By Susan LeDoux
VBS coordinator, Abby Monroe, and the team at Pearce Memorial Church, decided to kick things up a notch this year. After using Group Publishing VBS for almost 24 summers, they found a curriculum called “Mega Sports Camp.” There was one problem. Not every kid likes sports and neither does every volunteer.
“So we decided to take that curriculum, change it, and we called it Mega Kids Camp,” Monroe said. The main theme this year is about what it means to be on God’s team.
As they have done in the past, children and volunteers gather in the sanctuary for the opening and closing of each day’s VBS. However, this year the opening occurs after the 5 p.m. free dinner open to the children, parents, and volunteers.
“We still have the opening session where people come in. We do singing, dancing, and watch some videos. This time the Bible story is in the opening (session) so everyone sees it at the same time.”
Where previously the children would then rotate between Bible stories, games, crafts, and videos, this year, all but the preschoolers go off to a pre-selected activity for a half-hour.
“Some kids choose basketball all week, so they’re in basketball. Some kids chose karate, so they’re in karate. Some kids chose science. Some kids chose music and drama. Another one is camp games. Then we have art.”
After this, they break into small groups of three to seven, and gather with a leader, or “huddle coach,” for a 15-minute break. They discuss the Bible story they heard, what it means to be on God’s team, and whatever the theme is for that day.
“Yesterday our theme was ‘team means we, not me,’” Monroe said. “Today is ‘everybody deserves respect.’ The leaders will give their own story (about) when they had to give someone respect when maybe they didn’t want to. They talk about that with the kids, and how God loves them through that, and how God can help them with that. That’s the time when they really get to know their kids.”
Next they return to their activity for another 25 minutes.
At the daily closing, they sing and dance along with their mascot Percy, the peacock. They also see how much money they raised that day for their missions work. Pearce Church is a partner with a pre-school and church in Rwanda, called Nzige, to help build a sanctuary. “At the end, they will get to see how much they raised over the week. They have a lot of fun with that.”
Mega Kids Summer Camp is open to children who are, or will be, age four and up by September 1st. Monroe estimates the age of the kids this year is about that of 1st and 2nd graders. They separate the children’s groups by age, with the little ones rotating between activities due to their shorter attention spans.
Pearce has an on-going day care program, “Pearce for Kids,” that continues during the summer. Parents can join their children who have spent the day at Pearce for dinner and the VBS program.
Monroe explained that parents are in charge of their children until after dinner. While the children go off to their activities, parents have the option to go home or gather in the cafe for “Parent Camp.” They enjoy coffee and baked goods while discussing the evening’s topic.
“Last night… they talked about restoring families. They have a person each night to (lead the) talk. Wednesday’s is helping your kids with resiliency. Thursdays, is about self-care. Friday evening, the last night, parents can mingle in the cafe or go off to whatever tracks their children were in and see what they have been doing.
In comparing this year with last year, Monroe said perhaps they had many more adult volunteers than teen volunteers because VBS ran in the evening instead of the day.
“We have more adult one-on-one time with the kids than we used to, which is awesome. It changes it up a little,” Monroe said.
Enrollment this year was 120, when they usually have around 300 children. She does not see this as a problem at this point. She and her team are getting used to the new program themselves. They may or may not keep the program in the evening, but it seems to have worked well in getting more adult volunteers. Although they had almost one volunteer per child, there was plenty of work to go around. Each teacher needs an assistant. They need extras behind the scenes to greet parents or register walk-ins. They need nurses for sports injuries, technicians for sound and videos, not to mention photographers. “It’s just impactful, if not more so, to have fewer kids and (more) adults to really pour into them.”
If they did have 300 enrolled, they would contemplate some changes, such as offering more tracks, having children select their top three choices rather than one, or consider doing two weeks rather than one. Either way, it takes a committed church community to create a powerful VBS program.
Monroe’s message to the children last Sunday during “children’s moments” in the service was about community. Using basketball as an example, she pointed out that even with all the equipment, there is no game unless there are teams. She asked the children why they go to church, since we can pray, study the Bible, and sing hymns at home.
“Church is about welcoming new people into our community, whether they have their own church community, or they don’t. We want them to feel welcome and wanted; not just by us but by Jesus too. “
In the end, it is about “teaching kids that Jesus really wants us to work with him and work together. We’re hoping they will leave here knowing how much Jesus loves them and we love them too.”
To learn more about Pearce Memorial Church visit at www.pearcechurch.org.