“It’s already time to start recruiting VBS volunteers,” I thought, with a sigh and a heavy heart. It wasn’t always this way. There was a time when I loved thinking about vacation Bible school … planning the theme and kicking off a week of excited kids and enthusiastic volunteers. How did I come to dread this impending recruitment surge? And why was my heart so heavy?
Then it occurred to me: The same parents who do everything else feel guilted into running VBS. And the same kids who come to every other church program are the ones who will come to VBS. Vacation Bible school had become just another ministry tradition that was teaching the same kids the same Bible stories. There had to be another way.
Meanwhile, I was becoming more and more aware that the neighborhood had changed drastically. What had been a bedroom community of Washington, D.C., commuters had become an immigrant enclave of Spanish-speaking families. I had prayed about ways to connect with the community, and had learned that several fluent Spanish speakers had recently joined our congregation. How did God want us to use these resources? What could connect our mostly Anglo congregation with the surrounding Hispanic community? I was constantly asking for God’s guidance, when I found myself driving by a soccer field one day on the way to the grocery store. Soccer! All of a sudden, it hit me. This is what can bring these neighborhood kids together with the church kids! And with that insight, Grace Area Neighborhood Arts & Soccer was born. GANAS, which means “desire” in Spanish, would be an outreach-focused kids’ summer camp.
All of a sudden, I was excited about the summer program. We would develop a program that would start in the late afternoon with kids choosing the soccer clinic or art clinic. The clinics would be followed by a free meal for the kids and their families. Following the meal, we would offer a high-energy gathering with energizers, music, photo slide show, silly games and a message.
We recruited several athletic adults and teens to lead up the soccer clinic, and several of them worked local soccer contacts to develop a plan for soccer drills and games. We rented the field at the closest elementary school for the clinic. We recruited an elementary school art teacher in our congregation to develop an art clinic that offered creative fine arts projects instead of canned craft kits. We recruited a dinner team who planned and implemented family-style meals. We recruited an outreach team to connect with the two nearest elementary schools’ “Spring Family Nights” and set up information booths with signup forms. Staffing those booths with fluent Spanish speakers from the church was key to beginning to build relationships and trust with these new families, who responded by entrusting us with their children for GANAS.
We found recruitment for GANAS much easier than for the old VBS. With vision and new energy came a flood of willing hands and hearts. GANAS required more volunteers than any previous VBS initiative, yet we found it easier to staff volunteer positions. We were able to engage a much larger percentage of our empty-nesters, young adults and youth.
GANAS was life-giving. It gave new life to a tired, repetitive program. It gave new life to a church that discovered it really could engage the community in meaningful ways. It gave new life to volunteers who were compelled by a vision of outreach with families in the neighborhood, and who were excited to be a part of something that would have real impact. It gave new life to a neighborhood that began to perceive Grace Presbyterian as a Hispanic-friendly church community. And it gave new life to this pastor, who was once again brought to her knees by the amazing power of God, “who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
SHANNON KISER was associate pastor at Grace Church, Springfield, Va., for 14 years. She is now director of the Training Centers for New Church Innovation, East; field staff for the Office of Church Growth, Presbyterian Mission Agency; and parish associate at Riverside Church, Sterling, Va.