Daily Reporter staff writer

FORTVILLE —What’s taking shape in the garage is making the neighbors wonder. But in a few weeks, it will be known.

That’s when a team of committed volunteers will bring what they’ve been working on since January to the stage at Fortville Christian Church for the church’s annual Kids Camp.

It’s been about 10 years since the church reformatted what it once called Vacation Bible School. As area churches prepare for this staple of summer, many are adding new twists to the tradition or even shifting the schedule away from a week in summer.

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Churches in the Shirley and Wilkinson area have joined to offer a three-night VBS during fall break. Greenfield Christian Church offered a Habitat for Humanity-themed VBS during spring break.

At Apostolic Pentecostal Church in Greenfield, there’s not only a week of VBS but also “VBS Wednesday” throughout the summer. The Rev. Joe Riggs said the church is trying to take what makes the program exciting each summer and offer that type of interactive Bible stories, games, crafts and snacks on Wednesday evenings.

Other churches also sticking with summer are offering the program over a weekend or a longer session all in one day.

Those who have stayed with a four- or five-session format during one week of the summer are adding new enticements. The Rev. Tommy Hensley, associate pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Greenfield, said Legos will be part of the sessions at his church this year, as the children explore a “faith builders” theme. They will also be on teams earning points during the week, competing for the prize of “gold” medallions for the winners.

The Rev. Jonathan Manship, children’s pastor at Fortville Christian Church, said the church shifted from VBS, which had included raising money for a missionary, to Kids Camp because it wanted a more externally focused event, one easy to invite the community to.

Manship said 35 to 50 percent of the about 200 children who come to Kids Camp don’t have a church they’re attending regularly. That figure is based on online registration forms that include a question about church attendance.

Like others putting up decorations, making food and rehearsing skits at local churches, he’s hoping an enjoyable week now will help send a lasting message that God loves them and cares about them.

“It takes a lot of work, but if we can get some people to come into the church doors and realize … we love people and love kids and want to see them succeed in their life, it’s rewarding,” he said.

Putting VBS to the test

Churches often buy themed Vacation Bible School curricula from a publisher, such as Group, Standard or Lifeway, among others.

Jonathan Manship, children’s pastor at Fortville Christian Church, was in on field testing last year for Group Publishing’s “Expedition Norway” (likely to appeal to fans of the movie “Frozen”) that’s part of the company’s 2016 kits. The company gathers pastors and volunteers from around the country to conduct a VBS together using a future program theme and all its materials.

Such events are a chance to film footage for promotional videos and, more importantly, to find out what works and what needs changed among the kit’s discussion questions, decorations, music, clip art and other resources.

“They’ve already tested it out to make sure it was going to work before they get there,” Manship said.

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at asmith@greenfieldreporter.com