What is the purpose of Vacation Bible School?
a. To provide daycare during the summer months when kids are underfoot
b. To introduce teen volunteers to the joy of teaching and doing crafts with little kids.
c. To bring the gospel to unchurched children.
d. To reinforce knowledge kids have already learned at church and at home.
e. To test the endurance and memorization skills of the adults of congregation (at least those without paying jobs that make them unavailable during the day).
OK, OK, it's c. And d, I guess. Or, that's how it started out. Just like Sunday School, VBS was begun as a way to bring biblical teachings to kids whose families don't go to church. (But are open to their children learning about Jesus, presumably, or they wouldn't let the kids go.) People tell stories of the church bus coming around the neighborhood to pick kids up for church and Sunday School. I guess that probably still happens, somewhere. But I think mostly kids go to church, or don't go to church, based on their parents' beliefs.
In my experience, VBS doesn't get many unchurched kids. (Remember I said in my experience. That doesn't mean someone else hasn't experienced something different.) I don't recall a single VBS experience in my 8 years of involvement with various VBSes where someone was exposed to the gospel for the first time.
In the VBS we just finished, the teaching was way below most kids' knowledge level, except maybe the 4-7 year olds. The 8s and up? Forget it. But mostly they seem to enjoy it; there are always some kids who are way too cool, till they find themselves having fun playing duck duck goose. They have fun with the songs and seeing the adults singing and doing those hand motions. The crafts were pretty good this year, because they involved paint. So it was a nightmare from a logistical standpoint but worth it in the end for what we produced.
Since we are Presbyterians, there is no altar call at the end. No one is asked to make a decision for Christ (is that the way to put it?). We send them home with, we hope, questions and a desire for further exploration. And their t-shirts, bracelets, promise boxes and new Bibles. And I guess that fulfills the purpose.
Oh and next summer? I'll be getting a job (see e above).