Can your Vacation Bible School do more than lead kids to Christ? Yes, you can see your VBS attenders become church-going families if you build a relationship with them.
At New Song, we have four distinct goals for our summer Kids Camp:
- Disciple the children of our church in an intensive, week-long program.
- Develop leadership and ministry skills in our youth and adult volunteers.
- Deepen our unity by asking members of every generation to serve together that week.
- Attract unchurched families and enfold them into the family of God.
We accomplish our discipleship goal by holding a great Kids Camp.
We accomplish our leadership development goal through a good team training program, coupled with the on-the-job experience gained during the week of camp.
We accomplish our inter-generational goal by recruiting teens, twenties, thirties, parents and retirees to serve together.
But how do we retain the unchurched families who attend our Kids Camp?
This requires multiple capture strategies.
In my experience, churches put on a stellar VBS and just hope that the fourth goal of retaining new families from the community will take care of itself.
The truth is, most unchurched families aren’t thinking about attending your church when they enroll their kids in VBS. They’re either looking for an enriching place to send their kids during a long summer, or they are piecing together childcare while they work.
Church attendance may not be the last thing on their minds, but it’s close. Wooing the unchurched back after VBS is over will take more than a great week of programming.
Here’s the key: The majority of your unchurched VBS attendees will only return if you build a relationship with them.
8 Strategies for Reaching Families from your Vacation Bible School
Building relationships requires multiple contacts. Here are eight strategies we use to warmly welcome those who are open to checking out a church.
1. Greet parents every morning.
As parents arrive to drop off and pick up their children each morning, we station staff members out front and in the lobby to casually introduce themselves and make parents feel welcome.
2. Give them an excuse to stick around.
We set up coffee carts and refreshment tables out front, so parents who want to linger can do so.
3. Have a brunch for the moms one morning after drop off.
On Friday morning of Kids Camp week, our women’s ministry hosts a breakfast on the patio. We invite the parents to stop by for a half hour to grab a bite to eat. We take the opportunity to meet them, and give them a little information about our children’s ministry and upcoming events, our mental health ministry, and opportunities to get connected with other women.
In our town, near Camp Pendleton, we have military wives who have just moved into town and this brunch gives them a solid path to get involved at our church.
4. Invite them to “Come Back” Events.
In the weeks following Kids Camp we have several more events designed to give families a reason to make our church part of their summer.
The week after Kids Camp, we go as a group to the local outdoor theater’s youth production. We get a block of lawn tickets which we resell so we’re all sitting together at the play. Before the show, kids run around together, parents get to meet each other, everyone munches on the dinner they brought, and we have cookies or cupcakes to pass around. It’s such summer fun, and it allows us to draw in the new families who want to be in community.
We also publicize our Family Experience and our Halloween Fest at Kids Camp so they know there are more reasons to be connected to us for family events.
For Stacy’s family, it was the invitations to multiple events, and a special church service, that led to her growing involvement, and eventually, the whole family coming to Christ.
5. See new families begin attending your church service over time.
In the weeks following Kids Camp I preach a sermon series that appeals to unchurched families. I want our visiting parents to know that God, the Bible, and the church can provide them with practical help.
A few guests begin attending the very next week. A larger number return two to four weeks later. Most unchurched people can’t fathom attending church every weekend, so this pattern is normal. Still others come the first time I do a series on family, marriage or parenting, which can be months later.
Make sure to have everyone in the service complete your Connection Card; this will help you gain contact information for your guests without making them feel singled out.
6. Exceed their expectations.
At the end of every service, we offer a free copy of The God Questions Gift Edition to all newcomers as a way of thanking them for coming. The Gift Edition is a quick, 45-minute read that answers the questions they may have about God. The book is helpful to them, and at $2.49 per copy, it’s inexpensive for us.
We tell them to keep their connection card and take it to the Newcomers Booth in the lobby after the service. We give them The God Questions and a New Song tumbler. The host at the booth chats with them, introduces them to someone else, and gets their connection card with their contact info.
They take home not only a good impression, but also a little book that answers the four most common questions people have about God and that shows them how to ask Jesus into their lives.
7. Add them to your newcomers list.
Since these guests have given us their Connection Card, we are able to send them our usual first-time guest letter and follow-up with them like we do every weekend guest.
Being part of our database means they’ll begin receiving weekly emails from me about what God is up to in our church — another step in helping them feel like part of the church family.
8. Develop and refine your VBS system to attract families.
None of these steps happen by accident. They require thought, prayer and planning. VBS is such a fruitful harvesting opportunity for us that we ask our whole staff to participate in some way.
Dozens of children will raise their hands and pray a prayer at the end of a good week of camp, but that shouldn’t be the only goal. Jesus desires fruit that remains and grows to maturity.
Therefore, whenever possible, build systems that attract people to not just attend your programs but to become fully participating members of your church.
To do this, you’ll need to think on two levels about your outreach events. Level one is coordinating and presenting the event itself; level two is the chain of events that draw people into community and a relationship with Jesus.
You will change the paradigm and approach of all your church’s event-planning if you measure an event’s success not by how many pre-believers show up for it, but by how many of them become regularly attending members of your church six to nine months afterward.
We try to refine this process every year, and every time we do, we see a higher percentage of unchurched families return, give their lives to Christ and join the church.
This spring, a family walked up to my wife and said, “We came for VBS last summer. Now we’re back for church!” It took them nine months, but today they are now fully engaged Christ-followers, growing in their faith and looking forward to inviting friends to this year’s VBS.
Now is the time to implement some or all of these strategies to attract new Vacation Bible School families to your church. Which ones will be easy to do this year?
Bessings on you, your VBS team, and the new families in your church!
- 13 Things to do Now to Attract Newcomers in the Fall
- 9 Dynamic Ways to Widen your Church’s Front Door
Start Here to learn more about the resources available for you at PastorMentor.