It only takes a SPARK . . .

August 05, 2019

Harker Heights UMC heads to the park to offer a 3-night family worship experience
by Rev. Jannette Miller* / photos courtesy of Harker Heights UMC
The members of Harker Heights UMC reevaluated the purpose of their VBS and decided to actively use it as a way of getting out into the community and introducing Jesus via "Spark in the Park."
This year, instead of a traditional Vacation Bible School (VBS) inside the walls of our church, Harker Heights UMC decided to venture out into the community. Traditional VBS is fun, and the children learn about the love of Jesus. However, each year we spend a lot of money and attract mostly children who are already churched, whose parents need a break and are looking for something fun for their kids to do. While there’s nothing wrong with that, we asked ourselves if that was the purpose of VBS. Our answer was decidedly “No! We want to reach families who are not already being reached.” Prayer and discussion led us to try something different, to hear the call of Jesus to cast our nets on the other side of the boat. Thus, “SPARK in the Park” was born.
The name SPARK comes from our church-wide emphasis on letting the Holy Spirit ignite the divine spark in each of us and light a fire in us as a church!
Instead of the drop-off event that VBS typically is, we wanted to host an experience for the entire family, so we invited parents to attend with their children. Each evening had a meal, a Bible story, time for family games and fun, and ended with a family worship experience. The fun and games included crafts, science experiments, water games and other fun activities meant simply to give families space to play together in God’s creation. It was a three-night event from 6 to 8 p.m., with a different theme each night:
  • “God Creates” was the focus on Wednesday, and we told the story of creation from Genesis.
  • “God Cares” was Thursday’s theme for a message about God’s people in the wilderness and God providing manna, quail and water.
  • “God Calls Us,” Friday’s focus, placed emphasis on Jesus as the greatest evidence of how God cares for us and all His creation. We told the Gospel story and taught that now we are called to share God’s love, care for all of God’s creation and show Jesus to the world.

An average of 30 children were there each night, which included at least 10 families who do not regularly participate in our Sunday worship or other church activities. Prior to and during the event, volunteers went around the park handing out invitations. The Bible story was always told at the edge of the playground, where children and families could listen in, even if they didn’t participate in the entire event.
Rev. Jannette Miller, above in green, takes a defensive stance against a worthy opponent in a spirited pool noodle duel at SPARK in the Park.
One evening, a group of moms with babies in strollers met at the park to exercise. We gave them ice cold bottles of water and invited them to join us. Three of the moms came with their kids, including the group leader. They participated in the rest of the event that evening, including the Bible story. The leader plans to join our MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) group and to bring her kids to SPARK Wednesdays. We look forward to extending that connection.
SPARK Wednesdays feature family and children’s programming, and the family worship experience begins with the new school year. The transition will be a natural one for the families who came to SPARK in the Park, and we hope they will continue to join us each week for family worship and play.
Connections were made, relationships were started – sparks were lit!
*Rev. Jannette Miller is in her third year as senior pastor of Harker Heights UMC, located in the CTC’s South District.
Editor’s note: In keeping with the CTC’s Wildly Important Goal (WIG) of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, Harker Heights UMC broke “tradition” and took a risk by reaching out to the unchurched in its community via their annual VBS program. How is your church taking a risk to introduce Jesus to the people in your community, town or area? Shoot an email to and let us know so that we can share your story.