Erin Gordon discovers creative ways to keep teens involved during Vacation Bible School.
“They’re too old for VBS.” “They’ll get bored during the games and crafts.” Have you heard these comments when talking about including the teens in your Vacation Bible School (VBS)? Knowing that some teens might get bored doing some of the activities of the main VBS program, my church found a different way to involve them. Community service. And while community service may not sound exciting, both the teens and the community have been blessed.
Four years ago, I was asked to help lead the teen program of Belleville’s VBS and take them to different areas in the community to do service projects. It has been a learning process, determining how much of the main program to involve the teens in so that they still feel like part of the group. Everyone stays in the sanctuary to watch and participate in the opening program, sing the songs, and learn the Bible verses.
When the groups divide for their stations, that is when we go outside for our worship thought, which correlates with what the younger children are learning in the main program. Then we pile into vehicles and go to our service locations such as churches to help set up for their food banks, thrift stores to help organize their clothes, businesses to deliver hand sanitizer and GLOW tracts, community centers to help with gardening, and a homeless shelter to read to children. We’ve also joined up with Sleep in Heavenly Peace to deliver beds to children in need.
My first year, we had ten teens in our group. We felt blessed to have so many wanting to come to VBS and be willing to do community service, but the Lord didn’t stop there. Our numbers have continued to grow. This year, we had 28-33 teens every day reading to children, building beds, baking cookies, and filling food baskets.
This was Selah Fox’s first year with us. She says, “I loved how all the youth could enjoy spending time with each other while doing good things for the community. It’s a great way to make new friends and, at the same time, do something purposeful.” When I called places asking if we could volunteer, they were amazed at how big our group was. They asked how we convinced so many teens to do community service and I told them, “We didn’t. They just keep inviting their friends.” Every day, someone brought a new friend. Peyton Anderson shares, "Going to the teen program was a good opportunity to help out the community and get closer to Jesus." Not all of these teens and their friends are Adventist, but they saw a part of Jesus as they ministered to the needs of others.
Watching these youth was not only a blessing to those we helped but also an encouragement to our adult volunteers. As our number of teens grows each year, the number of drivers we need grows. They don’t always know the impact this program has on everyone involved, but by the end of the week, they are looking forward to joining us again next year.
We need to keep our teens involved in the church by reaching them at their level. Their interests and desires are changing but that does not mean church is not for them. Some of the teens chose to stay back and help with the younger children. Isaac Acosta said, “During my time volunteering at the Belleville VBS, many memories came rushing back to me on how I used to be one of the little kids running through the many stations. I remembered my time as a child being so invested in all the lessons I had yet to learn about Jesus. I missed the sensation I had while listening to the Bible stories given by Aunt Stella. Overall, I just realized the importance that those experiences had on me growing up.” He now wants to help other children have a positive experience at VBS and with Jesus just like he did when he was their age.
I encourage you to find ways to include your teens and youth in ministry. Do they want to help lead the younger children? Do they like gardening, building, or baking? Are they good with technology or can they design things? Do they like organizing? Inquire about their interests and include them in your events, including VBS.