Story and photographs by Pamela
This story originally appeared in the Leon Springs Community News, August 2010 edition.
It’s a warm summer morning in a small local neighborhood park. Near the playscape, a group of mothers visit with one another, catching up on the latest news and swapping parenting tips. Young kids scamper around the wooden structure. In the distance and just beyond the sturdy live oak trees that shade one section of the green space, a cluster of preschool and elementary age children sits on blankets under a mesquite tree. Before them stands an instructor, speaking and gesturing in an animated fashion.
In early August, such was a scene passersby might have glimpsed in the Walnut Pass subdivision. Like generations of American children before them, the kids were participating in vacation Bible school. This time, however, the school came to their neighborhood, placing the activities, snacks and lessons within walking distance of their homes.
The Backyard Bible Club (BBC) was the idea of Darla Harmon, a member of Leon Springs Baptist Church for four years.
“With the club, the big idea is that we would go out to places,” said Dan Allen, senior pastor of Leon Springs Baptist Church. “It made so much sense: go to where people are whether than expect them to come to us.”
Over the course of several weeks, the club convened at two Leon Springs neighborhoods and at the Meadowlands in Boerne. Harmon said over fifty area kids participated this year.
“We wanted to convey to all the children that we’re their friends, that someone is open and receptive to them,” said Harmon, who oversaw a teams of leaders comprised of five or six volunteers. “One-on-one relationships are just so important to children.”
Harmon described the clubs as an intimate learning atmosphere focused on Bible stories.
“Regular vacation Bible schools are big, blown up events. I’ve worked on those for years. There may be hundreds of children attending, and then the message of God’s love is delivered visually. It’s more entertainment with puppets and more visual,” she said. “With our clubs, we’re more focused on teaching the Gospel through songs and stories. And we’re less geared toward giving out a whole lot of prizes.”
“People may not drive to a church that is miles away but they will come to a neighborhood club–or a backyard of a neighbor,” said Allen of other differences between his church’s program and a traditional vacation bible school. “Also, the principle of smaller classes [in education] as being more effective applies to BBC.“
Parents seemed happy with the week’s activities.
“I loved that my son is learning about the Bible close to home,” said Marisa Barber of Walnut Pass and mother of one of the participants. “It’s nice out here, too, in the shade and in a family environment. My son, Tommy, enjoyed it and seems to have learned a lot, too.”
Barber appreciated, too, the chance to meet other moms and young kids in her own neighborhood.
For Allen, projects like the Backyard Bible Club are creative approaches through which his congregation “serves Christ through our community.”
“People who may never come to a “church” because of past hurts will come to a neighborhood club and we hope God uses us to spread His love and grace,” he added.
“We’re not the only church in Leon Springs dedicated to this kind of innovative community outreach program, of course,” said Allen, “Leon Springs Presbyterian, Cross Mountain Church, us, and a few others–we all have a common mindset. It’s a great group.”
Allen points to the large annual harvest festival sponsored by Cross Mountain Church as an example of “a fine program that benefits the entire community.”
Among the upcoming activities at Allen’s own church are a twelve-week Dave Ramsey financial peace seminar in September and a new program through which parents can take a “date night” and leave their kids at the church for a few early evening hours. The church sponsors language courses in Chinese and Spanish, and also serves as a meeting site for a handful of community groups.
“On Monday nights, we have a big scout group that meets here. And, of course, we host the Leon Springs Farmers Market every Saturday morning in our parking lot,” said Allen.
“It’s awesome that our church gets out and does things for our community,” said Harmon. “Then people know that we are not just a bunch of ‘old fogies’ and are less intimidated to come learn more about us.”
Coming in September: The Cowboy Breakfast
On Sunday, September 5, the Leon Springs Baptist Church will host a back-to-school event featuring pony rides and a petting zoo. Activities get rolling at 8:30 AM at the church, to be followed by Sunday school classes for kids and life groups for adults. For more information, contact 698-2880.