Sunday, June 30, 2013

Vacation Bible School and Worship

Today, we have a worship service that's part traditional (the Eucharist), part church camp, part Vacation Bible School.  Once I would have avoided this kind of service.  Now, I find myself looking forward to it.  Why the change?

Part of it is that I'm older and more tolerant (please, please, let tolerance ever sprout and bloom more brightly in me!).  Once, the cute kid aspect would have been a real turn off for me.  Now, I'm happy to be in a church that has more than 5 children.

Part of my change is that I've gotten ever more involved in Vacation Bible School, and so, I like having a worship service that highlights what we've been doing.  And like every good ceremony, it's good to have a ritual that helps us with closure.

But something more essential has shifted in me.  I have been to too many regular services which are so dreary.  I have been to too many services where three of us in the congregation sing boldly and everyone else looks uncomfortable. 

In short, the VBS kids today are likely to be fully involved, and I'm looking forward to that energy.  The VBS kids are likely to be enthusiastic.  Sadly, I can't always count on enthusiasm in our regular services.

Last year's VBS Sunday was the start of our Worship Together service, our experiment where we used a combination of curriculum from Faith Inkubators, art activities that we've dreamed up, and an assortment of materials.  We've tried to create an experiment that combines worship, teaching, creativity, and community.   It's a service that can sometimes feel more like Vacation Bible School than worship.

Here's the thing:  many Sundays, I go to the 9:45 Worship Together service, and then I go to the more traditional 11:00 service.  And I've come to prefer the 9:45.  It feels more engaged.  It's a smaller group; it's harder to hide.  And because of that, it feels more like a community than the late service.

Our VBS this year has been unusual, in that almost 70% of the children aren't from our church.  Will they return to us after this week?  I'm glad that if they do, we have a service that might appeal to them.  It's not a huge jump from VBS to our Worship Together service.

The chasm between VBS and regular church is huge and deep.  We might spend some time wondering why that is and how to fix it.  I've met many a child who loves, loves, LOVES VBS.  I don't meet many children who feel that way about church.  I know of several families who spend the summer going from one church's VBS, a different church each week, because the children love it so much.  They don't spend the rest of the year going to church.

And we wonder why most mainline churches are seeing shrinking memberships. 

We talk about capturing children while they're young, whether through church camp, VBS, or groups of various sorts.  Most of us don't talk about making church more like those experiences which capture the hearts of children.  Why are we so resistant to that?

I'm not saying we have to abandon our traditions.  Most churches have room for more than one service, after all.  Keep the ossified service for those who feel that church must be done a certain way.

But let's spend some time thinking about how worship would look if we did it the way it's done in Vacation Bible School.  Let's try to recapture some of the innovations of campus groups.  Let's look to church camps who do amazing community building in a very short time. 

What can we learn?

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