about God, Jesus, and faith.