It’s Messy—But Worth It


VBS has broadened, expanded, and doesn’t fall into a specific formula any more. In fact, some churches no longer offer Vacation Bible School, and Wednesday night programming encompasses the whole family instead. Others have morphed VBS into a summer daycamp. If you’re looking for a late-summer alternative, a summer addition to keep kids engaged, or wondering if you could DIY, keep reading.

Arts Camp

St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Denver, Colorado, switched from traditional Vacation Bible School to “Arts Camp” a few years ago and they haven’t looked back. A day at Arts Camp starts with all children gathering for songs and games plus Bible study, which relates to each year’s theme. The children are then divided into classes for art, which is later displayed for the whole church to enjoy; music, where children might learn to play a Native American flute or compose their own song; or drama, where campers learn from activities, such as role-play.

Christina Clark, the church’s Family Minister, says their Arts Camp is not crafts-based; rather, it’s centered on projects that give children an opportunity to go through a true artistic process. “It’s messy,” she concludes, but worth it to see the creativity that comes to the surface.

Creation—A Form of Worship

“One thing I love about our art projects is that no two ever come out exactly the same,” she smiles. “This is of course a wonderful entry into the idea that God created each one of us in His image, yet none of us is the same as any other . . . that we each have our own special gifts and talents, given to us by our Creator, and that creation is a form of praise and worship.”

Currently, there are more non-parish registrants, but “in the end, it looks like it will be about fifty-fifty,” Clark says. “People in our community seem to appreciate that this camp is ‘gently faith-based, with an emphasis on social justice’ which is how I describe it in the flyers I post around the neighborhood.”

Joyful Conversation and Laughter

Christ Episcopal Church and Community Reformed Church (Manhasset, New York), hold a combined arts camp instead of VBS. The churches’ director of spiritual formation, Lesley Mazzotta, authored a post on Key Resources, a blog from Virginia Theological Seminary’s Center for the Ministry of Teaching. “Using structured activities and free exploration, along with joyful conversation and laughter, we encourage imagination and curiosity, expand the art of collaboration, and inspire self-confidence, authenticity, and personal growth,” she writes.

Mazzotta says kids at their camp participate in arts and crafts, painting, drawing, collages, and sometimes even use trash to celebrate the world through creativity. “Everything was included as we explored how to care for and live more fully in this remarkable world knowing that we are God’s greatest creation,” she explains.

How Hard Could It Be?

Children’s ministry directors who stick with traditional VBS are sometimes tempted to create their own curriculum. How hard could it be, after all? Before you jump on that bandwagon, you might want to read what Children’s Ministry Magazine has to say. They compiled advice from those who tried to create their own VBS program with less than fruitful results and shared the six main reasons why it might not be such a good idea in an article titled, “Why Not Write Your Own?”

Perhaps one of the most important bits of shared wisdom stressed that children’s ministers may have great writing skills and years of experience with children, but those valuable qualities most often don’t translate into effective curriculum creation. “Think about it,” the article states. “Would you want every history teacher in your schools writing their own textbooks? That’s best left to professionals.”

Although summertime offerings are all over the board, two things are universal: An abundant opportunity exists to reach kids with the message of God’s love, and the prayers of many will ask that something the children learn or experience sticks with them forever and ever. Amen to that.

She Wrote the Book on It

Christina Clark, a family minister from Denver who organizes a popular and effective Arts Camp featured in the same article, has had so much success with her summer program that she’s written a book about it. Arts Camp releases in October and includes everything Christina has learned about what it takes to put together a thriving program that combines Bible study and artistic endeavors.

Clark says that even if a church doesn’t want to veer away from their classic VBS program, elements of Arts Camp can be woven into whatever theme kit is chosen. “A church could pick and choose specific art projects, or music selections from the book to add to their VBS,” she says. “Or they could use the Arts Camp model to expand on a VBS.”

She also encourages small churches in small communities to consider Arts Camp. “Flexibility is key no matter what size camp, parish, or town you have,” she explains. “Two to three parishes could combine beautifully to create an ecumenical arts camp. The biggest challenge would be in finding enough people to create a good team, but the book lists many ways to search and find artists to make your camp successful.”

“My hope is that the book can be a resource that’s usable in a variety of situations, from creating a full arts camp to providing supplemental material for any other ministry or activity of the parish.”

Click here to pre-order your copy of Arts Camp by Christina Clark.

Judy Bumgarner is a freelance writer in Nashville, Tennessee. She also works at Brentwood United Methodist Church in the church’s Caring Ministry.