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Attendance at vacation Bible schools is way up
Church leaders say it's likely thanks to a a shaky economy
Children gather in the main sanctuary at Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Flowery Branch during the final day of vacation Bible school there. The church saw 200 more kids than what they had planned for, likely thanks to a weak economy. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

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Vacation Bible school season stared about a week ago and some churches are seeing huge numbers of children gracing the church doors this year.

First Baptist Church on Green Street in Gainesville had 398 children attend when just 275 registered at Camp Edge, the church's VBS that was June 1 through 5.

The Rev. Carrie Veal said she believes the sluggish economy has a lot to do with the rise in attendance.

"Families are realizing that they don't have an extra $150 to $500 this summer to send their kids to camp, and so most churches don't charge anything for vacation Bible school," said Veal, who is First Baptist's children's minister. "We did not do any public advertising beyond the banner on the front lawn. Every year we plan for 400 children - it's just a nice, round number that we know."

The most children the church previously had at a VBS was 320, she said.

The Rev. Dan Young, children's minister at Blackshear Place Baptist in Flowery Branch, said attendance at Blackshear Place's Operation Space Galactic Adventure VBS this week skyrocketed compared with last year.

"We've over 1,000 this week every day," Young said. "Last year we were over 800. We usually have a down day on Wednesday and we didn't. In fact, that was one of our higher days, so it's been consistent all week long."

For the past few years, Blackshear Place has welcomed about 800 to 850 students for VBS, but this year is the largest in Young's five years at the church. He said he wasn't quite sure why there was a influx of children this year.

"I can't say why but other than ... maybe the economy," he said. "We had 300 preregister. We planned for 800 because we've been right around the 800 ... so we've been doing some scrambling, yeah. But that's a good thing to have."

And not only are parents dropping kids off at their home church for VBS, but they also are opting to send their little ones to more than one VBS.

"I think it's going to happen even more so this year because our families are strapped," Veal said. "They're strapped financially, they are strapped for time, and so they are wanting something for their kids to do that they know will be good for them on a social level and a spiritual level."

Giving her children something productive and fun to do this summer is why Jessyln Laughlin of Braselton sent three of her five children to VBS at Blackshear Place.

"We came this week here and next week they'll go to Chestnut Mountain (Baptist)," said Laughlin, who has visited Blackshear Place a few times. "It's definitely a good experience for them."

And hopefully good VBS experiences will turn into repeat attendees for First Baptist Church, Veal said.

"Even if the economy does turn around next year, our hope is that we do have those kind of numbers, so that we can make that kind of a difference in that many children's lives," she said.

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