Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Church Hopping

Late last week a friend of mine emails me (it's pointless to try to call me; if you need to get in touch twitter, email or facebook me!) and asks if I'd be interested in signing the kids up at a (fairly) local church. This is the first year I can finally put all 3 kids in VBS so I said YES!

The church is about 16 minutes away, nestled by a school and in a neighborhood, yet still on a busy street. I sometimes make fun of "VBS hoppers" - those who put hop from one church to the next putting their kids in the programs so the mom can take advantage of a little free time. They (I) don't go to these churches, have no interest in switching churches yet feel content putting the kids in the free VBS program. It's great: Kids learn about God, get to play, sing songs, have craft and a bible story and the moms (me!) get a bit of free time. (though I'm spending it right now writing this blog and doing laundry)

Indulge me for a moment: What is the goal of VBS? Is it designed to be an outreach? To the community around the church or those that go to other churches and just need a break for a few hours a day? Do churches put on VBS as a service to their own congregation? Do the churches LIKE having us VBS hoppers? Are they just happy to serve and help the kids grown in the knowledge of Christ? Did they secretly hope that unchurched neighbor kids would attend and are they disappointed when they asked me today, "We don't have your home church listed; do you attend a church?" And I replied yes and proudly stated the name of my church.

Questions aside, I have to say in the past 6 years I've dropped my kids off at many VBS programs. Some really stand apart, as they make VBS fun without sacrificing the reason they are there. Some are a little on the boring side, especially for my 9 year old but he's still hardly complaining because he's with his buddy. My own church has an evening VBS, a rarity. Its 45 dollars and last year I thought that was so much money until I saw the quality of the VBS program; it easily outshone nearly all the free ones my kids had attended!

But I'm on a tangent. My post is about how I am being a church customer. There's been a lot of discussion in my circle lately about what undermines church growth and community. The three things a friend lists are: Materialism, Individualism and Consumerism.

But I wonder how one can stop being a consumer when it comes to church? And I feel that churches perhaps should be aware that people are evaluating their churches and everything from finding a parking spot, to the ease of finding the restroom are as important to a church visitor as the preaching or music. Then there's the whole concept of friendliness and "customer service:"
In fact, it seems that churches are more like a business than anything else!

So yesterday and today I was a church customer. This church had tables set out for the registration. My kids were pre-registered and they were organized and helpful. This step took only minutes as they verified my information, greeted my children and chatted with me about how I had heard about their church. They smiled, made great eye contact and were helpful. I felt safe leaving my kids in their care.

Most of the helpers were all women but there was one man present as well. He said hello to me and later I discovered he was the pastor. For some reason, it impressed me that the pastor would take the time to be a part of a VBS program. I guess my view of pastors are that they are extremely busy and delegate often. It's not a bad thing; I understand that pastors are busy and have to prioritize their time and that is probably why it struck me.

Obviously this is a smaller church because there were less than 45 kids present, and 10 of them were either mine or my friend's children. The first day they played on the playground until it was time to sign up. It seemed to me these kids were well trained! They all, even my kids, silently lined up when asked. The pastor spoke in a hushed tone and everything fell silent. I was amazed at how disciplined and controlled the children were, within mere minutes of lining up. I guess even with 3 kids I am used to chaos at my house!

I know nothing about their church. I am not interested in leaving my church but I have to say I was impressed and happy. I pray their church does great things for their community. I just left with a sense that they knew their purpose and were happy to serve Christ through their VBS ministry. Unfortunately, there have been times at VBS programs where I've just felt like one in an assembly line of people. It was good to feel welcomed, and even better to see my kids embraced fully.

I don't like having a consumer mindset at my church but it's easy to do. I seem to notice all the little details and even though I know church is not about "programs" and activities, I still really like both those things. I do expect much from my church, and sometimes I wonder if that's a good thing or a bad thing?

Well, I guess its time to pick up the kids from VBS. Hope they had a wonderful time. Hmmm... I wonder when the next VBS is offered? I think I like this free time.


  1. Let me know of any other free VBS starting middle of July, I am too busy until then. Sounds like fun. I have not figured out S's ability to hang out with God yet. She is very funny about not wanting to pray, but when i ask her about what she would like me to tell God or thank Him, her face lights up as she provides me with a thoughtful list. Today, it was flowers and all of nature....the smile on her face was just precious as she spoke out the request....Something is happening, just not sure exactly what.

  2. I think a huge part of outward expression of spirituality in kids is personality. It's quite amazing listening to K's prayers all about everything and anything that she loves; she'll go on forever. On the other hand, R is hesitant to pray but I overheard him and David this morning praying over breakfast and though his prayer wasn't as exuberant as K's.... it was equally beautiful.
    I'll give you the VBS list.