Archives For VBS

White common daisy flower isolatedAs warm weather descended on San Francisco that year, so did the hippies, as many as 100,000 of them. The Haight-Ashbury District became ground zero for a festival that lasted for weeks: young people with flowers in their tresses singing and dancing and cavorting in public spaces, doing a little protesting of the Vietnam War, and smoking a lot of what their mothers wouldn’t approve.

They called it the ‘summer of love.’

Ironically, that summer in 1967 was also marked by fear and terror and rioting, as large sections of Detroit went up in flames just as Watts in Los Angeles had two years earlier. In Detroit, the violence that started after police raided an unlicensed bar ended with 2,000 buildings destroyed, more than 7,000 people arrested, over 1,000 injured, and 43 deaths. Free love on the West Coast, and unrestrained hate in the Midwest.

Here, 50 years later, we have witnessed another season of dichotomy, a tense summer of issues—and people—in conflict. The political tensions and threats of nuclear attack were topped by violent marches in Charlottesville that killed one young woman and revealed the breadth of a racial rift in America that few imagined existed.

As is 1967, the summer of 2017 was on some fronts a summer of hate. But from our vantage point, we can say, too, it was a summer of love.

There were stories in our pages that attested that: mission trips around the world where the love of Christ was shared. In downstate Cairo and Brazil and many other places, people received Christ as Savior. We saw children learn about Jesus at IBSA camps and Vacation Bible Schools everywhere.

And to cap it all, the eclipse. Carbondale was epicenter this time as millions from Oregon to South Carolina looked upward, many seeming to search for something beyond themselves. A famed Chicago weatherman wept on air for the beauty of nature. More important, Baptists in southern Illinois shared Christ, and lost people came to faith.

When they look back on the summer of 2017 to give it a name, no one will look at the protests and nuclear threats and political martial arts and call it ‘the summer of love.’ But seeing the totality of our Christian outreach this season, and the genuine outpouring from God’s heart, maybe we will.

-Eric Reed

Rites of summer: VBS

ib2newseditor —  July 17, 2017

Living Stones Community Church, Rockford

A woman pulling dandelions along the sidewalk in front of her house seems willing, even eager to take a break.

“Well,” she says, “the church is over there about a block,” pointing westward along one of the community’s few streets. “But the marker you’re asking about is right over there, waving a hand holding weeds southward.

“That’s where it really started, so that’s where they put the marker.”

It’s clear that Hopedale, Illinois is still proud of its place in history as the one-horse, no stop-light town that birthed an international movement: Vacation Bible School.

In the late spring of 1894, Mattie Pritchard Miles, wife of Hopedale’s Methodist minister, had a bold idea: take advantage of the summer break to teach otherwise idle children about the Bible. She planned a day of Bible teaching and activities “for all children of whatever church—or no church at all.” From the beginning, VBS has been about outreach. Perhaps that’s why its first organizer took the school outside the walls of her church and denomination.

The meeting place was on the grounds outside the elementary school, where the historical marker stands today, with the park next door.

Some 37 children showed up.

What’s even more remarkable is that Mrs. Miles didn’t hold a one-week VBS, or even two-weeks as some older people may remember. Her Vacation Bible School lasted 26 days over five weeks.

The 1894 school quickly became a model for churches and denominations everywhere. The big stone marker includes a time capsule that is to be opened in 2094, on the 200th anniversary of VBS.

In the meantime, proponents of the summertime discipleship ministry, and Southern Baptists in particular, still see its value for evangelism as well as discipling children (and adults). LifeWay reports that 25% of all baptisms in SBC churches come through VBS.

Consider these other 2015 statistics from LifeWay, which produces VBS curriculum especially for SBC churches.

• Every one person trained in VBS in SBC churches results in 1.1 salvation decisions.
• 10% of people enrolled in SBC VBS are unchurched.
• 2.7 million people enroll in VBS each year.
• 72,925 people each year accept Christ as Lord and Savior.
• 2,666 people commit their lives to church-related vocations through VBS.
• 56,386 people enroll in Sunday School/small group Bible study as a result of attending VBS.

Mrs. Miles lived 55 years after her first month-long experiment. By 1949, VBS was a well-established tradition that continues to reach children and families and to change lives today.

-Eric Reed

VBS Concept Metal Letterpress TypeIf you’ve ever planned a big event, you know how it feels when it’s over. All the work and energy and trial and error that went into planning and executing the project can be exhausting, and when it’s finally over, all that energy seems to fly out the window too.

But for church leaders, the end of an outreach event is only the beginning.

This is heavy on my heart as we enter Vacation Bible School season, and I’m reminded how crucial a church’s follow-up process is to their overall VBS strategy. That’s why I advise churches to recruit a follow-up director. His or her only job is to connect people from VBS or any other outreach with other people and opportunities at the church. Encourage the director to have their follow-up strategy before the first person ever walks in the door, including:

Effective registration. The follow-up director will likely work with other VBS leaders to accomplish this. The truth is, you can’t follow up with someone you can’t find. Make sure you have the full name and contact information for every person who attends your VBS. It’s important to know these things not only for follow-up, but in case you need to get in touch during VBS with someone related to the child.

Follow-up teams. Ask the director to recruit pairs or small groups of people who can make personal visits to families. The church I previously served sent our deacons two-by-two to follow up after VBS. We found in-person visits to be most effective, but some of our teams felt more comfortable making a call first to set up a time to visit.

Connection points. When our follow-up teams made their visits, they made it a point to take something that would forge a connection with the family. For example, one year the children decorated frames during VBS and we attached a calendar of church events for the deacons to deliver.

Above all, remember that a follow-up strategy doesn’t have to be complicated; it just needs to allow you to make significant contacts with people who otherwise may only encounter your church through one event. The goal of any VBS or outreach effort should be to connect unchurched people with the church for the purpose of expanding God’s kingdom. We can’t do that if we don’t follow up.

Jack Lucas is IBSA’s director of next generation ministry.

Pastor Brad Sloan baptizes his daughter, Delaney, at Dahlgren Baptist Church.

Pastor Brad Sloan baptizes his daughter, Delaney, at Dahlgren Baptist Church.

How did Dahlgren Baptist Church move from two baptisms in 2014 to 17 last year?

“I’ll give you the short answer: It’s all about Jesus,” said Pastor Brad Sloan.

His church is located in a small, predominantly Catholic village 15 miles southeast of Mt. Vernon, IL. “There were a few people who were like, man, I don’t know if you’ll ever see much growth there,” said Sloan, who was installed as pastor in August of 2014.

The church hasn’t yet seen massive growth, “but what we have seen are souls (saved).”

Dahlgren’s Awana program for children reaches kids in the community whose parents aren’t yet connected to the church. Last summer, the church held its first Vacation Bible School in 10 years, with 33 kids in attendance.

In 2015, Dahlgren Baptist Church hosted its first Vacation Bible School in 10 years.

In 2015, Dahlgren Baptist Church hosted its first Vacation Bible School in 10 years.

Through those outreach efforts and intentional Sunday school-based discipleship, Sloan is trying to inspire in his leaders a hunger for people to come to know Christ. In turn, the leaders challenge the students they’re discipling to examine what it means to have a relationship with Jesus.

“We’ve just had a lot of victory (in student ministry) when kids begin to be challenged: Hey, what do you believe about Christ?”

In 2015, the majority of Dahlgren’s baptisms were children (although the total also included a family and a grandmother, Sloan said). The kids are now participating in children’s church and youth activities, and are learning to share their faith. The church also works to engage parents as they come to pick up their children from church.

Sloan sees revival happening in his community, particularly in the schools, as students are being stirred to really live like Christ.

“There’s not one person in this little village that Jesus can’t impact,” he said, “and it’s up to us to introduce them to him.”

Five to thrive

Lisa Misner —  November 30, 2015

IBSA Annual MeetingSpiritual results aren’t always easy to measure. And they certainly can’t be humanly manufactured. But one metric that can be at least an indicator of God’s Spirit at work, and of thriving spiritual health in churches, is baptisms. Healthy churches should consistently see new believers born into the Kingdom of God and united into church fellowship.

For the past several years, IBSA churches have reported right around 5,000 baptisms per year. But when the 2014 Annual Church Profiles from IBSA churches were compiled earlier this year, the total had dropped to just over 4,500.

There were a few extenuating circumstances in 2014, and I hope the total will be back up this year. But this stable-to-declining baptism rate has led our staff at IBSA to ask, “Is there anything we should do differently?”

Those discussions led us to some research. And we discovered that, while only the Holy Spirit can convict people of their need for Christ, churches that consistently baptize new believers are often engaging in one or more of the following five, seed-sowing commitments.

Vacation Bible School. 43% of Americans come to Christ before age 13, and 64% before age 18. An evangelistic VBS is still one of the most effective ways to reach children, and their families, with the gospel.

Witness Training. While most born-again adults believe they have a responsibility to share their faith with others, only 52% have done so within the past year, and 31% say they “never” evangelize. Churches that are seeing people come to faith in Christ equip their members with a variety of strategies and tools for sharing their faith story. And they create an atmosphere of encouragement, accountability, and celebration within the church that makes it “normal” to talk about how and with whom members are sharing their faith each week.

Outreach Events. Some Christians are confrontational evangelists like Peter and Paul. But many are natural “bringers” like Andrew. Churches that baptize new believers regularly have worship services that are accessible and truly inviting to guests each week. But they also provide multiple outreach events throughout the year such as block parties, concerts, fall festivals, or even service projects. These give their members natural opportunities to invite friends and family to meet other Christians and feel welcome at church.

New Groups. Whether it’s a new Sunday school class, new home groups, or new ministries such as mother’s day out or men’s service group, new groups can give a church multiple settings in which personal, evangelistic relationships can grow. Each new group can be a new bridge across which the gospel may flow, and across which new believers can enter the Kingdom of God.

Evangelistic Prayer. According to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, more than 95% of those who accept Jesus as savior report that they were regularly prayed for by someone else for a significant amount of time prior to their salvation. An intentional, evangelistic prayer strategy may be the single most important commitment a church can make toward seeing people come to Christ. It is prayer that sensitizes the church’s heart toward specific lost people. And it is prayer that invites the Holy Spirit to be at work in their lives.

At the IBSA Annual Meeting this month, messengers were challenged to consider and commit to these five evangelistic actions. 146 of them did. During the coming year, our IBSA staff will be working in a focused way with these churches. If your church would like to be part of a regional cohort to focus on these areas, please contact us. We believe that churches that embrace these evangelistic commitments will thrive. And that just happens to rhyme with five.

Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association. Respond to his column at


These 5 commitments will change your church—and Illinois

“Build your kingdom here,” pleads the writer of the popular song by the Christian group Rend Collective. With phrases such as “heal our streets and lands” and “set your church on fire,” the chorus captures the desire for IBSA churches in the year ahead. And for those who will attend the 2015 IBSA Annual Meeting, the anthem is a follow-up to last year’s Concert of Prayer for spiritual awakening in Illinois and revival in our churches.

“I like the song for several reasons, but I think above all it’s the way the song lets me boldly ask God for things that I think are on His heart as well,” said IBSA Executive Director Nate Adams. “This song gives me a bold, evangelistic prayer that challenges me to ask God for what He wants.”

And it’s a good summary of the prayers at the upcoming Annual Meeting. “We will be asking God together to move mightily through our churches, yes for our own revival, but beyond that to draw lost people to Christ,” said Adams.

IBSA Annual MeetingThe Annual Meeting, set for Nov. 11-12 at First Baptist Church of Marion, focuses on evangelism and key commitments churches can make to reach lost people in their communities.

“When the dust settled at the end of 2014, IBSA churches reported over 500 fewer baptisms than in 2013,” Adams said. “That breaks my heart!”

One focus of last year’s Concert of Prayer was the growing number of non-Christian religions in our state, where more than 8 million of Illinois’ 13 million residents do not know Jesus Christ.

“There are now more Muslims in Illinois than Southern Baptists,” Adams points out, a fact he finds disturbing. “I know we cannot ‘manufacture’ spiritual results. But even as we beg God to “Build Your Kingdom Here,” we want to challenge churches to commit themselves to the kinds of simple, evangelistic activities that have proven year after year to be most effective in drawing lost people to Christ.”

Mark Emerson and the Church Resources Team have led the way in development of these commitments. “Our thinking in the development of the five commitments came from two ideas. We realized that 342 IBSA churches reported no baptisms last year, and another 100 report one baptism each.

“Then I heard the statement from LifeWay’s Jerry Wooley at the VBS preview event that 25% of all baptisms are directly related to Vacation Bible School. According to the 2014 Annual Church Profile data we had 432 IBSA churches that didn’t record a VBS.”

The two concepts came together for Emerson and his team. “I started thinking, if I was the new pastor in a church that hadn’t baptized anyone, what would I do in my first year that would lead to more baptisms?”

One obvious answer: take fuller advantage of Southern Baptists’ best evangelism opportunity.

“We are committed to helping these churches that haven’t held VBS recently plan one for 2016,” Emerson. “We believe if they will make VBS a priority it will yield baptisms.”

IBSA Annual MeetingAnd that commitment led to the full slate of five:

• Evangelistic prayer

• Witness training

• Expanded VBS

• New groups

• Outreach events

“David Francis, LifeWay’s Sunday School Director, shares that a new unit will bring (on average) 10 new people to a church in its first year,” Emerson said. “When the new unit keeps an evangelistic focus, a portion of these new attenders will make professions of faith and follow Christ in baptism.”

Adams, Emerson, and the Church Resources Team will present all five commitments in the Wednesday evening session at this year’s Annual Meeting.

The chapel area at FBC Marion will be set up as a resource room with large displays of “Building Blocks.” Look for the Lego-style blocks representing each of the five commitments.

How to prepare

“IBSA staff and resources are committed to coming alongside churches that make those commitments to help them in all five of those areas, and to link them to nearby churches that make those same pledges to renewed, zealous evangelism,” Adams said.

“I would invite those preparing to come to the Annual Meeting to simply ask God, ‘Who is within reach of our church that doesn’t know Christ yet?’ and ‘What could our church do to help them meet Jesus?’

“We can all grow complacent just going through the motions of our church routines week after week. I would hope that people would come to the Annual Meeting longing for God to turn them inside out into their communities. And I would hope they would leave the Annual Meeting on fire to join Jesus in seeking and saving the lost.”

Heading south

After three years in Springfield, the Annual Meeting is on the road again. “This will be the first time in several years that the IBSA Annual Meeting has been as far south as Marion,” Adams said. “I’m hoping that will make it more accessible to many churches in that region, before we stretch north to Chicagoland the following year. And Marion First Baptist hosting the meeting during their 150th anniversary year makes it even more special.”

FBC Marion is one of four IBSA churches celebrating their founding in 1865. While at the church, look for their historical display just inside the entryway.

Get the Annual Meeting and Pastors’ Conference schedules, hotel information, and more at

Thank you, Esther Eggley

Lisa Misner —  September 10, 2015

Esther Eggley(Editor’s note: Our friend and co-worker Esther Eggley shared a special thought with the IBSA staff recently. )

COMMENTARY | I have been struggling with feeling that the best of my life is past. Sometimes I wonder if anything I have done has been Kingdom worthy. In years past I have served as a youth department director, Bible study leader and mission trip sponsor, among other things.

(During one week in July), Facebook was a vehicle of encouragement to me. I have observed FB posts from former youth I had the privilege to work with who are now leaders. One post listed a concern about getting a building ready for VBS because in Okinawa they were expecting a major typhoon.

One gal was thrilled with the attendance of her VBS in Nevada. Another gal was highly excited with the events taking place at Glorieta, New Mexico, with her youth group from Texas. Two people were busy working here in Illinois with their VBS. Another was sharing her experiences from her VBS in Virginia. One fellow was busy with VBS in Ohio and another one in New Mexico.

Recently, I ran into a lady I had not seen for close to twenty years. I was happy to find out that she is very active in a Southern Baptist church in Nashville, Tennessee. Her sister’s family is very involved planting a church in Wyoming.

I’ve been encouraged and blessed with this information. I hope this does not come across as braggadocios, but I feel God gave me the privilege to serve him in some small way and that makes me happy. It is my hope that God has more for me to do in the future, but for a day or two I think I will just enjoy thinking about how these young lives are serving the Lord.

Esther reports her church, Chatham Baptist, witnessed the salvation of 9 children in VBS this summer.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:56).