Published May 30, 2023
VICTORVILLE—Brant Jones serves in vocational ministry in Alabama. But he might not be there if a church in Southern California hadn’t used Vacation Bible School (VBS) to help launch him into Christian service.
Jones was a teenager at The Gate Church in Victorville, 80 miles northeast of Los Angeles when leaders tapped him to serve among the congregation’s VBS workers. That led to further ministry service as a young adult and, finally, a leading role in children’s ministry before being sent out.
Jones is one of approximately a dozen young adults launched into vocational ministry from The Gate over the past two decades. For some, VBS was the launching pad.
VBS director Tammy Howard works at “keeping [teenage VBS workers] on task and not enjoying social time,” she said. But using them as leaders is worth it “because we are called to make disciples. It’s vital that we train up the next generation.”
The congregation averages 75-100 kids in VBS annually. Last year, they had 12 youth serving as workers in roles like game leader, classroom assistant, registration worker, and arts and crafts helper. Those roles introduce teens to serving and leading through their church. For The Gate, VBS is more than an evangelistic outreach. It’s a disciple-making laboratory for teenagers.
VBS has long been a popular and successful outreach among Southern Baptist churches. Six in 10 Americans went to VBS growing up, according to Lifeway Research. Two-thirds of parents plan to send their kids to VBS, even if they skip church themselves.
The Gate, which averages 300 in Sunday worship, recognizes the outreach power of VBS. They record commitments to Christ and baptisms through the annual event. But along the way, they realized its leadership development potential as well. The California Southern Baptist Convention partnered with them to tap that potential last year through an evangelism grant that helped fund VBS.
It worked. Just ask an eighth-grader named Eddie.
“We just saw him really stepping up and out,” Howard said. By the end of the week, “we recognized that Eddie is somebody we need to watch. I could really even see him being a children’s pastor one day.”
A high schooler named Madyson was another VBS success story. She and her mom began attending The Gate two years ago. Early in her time there, she asked to work at VBS. Howard was reluctant but said yes.
“At the beginning of the week, I think she was here for the good-looking teenage boys,” said Howard, wife of pastor Randy Howard. “But by the end of the week, I could see such a difference in her.”
Madyson worked in VBS again last year. She also recommitted her life to Christ and enrolled in an intensive discipleship program.
Of course, using youth as VBS workers comes with challenges. In addition to the need for reigning in socializing, they cannot be background checked like adult VBS workers. Yet with appropriate policies and precautions in place, teens can be a huge asset, Howard said. She urged other churches to recruit more youth as VBS workers.
“When we look at the Great Commission, too many times we stop at seeing people saved,” Howard said. “But the thrust of the Great Commission is to make disciples. How do you make disciples? Even by their mistakes. [Teenagers] are going to make a lot of mistakes. They’re going to need a lot of oversight.”
Yet “I don’t know how we can’t” use them. “When else are they going to learn?”