Rather than hosting a traditional Vacation Bible School within the familiar walls of their Oxford church, members of the Grace Baptist Church youth ministry took the message to the streets.
They called it the Backyard Bible Club.
“We’re bringing the message out to the community,” said Twyla Knight, who along with youth minister Chris Terrell initiated the program locally. “This is a dream we all share.”
Divided into four groups of about six, members of Grace’s youth ministry were out in force, knocking on doors, handing out flyers and looking for kids to invite to VBS.
“If there was a tricycle in the yard, we’re knocking on the door,” Knight said over the squeal of children playing kickball in the background. “If there was a swing set, or a baby shoe — anything that made us think there were kids in the house, we’d knock on the door.”
Rather than inviting them back to Grace, the church hosted VBS outside and at night, from 6-8 in three central locations — Glenaddie, Oxford Lake and Banister Park on Friendship Road. With blankets spread across the grass, and tables and tents set up for games and crafts, the youth ministry created a special atmosphere for children who often didn’t have much to look forward to, said Cindy Thomas, who serves as minister to children and pre-school at Grace and helps coordinate VBS.
“I’ve been here for seven-and-a-half years, and we’ve always done the traditional Vacation Bible School, which is very important,” she said. “But with this, we’re stepping outside of our comfort zone and reaching out to children and their families who are sometimes overlooked. These are the ones who often need it the most.”
It’s an experience both sides can learn from.
“Because we’re stepping out of our comfort zone, we get to feel the presence of God in a whole new way,” said Terrell, who is in his last official week as youth pastor for Grace. “And what we’re seeing is that the ones who have the least have been giving us the most.”
In addition to the evening activities, the church also set up in the mornings at Nettles Park in Anniston, with a variety of games and activities. “When the kids see us out there,” Knight said, “they come running.”
And for those who didn’t, the youth group went out to knock on doors.
The idea for the Backyard Bible Club came from a tiny church in urban Memphis, Tenn., where, for the past five years, Terrell has taken the members of his youth ministry as part of a mission work. Several years ago, Brinkley Heights Baptist Church decided to reclaim its community, which had been overrun by crime, drugs and gangs, by reaching out to the kids, bringing them into the church and thus changing the identity of the community through a program called Street Reach.
If things go according to plan, this won’t be the only summer for the Backyard Bible Club. Both Terrell and Knight aim to make it a community-wide ministry that stands on its own, rather than relying on a specific church affiliation. Terrell has already secured a website and is in the process of establishing a board of directors and locating office space.
“This ministry can become the hands and feet of the Lord to this community, a community that I believe is starving for someone to tell them about Jesus and to offer hope in Christ,” he said. “This week has just been the launching pad.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.