Ever since I came to Christ, I've been associated with churches which do a few days to a week of Vacation Bible School each summer. Often, the youth pastor will speak a Sunday or two before VBS, reminding the congregation of the need to reach people while they are young, encouraging them to take part in VBS, and the like. During VBS, there will be crafts, games, high energy music, and quite frankly a fair amount of "encouragement" to "pray the prayer" and become a Christian.
Afterwards, there will typically be exultation over the number of children who have "come to Christ", praise for the VBS team, and......
....afterwards, the VBS team and youth pastor go into a weeks-long decompression and coma from all of the activity. At this point, it's a good thing that few if any of those kids who decided to pray the prayer actually follows through and goes to church, because the youth workers are too tired to shepherd them.
Oops, wait a minute. That's not a good thing, is it? Let's go to Matthew 13 and see what Christ says about this.....OK, we have the possibility that we've actually done evangelism for other churches.....OK, they're not seeing a huge increase in attendance, either.....or what we have is either seed on stony soil, seed choked out by weeds, or seed not planted at all, as far as I can take the Parable of the Sower.
More or less, I've been involved in children's ministry in seven churches since I came to Christ, and out of the thousands of "decisions" that these churches would claim from VBS, I can't think of anyone I've met who actually followed through and followed Christ who wasn't in church already. There are presumably exceptions, but all in all, the overall effect is as if you'd sent the sower out into Death Valley. Food for the birds and nothing more, really.
So what is wrong? Well, allowing for people moving, changing churches, and the ordinary difficulty of following up with new believers, I'd have to argue that what is going on is that the "pressure tactics" (loud music, pressure to "pray the prayer", etc..) does not regenerate people. Rather, they "go along to get along" and then....."snap back" the day after VBS ends to their former state. They'll tell you they had a great time (and they enjoyed games, snacktime, and such, to be sure), but you will not see them in church.
What's to be done? I'm not sure what all needs to be done, but it strikes me that if we want to see real decisions for Christ, churches might do well to sit down with the VBS team and say something like this.
Folks, as far as I can tell, we spent $3000 and 2000 man-hours preparing for VBS this year. We had 35 apparent decisions for Christ, but I hate to tell you this, but none of them are in church with us. We have done a great job making false fruit.
What we're going to do is this. We're going to reduce the time spent preparing for VBS by half, reduce the decorations by half, and let's spend the time and money we save studying some books on evangelism that do not use pressure tactics. In the meantime, the deacons and pastor are going to look carefully through the VBS programs we've been using, and we're going to make sure we're actually presenting the Gospel to these kids in a coherent way.
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