At this point in the summer, most Florida Baptist churches have put vacation bible school in the books and are taking a well-deserved breather before planning for next year begins.
Not Ginger Owens at First Baptist Church Panama City, though.
“My burden starts as soon as VBS is over,” the minister of childhood education said. “If we don’t do a good job of follow-up then VBS has not been a success.”
Owens pulled off her 14th year of VBS at First Panama City with 500 children and 296 volunteers participating. Thirty percent of those enrolled were unchurched.
Those are numbers Owens likes to see.
At First Baptist Church in Naples, Renee Blain planned her very first VBS, which involved 936 children and 303 volunteers. Like Owens, Blain understands the importance of being intentional with the follow-up process and plans the week with the end result in mind.
“As families walk on our campus we realize this may be the only time they come,” Blain said. “We have to be intentionally loving them the way Jesus loved them.”
As a way of sustaining engagement with families, First Naples is offering a class for new believers and inviting each child who made a decision at VBS to come. Children must have at least one parent attend with them. By doing this, Blain ensures the children understand the decision they made and a parent who may have never heard the Gospel gets the opportunity to hear. This year 144 children received the invitation to attend.
“Some of these kids may never darken the doors of a church again so we need to give them the tools they need so the Holy Spirit can work,” she said.
Owens, at First Panama City, does it a little differently.
When the VBS registration of an unchurched child comes in, it is copied and set aside for follow-up. The Monday after VBS, those forms are then mapped by ZIP Code and distributed to volunteers who will go and visit the family and deliver a gift bag. Each bag contains a bible, the VBS CD and information about the church among other things.
The senior adults of the church purchase the bibles and CDs, and each bag is taken to a senior adult Sunday school class where it is prayed over before distribution the next day. This year Owens said 70 unchurched families were visited and around 15 percent of those indicated they were looking for a church home.
“No one turned us away,” she said.
The results she’s seeing are only reinforcing the fact that follow-up is key. The Sunday after VBS, three unchurched families attended Sunday school. Of the ten children baptized during their VBS celebration, five were unchurched.
“Bible school has always impacted kids but this year we’re seeing families that have been impacted,” she said.
The potential impact on families is what makes VBS one of the Southern Baptist Convention’s biggest evangelism efforts and churches that are intentional with follow-up are able to make that impact go even further.
Nicole Kalil is the Jacksonville-based reporter for the Florida Baptist Witness, the official news source of the Florida Baptist State Convention. She can be reached by phone at 904.596.3169 or via email at nicole.kalil@goFBW.com