The History of Vacation Bible School

The History of Vacation Bible School

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It’s the siren call of summer.  The epic event of the season.

Vacation Bible School.

Where did it come from?  And where is it headed?

History of Vacation Bible School

The year was 1894.  A Sunday school teacher, Mrs. D.T. Miles felt she was too limited in her time to teach the Bible to children, so she began a daily Bible school during the summer.  This school lasted four weeks and enrolled forty students.

Eliza Hawes was next up to bat.  She was the director of the children’s department at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City, who started an “Everyday Bible School” for slum children rented the only place available—a saloon—to run a Bible school for six weeks during the summer in 1898. Included in her daily Bible school were music, Bible Stories, Memory verses, games, crafts, drawing, cooking, and more.  Hawes continued her efforts for seven years.  By the time she retired from this kingdom work, she supervised over seven separate schools.

Dr. Robert Boville became aware of the Hawes’ summer program and recommended it to other Baptist churches. Boville established a handful of summer schools which were taught by students at the Union Theological Seminary. During one summer, one thousand students were enrolled in five different schools. In 1923, he began to promote VBS internationally and founded the World Association of Vacation Bible Schools.

If Boville is responsible for establishing VBS as a movement, Standard Publishing takes the credit for popularizing it. The publisher created a full-scale VBS program in 1923, divided it by grade level in 1948, introduced a single-theme concept in 1952, and by 1987, offered more than 120 tools for churches wanting to run a VBS. In 1998, the publisher reported that more than 5 million children attended VBS programs every year.

(Information found at Wikepedia)

Tiny Tots

What Does it Look Like Today?

Nowadays, Vacation Bible Schools litter the nation, popping up at almost every church each summer.  We call it our “big outreach event”, but is it really serving its purpose?  Many churches have tweaked the programs to make it more outreach friendly.  Some churches are scrapping it all together to provide VBS Alternative activities.  When you mainly draw kids from other churches and the children of the workers, you have to ask, “Is this really want we want our big event to be?”

When Vacation Bible School began, it was an intense program – four to six weeks of full time Bible learning.  And the school was usually smack dab in the middle of kids who didn’t regularly attend church.  Now we generally get the kids for 2 hours for four or five days.  During that time, we pack in crafts, contests, games, and hopefully some Bible learning too.  If you’re VBS is anything like mine, every night is a huge whirlwind, and I have to check my lesson book to remember the night’s theme!  Not good.

Which leads me to the question…

Has Vacation Bible School Reached It’s End?

Should we be looking for more effective ways of outreach?

What do you think?

Leave me a comment — I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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