LifeWay honors churches for VBS gains

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)--One in four. That's how many baptisms last year in the Southern Baptist Convention came as a result of Vacation Bible School. And churches like Parkway Baptist in Moseley, Va., are a big reason why.

Parkway is one of 200 SBC churches that have experienced the largest VBS enrollment increases over the past five years. Pastor Brian Autry, who planted the church and hosted its first VBS in a rented school building six years ago, was one of 200 local church leaders honored at a pastors' luncheon hosted by LifeWay Christian Resources June 9 in Indianapolis.

Trevor Barton, pastor of Hawk Creek Baptist Church in London, Ky., said professions of faith during VBS at his church have increased 500 percent since 1999. God is blessing VBS at Hawk Creek, he said, for a number of reasons: higher intensity in prayer; leadership that is passionate about VBS; strong promotion in the community; higher expectation for participation; and a higher level of purpose.

"Why we're doing what we're doing [a passion to share Christ] is more important than what we're doing or how we're doing it," Barton said.

Ray Jones, pastor of Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Dothan, Ala., last year saw more than 900 children enrolled in VBS. His church incorporated a ministry fair and rented out a local water park in an effort to involve the whole community and to inform families about Ridgecrest's ministries. This year he expects the church to minister to more than 1,000 individuals.

"More than any other place, VBS communicates on [the children's] level the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and it makes a difference," Jones said. "We are committed to prayer, and we are committed to being a missional church."

Other pastors, like Clay Hallmark of First Baptist Church, Marion, Ark., spoke about the importance of follow up after VBS, using evangelism tools such as LifeWay's FAITH evangelism strategy.

Thom S. Rainer, LifeWay's president, thanked the pastors for their innovative use of VBS and FAITH as tools for reaching the lost. He emphasized the importance of church leadership, prayer and perseverance. "There is no magic button that energizes the church," Rainer said. "Ultimately we've got to fall on our faces before God and confess that we cannot do it. Churches that bathe themselves in prayer are the ones God hears and the ones to which He responds."

Dan Garland, director of pastoral ministries and church consulting for LifeWay, shared key statistics from 2007. He reported that nearly 2.9 million children were enrolled in VBS; 88,097 made decisions to receive Christ; 2,380 made decisions for church-related activities; and nearly 268,000 Sunday School prospects were discovered. But the most significant number, Garland said, was that 26 percent of SBC baptisms last year resulted from Vacation Bible School.

Jay Johnston, director of FAITH evangelism and discipleship for LifeWay, presented Bobby Welch, strategist for global evangelical relations with the SBC's Executive Committee, with an award for his leadership in the FAITH evangelism strategy. Welch, one of the founders of FAITH, has invested his life in sharing Christ with others around the world, Johnston said.


Rob Phillips is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.

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