Tuesday, February 10, 2009


What is over half a century old, sounds illegal, and is one of the largest groups in the church?

The answer is Bible Story Time, the Friday afternoon "release time" ministry of the Eagle Point Community Bible Church (in Oregon). It is the second oldest children's ministry in our church, having started sometime in the early 50's. There are older members of our congregation who remember attending it when they were kids. Even though some of the methodology behind it has changed, the basic premise is the same: elementary school children are escorted from the school to the church building, where they spend time singing songs and hearing Bible stories, after which they are returned to school.

Yes, it happens during school hours. The public school teachers actually dismiss children from class to go to church!

"But how is that possible?" one may ask, while casting a nervous glance for the "separation of church and state" lawyers hovering in the bushes.

The first answer has to do with Oregon state law, which allows students (with parental permission) to be released from class for the purpose of "religious instruction." I am not a lawyer or the son of a lawyer, but I know that there are equal access laws that cannot discriminate on the basis of faith. The Oregon law is actually a recognition that parents can arrange for religious teaching time for their children, even if that religious teaching time is during school hours. It's been on the books for decades. Other organizations, such as Child Evangelism Fellowship, have successfully conducted Good New Clubs during school hours for years. Bible Story Time is part of the legacy of release time ministries.

The second answer has to do with the nature and makeup of our community. Even though Eagle Point is one of the fastest growing cities in the region, it still retains a "small town" charm and feel. Since the church has been around since just after the turn of the century (the last one, not this one!), it has grown and developed with the city. In short, we have a "presence." School officials come and go, but Bible Story Time keeps going.

Public school students gather to hear the Word!

Because our church is nearly across the street from one of the two elementary schools we serve, the mechanics of Bible Story Time are fairly simple. A group of "walkers" go to the different classrooms with their lists of kids whose parents have given signed permission for them to attend Bible Story Time. The kids are walked over to the church for the session (which lasts approximately 20-30 minutes) and then returned to their classes. To serve the other elementary school, a bus is driven to and parked by the school. The kids are retrieved from class and escorted to the bus for the session.

Of course, there have been challenges along the way. As administrators have come and gone, the amount of "recruiting" the church has been allowed to do has changed. At one time, the schools would automatically include a Bible Story Time flyer in the parent packets sent home with the kids. Nowadays, the church is allowed to set up a small table in the corner of the gymnasium during registration/orientation, where parents are free to pick up a registration slip. While most teachers have supported the release time, there have been a few that have left no doubt as to their loathing for having to disrupt the kids' academic day. One teacher even complained about having to “de-program” her students after they attended. Thankfully, those teachers are by far in the minority.

Another challenge occurred a short time ago, when one of the two elementary schools within walking distance of the church was closed down in order for a new elementary school to be built about a mile and a half away. The Bible Story Time team prayed about and evaluated whether or not to continue the ministry with just the one school or try to find a way to include the second school. The solution came with the purchase of a full size school bus. The bus parks near the new school and the kids are walked from class to their portable "chapel."

Kids listening to the Gospel as one of the story tellers shares

The surprising thing about the Bible Story Time ministry is that it is decidedly "old school" in its approach, yet attracts nearly 150 children each week. The songs are a mix of vintage Child Evangelism Fellowship and 70's Maranatha. The Bible stories vary by the teacher and range from flannel graph illustrations and puppets to object lessons and full blown mini-dramas. For many children, it is the only “church” they get.

Obviously, the most wonderful aspect of Bible Story Time is the dozens of children over the years who have professed faith in Jesus Christ through this work. But also significant is the individual ministry that happens with a child who asks a profound question, requests prayer for a sick relative, or mentions a deep need. In the short amount of time in which Bible Story Time takes place, there is a tremendous and profound connection.

For 50 plus years, dozens of walkers and story tellers have helped children hear the Good News during the week. And as the Lord directs, there are no plans to let up.

Teacher Tim and Dyzzee take a turn at telling the Bible Story