When it Comes to Summer and Kids, Think Big!

Date Posted: 7/10/2014

Tomball UMC believes ‘if one Backyard Kids Club is good, five is much better!’ The church blitzed the community with simultaneous events this summer and ministry leader Summer Schiel hopes to ramp it up in an even bigger way next year.
With a name like Summer, it seems children’s ministry is a given! Tomball UMC children’s ministry leader Summer Schiel naturally loves summer, and recently took a Vacation Bible Sschool-type event “to the streets” of her growing community in five locations. “I learned of this new concept two years ago at the Children’s Conference for Pastors sponsored by the International Network of Children’s Ministry,” she says. “The concept seemed simple – laity host a small scale version of VBS in their backyards. Children that your church wouldn’t normally reach would be able to hear God’s word, and you would be able to reach families in neighborhoods that surround your church.”
She admits, “Every summer this is an absolutely hectic, crazy, exhausting, amazing, joyful week in the life a Children's Director, but so exciting for our church to step out on faith and follow a call that I felt God placed on my heart.” 
The first step was to find host sites. Summer recruited hosts with houses in neighborhoods loaded with children, and then began recruiting additional station leaders. Backyard VBS is a shortened version of a traditional, on-site VBS, so each site hosted a 2-hour VBS for five days during the same week. Adds Summer, “We mapped out each backyard so that there was a dedicated space for opening, story time, games, crafts, and closing. Each session was 30 minutes.”
Getting the Word Out
The Pre-Teen group hung 100 door hangers in each neighborhood 10 days before Backyard VBS started. “As we canvased neighborhoods,” she adds, “the 5th & 6th graders had a chance to visit with people and tell them about BYVBS and about Tomball UMC. It was a great opportunity for the children to evangelize in a supervised setting.”
The door hangers had the information about BYVBS, the host info, and two registration cards. Parents were able to fill out the cards and drop them off when they walked their children to the site.
A Look at Logistics
Four of the sites ran from 9–11am, and one site ran from 1– 3pm. Four sites were in homes and one site was in a local park and all sites were within a 15-minute drive to the church. Upon arrival, children proceeded to the craft area for an opening activity, followed by a greeting and prayer before beginning the day. “Since we knew that we may be reaching unchurched children, storytellers were instructed to tell the children daily that the stories they were hearing are from the Bible and that they were God’s truth. Each storyteller also instructed children in finding pre-marked Bible passages. These passages helped children to connect the Bible story to the story that the leader was telling.  This was an important point because 72% of our attendees were not from our church and 40% of those did not typically go to church,” she says.
The recreational games and crafts reinforced the story. To conclude, volunteers passed out prepackaged snacks to the group as the host prayed with the children. Each site was staffed with a minimum of 4 volunteers – a host, a storyteller, a craft leader, and a games leader. The largest site hosted 12 children. According to Summer, an Outreach Volunteer also came one day during the latter part of the week to assist where needed, but primarily to interact with the children.
One little boy melted the heart of volunteer R'Nell Bryant, when he asked, reluctantly, about how many more days he could come to Kids Club. “He was not used to church or the Bible and he hung on to the stories with open eyes and ears,” she says. “He was disappointed to learn we would only be there another two days, but comments like that sure made it worth my week with these children.”
Adds Summer, “One of our biggest challenges was helping our members and prospective guests to understand exactly what BYVBS was going to look like. To my knowledge, no other church in our area was doing anything like this, so it was hard for our congregation to grasp what we were planning. Once they understood, they supported us fully!” While the clubs were funded with Children’s Ministry budget, the congregation donated all of the snack items, juice, cups, and baggies.
R’Nell admits she was hesitant about this new idea at first, but now sees the benefit of getting to know her neighbors this way. “I guess we have to change at one time or another and these days it seems very important for church members to get out and talk to others in the community more. I think the children that attended this year will invite their friends if we have it again.”
Members Frank and Lucy Harvell, recent grads from the Texas Conference Laity Unleashed leadership development class, were also among the volunteers. “Laity Unleashed was an invigorating program that is helping us look at our role as laity with more clarity,” notes Lucy. “The Backyard VBS was a perfect way for us to work outside the church building visiting with children in one of Tomball’s parks. It brings VBS to the children in their own neighborhood. This is less threatening than coming to a church building if you are not a church member.” She and semi-retired husband, Frank, enjoyed the experience immensely.  “At the site we visited, there were many sibling combinations and they stayed together in the same room. It was fun to watch how they interacted with each other. These Kids Clubs have the potential of building relationships that are leading us to better engage with our neighborhoods.”
The All-Important Follow-up
The week after BYVBS, Outreach Volunteers made phone calls to all of the parents of participants. They talked with them about their children’s experience at the Kids Clubs as well as about Tomball UMC. Outreach volunteers will send handwritten “We miss you” note cards inviting the families to a family picnic in mid July located at the church. Notes Summer, “It was an amazing experience to watch our volunteers building relationships and ministering to children whom they've never met.”
Going Forward
She reflects that, “Even though we didn't reach as many children as I would have liked to, this accomplished every intended goal of the program. It gave our laity a chance to make disciples. It brought us outside of the church walls and into the community. We ministered to children in a small, comfortable setting, and we built relationships with parents whom may have never had interaction with TUMC. What I saw that week truly made my heart leap with joy. I watched as volunteers, who were unsure about ministering to children, connect with and deliver God's truth to them simply and eloquently. I witnessed volunteers play, connect, and shepherd children in a way that wouldn't happen at traditional VBS. I've watched volunteers plant seeds and make disciples and it was absolutely amazing to follow the mission we have set forth together by making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Next year, she would like to aim for a minimum of 10 sites, and hopes to let the team leaders recommend the ideal hours for their individual neighborhood to have the greatest attendance. She adds, “I think the key to this program, for our community, will be to partner with apartment buildings and neighborhoods to hold events at their clubhouses. While 9-11 am and 1-3 pm worked for some neighborhoods, I think we need to look at twilight sites probably 6-8 pm.
Summer doesn’t stop there. “My big crazy outside-the-box idea would be to partner with the city of Tomball and do VBS at the community gathering spot called the Depot. I am planning on contacting the Community Coordinator and pitching the idea to her. We'll see where that leads!”