In summer 2023, there were 28–33 teens participating daily in the Belleville Church VBS program—reading to children, building beds, baking cookies and filling food baskets.
The Belleville church, under the leadership of Erin Gordon, has found a creative way to involve teens who may experience boredom with some aspects of VBS. It’s community service. “Community service may not sound exciting,” said Gordon, “but both the teens and the community have been blessed.”
It started four years ago, when Gordon was asked to help lead Belleville’s teen VBS program, which involved taking the group to conduct community service.
One of the first things Gordon had to figure out was how much of the main program to involve the teens in. The decision was made for everyone to still feel connected to the group. Everyone stayed in the sanctuary to watch and participate in the opening program, sing the songs, and learn the Bible verses.
When the groups divided for their stations, the teen groups headed outside for their worship thought, which correlated with the main program. Then they piled into vehicles and headed to various locations, such as churches to help set up for food banks, thrift stores to help organize their clothes, businesses to deliver hand sanitizer and GLOW tracts, community centers to help with gardening, and a homeless shelter to read to children. The group also collaborated with Sleep in Heavenly Peace to deliver beds to children in need.
During the program’s first year, there were ten participating teens. Gordon says, “It was a blessing to have so many wanting to come to VBS and be willing to do community service.” But the Lord didn’t stop there. Belleville’s numbers have continued to grow. In summer 2023, there were 28–33 teens participating daily—reading to children, building beds, baking cookies and filling food baskets.
Selah Fox, who participated with the teen program for the first time this year, said she loved how the youth enjoyed spending time with each other while doing good things for their community. “It’s a great way to make new friends, and, at the same time, do something purposeful,” Fox said.
When Gordon reached out to local charities asking for volunteer opportunities, many were astonished at the large size of the group. They asked how she had convinced so many teens to do community service, and Gordon told them, “We didn’t. They just keep inviting their friends.” Every day, someone brought a new friend. Many of them were not members of the Adventist church. Peyton Anderson, a teen VBS attendee, was happy to minister to the needs of others. “Going to the teen program was a good opportunity to help out the community and get closer to Jesus,” said Anderson.
Teens such as Isaac Acosta, who wished to help other children have positive experiences at VBS and with Jesus just like he did when he was their age. While serving, the fond memories he had as a child attending VBS came rushing back. “I remembered being so invested in all the lessons I had yet to learn about Jesus and while listening to the Bible stories given by Aunt Stella—it made me think how much I had missed that sensation,” he said. “I just realized the importance that these experiences had on me growing up.”
In addition to the VBS blessing the youth and those they helped, it was also an encouragement to the adult volunteers who indicated they are looking forward to returning next year. As Gordon reflected on the VBS program, she recognized the need to use creative and novel methods to engage the youth. “It is essential to keep our teens involved in the church by reaching them at their level,” explained Gordon. “Their interests and desires are changing, but that does not mean that church is not for them.”
Belleville Church, with Michigan Conference communication staff