What is Vacation Bible School?

Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a program for educating children about what the Bible has to say in a fun and engaging environment. The origins of VBS date back to the mid-1890s when a Sunday school teacher in Illinois felt that there simply wasn't enough time in Sunday school to teach the children the Bible. D.T. Miles was both a Sunday school teacher and a public educator who started a daily Bible school for the children during the summer of 1894. A few years later, in 1898, Virginia Sinclair Hawes started a daily Bible School in a New York Beer Garden of all places (Daily Progress, Friday June 27, 1958 (virginia.edu), p. 22). Hawes was the director of the children's department at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City, but her hometown was Charlottesville, Virginia, where there is a plaque to commemorate her efforts in New York.

Several years later, Robert Boville from the Baptist Mission Society recommended the program Hawes started to other Baptist churches. He established several summer Bible schools which were taught by the students from Union Theological Seminary. He also founded the World Association of Daily Vacation Bible School in 1922. In 1923, Standard Publishing produced the first printed version of the VBS curriculum which contained lessons and material for a five-week program which included kindergarten, primary school, and junior school courses.

There have been other similar programs over the years, though they don't typically fall under the title of Vacation Bible School. For example: Dr. Latham of Chester, Pennsylvania instituted a five-week program that lasted four hours per day, and in 1912 they had nearly seven hundred students enrolled. Latham's program was through the Presbyterian church.

Today many churches from different denominations hold some type of summer Bible school or "camp" for children. It usually lasts for a week and is organized around a specific theme (such as space, the Old West, farm life, etc.). Children come for a few hours each day, hear Bible lessons, sing songs, participate in games, make crafts, eat snacks, watch or participate in skits, and the like. The theme and activities all relate to a main biblical truth being communicated, and often there is a gospel presentation at some point in the week. Often children from the church are encouraged to invite their friends, and churches might advertise the VBS to the broader community as well. VBS can be a great evangelistic outreach to children and families who might not otherwise hear the gospel or attend church.

There are several publishers who create curriculum and materials for VBS. Group Publishing for example, has a wide array of offerings from starter program kits to Spanish kits and all of the extra items to make the experience more engaging. Some churches decide to create their own curriculum.

The purpose of Vacation Bible School is to create an engaging environment for children of varying age groups to learn the doctrinal truths of the Bible. As mentioned, it can also be a good way for local churches to engage with members of the community who would not otherwise come to church. Many people have been saved as a result of a summer VBS. That being said, it is, of course, always wise to ensure that the core doctrinal beliefs and values of any church or VBS program in which you want your children to participate are biblically sound.

Related Truth:

Does the Bible say anything about Sunday school?

Does the Bible say anything about youth ministry?

What outreach ministries should a church have?

Does the Bible say anything about the evangelization of children?

Are some children too young to ask for salvation? Can a 3 or 4 year old truly believe?

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