The Reviews Are In!
Each year the Center for the Ministry of Teaching compiles reviews on VBS programs for the current year. We believe that Vacation Bible School helps churches spread the Good News of God in Christ, and that VBS is a powerful intergenerational program.
How We Review
This year the CMT has changed its review method. Over the years, we discovered that our Top Picks came from the same three or four publishing houses. So instead of describing each new program, we discuss underlying pedagogy and theological stances of publishers that has remained constant. Basically we’re telling you about the publisher, and sharing details about their offering for this year.
The CMT’s Top 3 Picks for 2018
Rolling River Rampage
About the Publisher
Cokesbury Publishing reflects a mainline, Methodist interpretation of scripture that emphasizes God’s deep love of humanity and the ability of people to be in relationship with God. Unlike many VBS programs that focus on the crucifixion/resurrection, Cokesbury consistently emphasizes God’s presence in our everyday lives and living in relationship with God.
Cokesbury’s VBS resources are centered in biblical narrative and include a section on helping children make a commitment to Christ, which churches that emphasize baptism as the rite of initiation, may not use. The materials are gender inclusive and include diverse cultures and races. The mission suggestions are engaging, with options that could be easily adapted to most faith communities. Every area (science, drama, missions, among others) has ideas to adapt activities to different learning styles, local VBS traditions, time limits and more.
Read about strengths and weaknesses in the 2018 VBS Reviews (page 5)
Babylon: Daniel’s Courage in Captivity
Group Publishing—Marketplace Series
Cost: $152.99 (standard starter kit) $187.99 (digital starter kit)
About the Publisher
Group Publishing’s Marketplace series takes VBS participants back in time to other places through immersive and intergenerational programs located in sites such as Rome, Babylon, and Egypt. Each year features a different location, although the sites are recycled every three to four years.
The “marketplace series” is based on the original Marketplace VBS curriculum. Each year churches are encouraged to create a multi-station space in which groups or “tribes” of children meet shopkeepers, palaces, storytellers, and a focus character—in 2018, Daniel. The marketplaces can range from elaborate villages to more simple learning sites. The heart of the content is learning about life for people who lived in these places long ago.
Overall the theology of this program series has strong ties to the biblical accounts, although sometimes the link to sin and salvation is tenuous. Group’s emphasis on atonement theology also can be heavy-handed at times. As with any curricula, leaders need to be aware of shifts they find inappropriate and adjust instructions and scripts accordingly. Group also designs this VBS series to be intergenerational (although it does not have to be), with parents and adults journeying along with children.
Read about strengths and weaknesses in the 2018 VBS Reviews (page 6)
About the Publisher
MennoMedia typically veers away from more frenetic VBS resources that provide constant activity, to emphasize reflection and contemplation when appropriate. Some VBS leaders prefer the quieter, more reflective activities to counter a culture that is always plugged in and moving. Others find that MennoMedia’s low-key, unplugged approach appeals to some volunteers, who are less interested in creating elaborate decorations and more drawn to identifying appropriate spiritual practices for children.
Session themes, which come from carefully selected biblical passages, reflect sound scholarship and interpretation. The Mennonite church has a long tradition of strong Christian formation practice, which is reflected in the learning activities and program structure. Both the activities and structure are developmentally appropriate for the targeted age groups of the VBS program. At the same time, the mission component for their programs seems to be an afterthought. VBS leaders may want to find a local outreach project that coincides with the annual theme. MennoMedia VBS programs are also easy to alter to meet programming needs at other times of the year, such as Lent.
Read about strengths and weaknesses in the 2018 VBS Reviews (page 7)
Looking for More?
For more details on our top picks, plus other publishers and perennial VBS programs, download the free full set of reviews by clicking the link below: