“It went really well” was an understatement from Jamie Rhodes, director of Christian Education and Youth at Chambersburg (Pa.) Church of the Brethren. In fact, the congregation’s virtual vacation Bible school (VBS) was a smash hit, connecting with close to double the children and families than in a usual year. “We were tickled pink,” she said.
Because of the pandemic, the church decided to take its annual VBS online rather than holding it in-person. The theme was “Rocky Railway” focused on how Jesus’ power “pulls us through difficult things in our lives,” said Rhodes. She and the others involved in planning and leading the VBS–Nicholas Wingert, Ali Toms, and Kathie Nogle–used a published curriculum that included pre-recorded video elements, but also did their own recordings of themselves leading various portions of each of the five days of online sessions.
To publicize the VBS, they got the word out through all sorts of means: information shared with church members, fliers and letters sent to previous VBS attendees, a mailing to nearby churches, an effort to reach out to organizations that serve the community with free meals and food distributions, handing out fliers at food distributions, phone calls to people who had registered in previous years, and Facebook posts advertising the event. Rhodes noted how effective and inexpensive it was to “boost” those Facebook posts.
The online sessions and videos were made available on Facebook and the church’s website. In addition, the church distributed take-home bags with activities for children to do at home. To receive take-home bags, families had to register online.
The results were amazing, Rhodes said. The VBS logged an average of 150 Facebook views each day, and some days had more than 200. They distributed 94 take-home bags, most during a drive-through pick-up time at the church but also mailing a good to families outside of the area including in four different states. More than 60 percent of the families receiving take-home bags were new to the church.
Compared to the congregation’s usual Bible school attendance of 50-some children, the virtual VBS was a huge success. However, it wasn’t easy. With the COVID-19 restrictions in place, Rhodes said the committee “really struggled” with how to do a summer Bible school. They worried that some people would be afraid to try an online event. They were thankful, however, for encouragement from the Christian Education Commission and the permission given by the church board to try something new.
“We really trusted in God,” Rhodes said. “To reach 94 kids, that’s awesome. I’m hoping that this brought families together.”
Go to www.brethren.org/Newsline to subscribe to the Church of the Brethren Newsline free e-mail news service and receive church news every week.