This post appears on the Center for Renewal blog...
Vacation Bible School...Day Camp...Summer Church School...
No matter the name, it's likely your church does some form of extended Christian education for children for a week or two in the summer months. For many churches VBS serves two purposes -- (1) A summer highlight while the church takes a break from Sunday School, and (2) a community outreach program (a.k.a. "cheap daycare"). A church can use the VBS machine for evangelism purposes, if they go about it the right way.
Here are my 5 suggestions for using VBS as an evangelism tool:
Declare the two purposes equally important. If your VBS is really just an extension of Sunday School - or, even worse, an end of the year celebration - the visitors will feel awkward and excluded. In the same way, if your VBS abandons your congregational identity for the sake of the visitor, the children who attend will have a disjointed experience from all their other church involvement. VBS is a both-and situation.
Get the word out. This requires creativity that goes beyond a newsletter announcements or a colorful sign in the church yard. It also means doing quality communication with a specific group. If you invite the whole town, you've cast your net too wide. Pick a demographic that makes sense and is attainable, and figure out how to connect with that population. Have senior high youth distribute information / registration forms on a Sunday afternoon. Allow on-line registration through your church's website. Offer a financial discount to non-members. Post registration information in local shops and businesses. Even bulk mailings to a specific zip code can work (if you have the money).
Have an Open House / Kick Off. Invite children, parents, older siblings, and neighbors to the church the night before VBS. Introduce the pastors and VBS volunteers. Sing some of the songs you're planning to teach during the week. Talk about the theme of the week and highlight a few things going on in the life of the congregation. Serve a free meal and allow casual fellowship opportunities for visitors to interact with church members. (This is also a great way to talk about the logistics of your VBS week, in case people don't read the communiques you've been sending.)
Communicate during the week. Post pictures of VBS on your website (only if parents have given permission). Send email updates, Twitter posts, or text messages to parents that share highlights of the day. This will help them engage their children when talking about VBS themes, songs, and activities. It also opens the door for visitors to ask additional questions about your church.
Follow up in the weeks to come. Do another "y'all come" event a few weeks after VBS. Use a video projector to show a movie on the church wall...have an outdoor worship service...hold a Family Game Night...decorate a float in the 4th of July parade. Invite everyone who participated in VBS to attend. If you're not up for another big event, consider sending a photo CD of all the pictures you took during the week. Inform visiting households of your Sunday School ministry or other children / youth / family events. Give them information; not expectations.