ALBUQUERQUE (BNM) – Churches across the state are preparing for one of the biggest community outreach opportunities of the year. The Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s Vacation Bible School Training Tour took place March 28–April 27, comprising six individual training sessions at six churches in Farmington, Artesia, Albuquerque, Las Cruces, Portales and Ruidoso. The Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s director of children’s ministry, Krista Peterson, said a combined total of about 400 attended the training sessions. She said holding training sessions in several areas around the state allows more VBS volunteers to receive adequate training.
Back in January, Peterson took a team of 16 to a LifeWay VBS training session in Fort Worth, Texas, that equipped Peterson’s team to train churches during the BCNM Training Tour. According to Peterson, LifeWay has used this system of VBS training for at least 20 years. “They teach teachers to teach teachers,” Peterson said. VBS Training Tour attendees were primarily children’s ministry coordinators and leaders for VBS classes, but some churches brought their entire VBS volunteer team to the sessions. Peterson began sessions by leading a “worship rally,” a time where attendees learned this year’s VBS theme “In the Wild” and its corresponding music and Bible verse (John 20:31). Following the rally, attendees split into groups to receive training in teaching music, missions, recreation, crafts, and Bible classes for various age groups. The Farmington, Albuquerque and Las Cruces sessions also provided Spanish training.
According to Peterson, the trainings emphasized using VBS activities to plant the Gospel rather than just for having fun, saying “everyone is a Bible teacher” when they volunteer. To her, a successful week of VBS activities begins with a church focused on pointing the children to Jesus, and proper training helps them to do it. “People at churches can pick up a book and they can get the nuts and bolts of VBS ... but going to a training energizes and excites people to do VBS,” Peterson said. She described each session as a “boost” to get churches excited to serve their communities. This excitement, in turn, increases the volunteers’ intentionality in reaching kids and families, she said.
“[VBS] is the largest evangelistic outreach that we do in the state,” Peterson said. She cited LifeWay Research’s book, “It’s Worth It,” saying most people both inside and outside the church have a positive attitude toward VBS – the research indicates that, if asked, nearly 80% of parents would send their child to VBS. “It continues to be a great means of reaching people and families for Christ,” she said.
Peterson mentioned First Baptist Church, Cloudcroft’s, VBS sessions have been particularly effective in reaching the community. Their Children’s Ministry Coordinator Cynthia Evans said one reason for this is that they schedule their sessions for Tuesday through Saturday in the daytime, as opposed to Monday through Friday; this makes it easier for parents to attend the parent program and family outreach events during the week. To promote VBS, Evans began announcing the dates to the students in FBC’s “Kids Klub” children’s ministry as early as January. The church also handed out fliers and rubber snakes at the public schools to promote the “In the Wild” theme. Now, the church sees about 95 to 100 kids in attendance each year with 40 volunteers, half of whom are youth leaders. Evans said the church provides transportation to kids from the surrounding community – including Alamogordo – so they can attend VBS. “It’s easy to make the schedule work for us, but it’s really about the kids,” said Evans.
Evans was among the 16 who attended the January LifeWay VBS training. “It really gave me a huge jump-start,” she said. She took “at least 90%" of her staff to the BCNM Tour, and she said they came in “so prepared and excited” for VBS as a result of the training. Evans described FBC’s VBS as a “community VBS,” in that churches of other denominations assist in the operation by providing snacks, lunches or other materials. “It shows the kids that all the churches can work together for a good cause,” said Evans. “It’s just such a good example.” FBC looks forward to VBS every year. Evans believes it is the hardest week of the year, but it is also the most rewarding week.
Kristen Geary, the children’s ministry coordinator for Bethel Baptist Church, Alamogordo, also attended the January training session in Fort Worth. This was her second time helping lead the BCNM Tour sessions. This year, she led snack preparation and recreation for the Albuquerque, Artesia and Las Cruces sessions, having taught crafts last year. Geary said she enjoys having a “preview of what’s to come” when she attends the LifeWay training. She said LifeWay provides many resources to VBS volunteers, including snack and recreation ideas related to the theme. “It’s very out of my comfort zone, but I enjoyed it,” she said about leading the training. Geary said “meeting new people” and “helping them get excited about VBS” was her favorite part of the Training Tour.