Children on summer holidays usually have a lot of free time and parents often welcome any diversion to occupy them as the summer wears on, especially if it is “educational” in nature, or it captures their attention. The opportunity to conduct children's meetings outdoors is well worth trying. Summer weather in most places is usually suitable for being outdoors, and there is no need to transport children if there are children in the area.
Another important consideration is the development of interest in young believers for gospel work. What better way to spend a summer's day than to be involved in bringing the gospel to others, and it could result in expansion of the children’s work and blessing for the assembly. Young people should seek the fellowship and support of their elder brethren before embarking on any gospel work, and in turn, elder brethren should encourage any initiative shown by young people in whom they have confidence.
In 2010, the Victoria Drive assembly in Vancouver tried this in an outdoor basketball court of a housing complex close to the hall. This resulted in contact with a large family that continue to come to the Sunday School, so it gave encouragement to try it again.
In 2011, the work expanded to two city parks, with a week in each one. The response was encouraging, and the weather cooperated so that no day had to be cancelled. Again, new children were acquired for the Sunday School.
In 2012, young brethren and sisters felt they could handle four week-long series in four parks over July and August. Three were in the evening and one in the afternoon. It was wonderful to see some parents listening to the gospel who had never before been in the Gospel Hall. Again, the weather was phenomenal. Between the four efforts, some 179 new contacts were made, with a few of these becoming regular attenders at Sunday School.
Public parks would seem to be an obvious choice for most places. It would be wise to check with the parks department about regulations for public gatherings in case a permit is required. It is unlikely a permit is required for a small group as long as the area chosen does not interfere with any scheduled event.
Choosing the location is critical. It would be wise to scout for an area that is frequented by children. The nicest park may not necessarily yield the best response. It may also be a consideration to go to an area where your assembly already has contact with children. These could form a core group of attendees who would in turn encourage friends to come.
Other venues that could be considered are school grounds, or common areas in housing developments, both of which would likely require prior approval.
To make a VBS effort appealing to children it will require some effort and creativity. If an assembly has members available during the day, a morning or afternoon session could be possible. If not, evenings would result in more help from those who work during the day.
It was decided that the VBS should have a theme or focus, the same for all four efforts. This helped in the choice of verses and messages, and also made it easier for the children to learn systematically, to make connections and better retain what was learned.
Each session was 1-1/2 hrs. in length, Monday through Friday. Activities were organized for the children, and contrary to usual practice, it worked well to have activities immediately after singing and praying with the children. Once they had run off their energy, they were quite contented to participate in the quiz, learn a verse; then listen attentively to the message. Each session concluded with refreshment.
On the Saturday afternoon following the Friday session, a barbecue was held to which children and parents were invited. There was no activity planned for this day, but the opportunity was not missed to give another gospel message.
Whatever equipment is used should not require a moving van. Everything should be portable or collapsible. Basic equipment to consider is:
2. Tarp - this is used for children to sit on in case the grass is damp, but it also defines the exact place where you want the children to sit. If it is large, it can be folded to suit the size of the group (have children facing away from distractions as much as possible).
3. Folding canopy - 10 x10 or 10 x15. This is not a necessity, but the main advantage is that it provides a focal point for the event which conveys to passers-by the perception that something is happening here. However, it could have several other uses: 1) shelter for a small group in case of a shower. 2) a source of shade in the absence of trees or buildings. 3) a cover over the registration table. 4) a backdrop for the speaker - if used with one side attached, it can serve as visual barrier for the children or to attach visuals to.
4. An easel - for chorus sheets, white board, flannel graph, etc.
5. Additional equipment may be required to support whatever activities have been planned - eg. sports or crafts.
On the Saturday that preceded each VBS week, about 600-700 small, colorful invitations were distributed in the areas immediately adjacent to the park.
Surprisingly, for Vancouver, a session has never had to be cancelled for rain for three summers, although on a couple of occasions, a tarp was erected to ward off a shower. It would be wise to keep an eye on the daily and log-range forecast, and have a contingency plan in case of rain, or to make it known that each session is weather permitting.
Admittedly, there may be some climates that are not conducive to being outdoors. The weather could be too hot like Tombstone or too cold like Tuktoyuktuk. However, most parts of North America have some part of the day that would be pleasant enough for this kind of activity.
What Measures Success?
Yes, it would be wonderful to see a child saved during a week of VBS, but maybe our efforts are only part of series of things God will use to reach a soul. Results cannot always be seen, and sometimes results are delayed. "… that both he that soweth and he that reapeth may rejoice together." John 4:36
Don't be unduly excited or discouraged by numbers. The largest session this summer was over 100 children and parents, but for the last week, there were about 12 children plus two or three adults. It may have been a wrong choice of location, but what if one of those 12 children, or a parent, was saved as a result?
Victoria Drive Gospel Hall (click to email) Vancouver, BC