Community outreach is hard. Many times when we read the Great Commission, we envision taking God’s word to all the world and focus our efforts on a foreign mission field. We often times struggle to reach our own neighborhood. I know I do. In the last several years we have found a new way to reach the lost. I pray that as you read this and understand that while I love and appreciate our local congregation, our success is because of the Lord. Because of Him we have found a new way to sow the seed. I do not want to brag about OUR success, but I hope you will allow me to openly share this with you so that you may have hope for the same success in your own community.
The moment is etched in my mind. We were eating at a restaurant with our outreach deacon and his wife. The subject of VBS arose and I sank in my seat. I think I even rolled my eyes a little bit. We had been there and done that… and it wasn’t pretty. You might have a similar story: We put in lots of time and effort, spread the word, prepared lessons, spent money, and nobody showed! There is nothing like failure to burn you out on a good work, and I was done. Thankfully I wasn’t the only one deciding, or my story would end there. As Henry Ford said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.” And so we did.
How could we reach the lost in our community? They seemed so unreachable. It was time for something new. We had the resources to teach and minister to children and young families, but no way to make a connection. So we decided we must find a need and satisfy it. At the time, the economy was a mess and most families in our small town had two working parents, one of whom was probably commuting to the Bay Area (about 2 hours each way). They didn’t have much time with their kids, let alone time to bring them to church every night for a week. Then it hit us. What if instead begging unchurched families to “come to church” we offered them a service that would help them in a unique way. That was the birth of Spring Break Day Camp.
I’ll admit I was very reluctant, if not downright grumpy, about the idea. Inviting unchurched kids into our care for the same hours as public school for an entire week sounds daunting to anybody! That’s right, we opened our doors from 7:30 AM to 3:00 PM for the entire week of Spring Break. This might not seem like a big deal to the stay at home moms or homeschool families out there, but in our community of two working parents, it opened their hearts to the Church. So we committed and got to work. We advertised at our local Almond Blossom Festival about a month in advance. We prayed, ordered materials, decorated, prepared lessons, gathered all the volunteers we could find, and then we opened our doors. I decided if we had one new child who learned God’s word, with one new family who opened their hearts, we had met our goal. If I remember correctly, we had 27 kids that first year. About 17 of them were from the community. All of this was possible because of a (then) 75 member congregation.
Six years later I find myself laughing at the thought that our community wasn’t receptive. We have grown by leaps and bounds. We have had well over 100 different children from the community pass through our doors. Last year we had 80 different children over the course of a week. The parents bring them in the morning and visit with us, the kids stay and learn about the Bible, they sing Bible songs, they spend the day with several Christian mentors, they pray for their food, and they have lots of FUN all at the same time. Their parents pick them up at the end of the day and they are gushing with gratitude. They are receptive. Over the years we have had many questions asked, many families come to visit on a Sunday or during a special event, and several of the kids return year after year. We see the kids out and about throughout the year and they love to say “hi”. They remember us. My favorite part is when the kids come to Bible Camp with us in the summer! God’s people are making an impact in their lives and their hearts!
The community isn’t the only one benefiting from Spring Break Day Camp, our congregation is too. Spending a whole week working together may sound exhausting, but relationships are forged that may never have been. Encouragement and hope grows in all of us. Almost every member contributes in some way, even if most can not attend during the day. Not only do we see many new faces at Spring Break Day Camp, but we see many familiar ones whom we have had a hard time reaching otherwise: Sometimes it’s a grandchild, a niece or nephew, or a friend from school. The positive results are amazing every single year.
I hope and pray that you consider this new work in your own community. Maybe VBS is working for you. That is fantastic. I know many that are still successful. If not, I hope my story gives you hope that anybody can find a way to sow the seed. We don’t have unlimited resources, a large congregation, tons of money, or a fancy building. We don’t even have a full time secretary. But we do have hope, and I pray that you do too. We don’t need numbers of baptisms and Bible studies to quantify or qualify our success. Our success is in finding a way to open their hearts to God’s love and His word. 1 Corinthians 13:6-7 says, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants, nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.” We just found a new field and I believe you can too!
If you are interested in giving Spring Break Day Camp a try, I have attached a thorough guide “Spring Break Day Camp in Ten Easy Steps.” If you have any questions, please contact me at ValOHara1@yahoo.com. I would love to help you succeed.
Written By: Valerie O’Hara
Valerie O’Hara loves her life as a Christian wife, mother, and friend. She has been a preacher’s wife for 13 years to her husband, Caleb. She homeschools their three children: Caleb Jr. (11), Reagan Jett (9), and Shelby Elizabeth (4). Together they love working with their local church in camps, outreach programs, and spiritual growth. When they can get away they enjoy spending their time on adventures around California, including a ridiculous amount of time at Disneyland. She loves swimming, slow-running, and trying to keep up with her kids.