DSC_3014Summer isn’t quite summer without lazy days at the shore or long strolls along the boardwalk. And, for many Christian families, Vacation Bible School (VBS) is as synonymous with the warm-weather months as are the crashing waves.

This past June, for the second summer in a row, Calvary rolled out its Backyard VBS, a unique, multiple-neighborhood approach to the traditional, single-location (usually church-based) VBS.

The idea of the program is to have Calvary Church members connect with the children and families in their respective neighborhoods, and share the love of Christ in a familiar and comfortable setting—their own backyards.

This year, Casey Fantuzzo and Joy Schaible opened their homes, and their hearts, to host the weeklong Backyard VBS from June 24-28.

“When a neighbor you know hosts something, you are more likely to be receptive to what they have to offer based on the relationship you have with them,” explained Fantuzzo.

A two-time participant, Fantuzzo said she and her husband Joe were happy to again host the gathering at their Glenside home in order to continue building neighborhood relationships that were started last summer.

We have really enjoyed being able to show our neighbors love in this way…— Casey Fantuzzo

“We have really enjoyed being able to show our neighbors love in this way,” she added. “The kids love it and it is a way for us to connect to the parents on a little deeper level.”

Schaible, who was a first-time host with her husband Rob, echoed Fantuzzo’s sentiments.

“It was a lot of fun for the kids and they wanted to come back every day; they couldn’t wait to come back,” she said.

In addition, Schaible said the experience provided a great outreach tool to the children in her Jenkintown neighborhood.

“It was important for us to participate so we could be a witness to the children and show God’s love,” she said.

According to Fantuzzo, her pint-sized participants ranged in age from 2-11 and consisted of about nine attendees each day. Schaible said youngsters at her home ranged from age 4-10, with a steady showing of 10-12 participants per day. Both locations attracted an equal number of boys and girls.

And, with all the fun activities offered during the week, it’s no wonder the youngsters could not get enough of Backyard VBS.

DSC_3120At the Fantuzzos’, the children were treated to everything from puppetry to learning Bible verses. Christina Torres, the wife of Children’s Pastor Josh Torres, also provided assistance at the Fantuzzos’ home.

“Everyday, the children were gathered to start with the rules of the club, singing with puppets and teen leaders, learning a Bible verse, breaking down into small groups with a teen leader, playing games, and enjoying snacks,” Fantuzzo explained. “The leaders taught a different Bible story each day.”

Meanwhile, over at the Schaibles’, children enjoyed a host of arts-and-crafts projects along with being introduced to biblical teachings in unique ways.

“The leaders taught the children interpretive movements to Christian songs, the children had water balloon tosses, made wind chimes with inspirational words on them and even did a version of Simon Says that used Bible verses,” Schaible explained.

She continued, “It felt very good to help the kids find out about Jesus.”

As for the impact the child-focused gathering had on parents and overall neighborhood relations, both Fantuzzo and Schaible said it was significant.

Hosting the Backyard VBS has opened the door for spiritual conversations with neighbors…— Casey Fantuzzo

“Hosting the Backyard VBS has opened the door for spiritual conversations with neighbors,” Fantuzzo said. “Our neighbors are always amazed when the program has started, and comment on how nice it is for the children to get so excited to come outside and sing, play, and learn.”

She added, “The parents have been extremely grateful and it has allowed for us to connect with them on another level.”

Schaible pointed out that most of the children attending the daily sessions in her backyard were reared in Christian homes and their parents were grateful for the biblical reinforcement the program offered.

“Some [parents] were glad their children were learning more about Jesus,” she said. “One boy was Catholic and he enjoyed it, too.” Like Fantuzzo, Schaible agreed the program could also lead to closer relationships with neighbors.

So, is Backyard VBS the future of children’s summer Christian education? Is the one-location setting obsolete?

“Personally, I love the neighborhood-based VBS as a way to spread love in the community,” admitted Fantuzzo. “It is not something anyone expects.”

But, Fantuzzo quickly pointed out that both traditional and non-traditional approaches to VBS are useful and effective.

“I also love a church-based VBS program to excite the kids from Calvary and encourage them to bring friends,” she said. “I would love it if both were an option.”

The women said their families would host the annual summer event again and encouraged other Calvary Church members to consider doing the same.

“I would just say do it,” offered Schaible. “It was a good experience because it made people curious about what was going on. It is a good outreach tool.”

Fantuzzo concurred.

“Yes, Joe and I will most certainly be available to host a Backyard VBS again,” she said. “I believe God has started a work and is not finished.”

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By Cynthia T. Graham

Cynthia serves the Calvary Church Media team as our lead writer and copy editor. For more about Cynthia read her bio here.