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Making the Most of Your VBS Experience

December 12, 2006 jill Blog
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This article originally appeared in the December 2006 issue.

By Mary Grace Becker

Mary Grace Becker is senior product developer for NexGen Team, a division of Cook Communications Ministries, www.cookministries.org.

The month of December with its bright Christmas lights and thermometer dip may not seem the best time to think about Vacation Bible School. It is, however, an excellent time to dream and brainstorm and start planning how to make the most of the VBS experience this summer.

Vacation Bible School provides an excellent opportunity to reach the children in your church and community with the life-changing message of God’s love for them. Although the term “VBS” may be considered old school by some, today’s VBS programs are built to fit any church format or ministry need.

Filled with field-tested activities, dramas, crafts and games, today’s VBS takes children on imaginative adventures and expeditions and makes them eager Bible story learners. Current trends in VBS enhance the VBS experience with big-idea creativity and design, great take-home music, DVD video production and easy-to-use promotional materials. VBS is the perfect time for Jesus’ love, power and wonder to come alive for the children in your community. “I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.” (Psalm 9:1)

The benefits of Vacation Bible School are reasons enough to start your planning now.

* VBS teaches children solid biblical truths that help them build a relationship with their Creator.

* VBS lessons are carefully structured to help children become learners of the Lord Jesus Christ with the goal to become more like Him.

* VBS remains an effective tool for evangelistic outreach.

* VBS is a fun, relational and out-of-the-ordinary church experience for children who attend church regularly and for those who have never stepped foot inside a church building.

First Things First

To make your VBS all it can be for 2007, take a step back and review last year’s VBS experience. How did things go? What went well? What could have used more support? What did the kids think?

If your answer to any of the questions above is, “I don’t remember,” think about goals when planning this year’s VBS. Define purpose and intent for your ministry and outline what you hope to accomplish with your 2007 VBS. Then, share them with your pastor, staff and congregation. Consider the ideas below to get you started. Then, take a few minutes and make your own goal sheet.

Planning With Goals in Mind

This year, ___________________ Church will pray, plan and promise to do our best to:

  1. Develop in children an understanding of the relationship God wants to have with them. (Children will confess Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.)
  2. Develop meaningful, Christ-centered relationships among our church leaders, teachers, teen helpers and children within an interactive, safe Christian environment. (Convey the love of Christ in our relationships and by our actions and behaviors.)
  3. Build a bridge between church and home as families are encouraged and challenged by our VBS ministry. (Celebrate the church community with a commitment to excellent programming.)
  4. Seek greater community attendance by promoting our VBS in new ways. (Research promotion opportunities and give them a try.)
  5. Recruit more volunteers with the promise to support them during the VBS experience. (Strengthen and support the Body of Christ with our gifts, talents, appreciation, consideration and respect.)
  6. Implement a “keep-in-touch” campaign for young believers who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior during our VBS. (Distribute or mail high-quality, take-home materials that will help children continue their faith walk throughout the year.)
  7. Distribute a “how did we do?” survey to parents whose children attend VBS, inviting feedback and input for next year’s event. (Connect to the community in positive ways.)

A few other things to consider doing now include establishing a VBS planning committee, selecting a director, determining and placing VBS dates on your church’s calendar, working on your VBS budget and beginning to pray for leaders and children who will be part of your VBS program.

Calling All Staff

Now is a great time to start VBS planning with your staff members. Before winter melts into spring, find time to communicate to all who will listen why VBS is important to your ministry. Church members from pastor to teacher, receptionist to janitor need to know why they will spend time and energy getting VBS ready for children this summer.

Explain goals and benefits. Don’t forget the eternal ones. Allow ample time for staff to share their suggestions and past experiences, including VBS success stories accumulated over the years. Not only will you gain important insights on how to make the most of your VBS, but your staff will be honored that you included them in your planning. And don’t forget to appreciate your staff before, during and after VBS. The smallest “thank you” can bolster spirits and attitudes.

Make It a “Win-Win” for Your Volunteers

Want to notch up your VBS experience? Appreciate your volunteers—early and often. Purchase small baskets and fill them with fruit or chocolate and give them to your volunteers with a personal note. Fill colorful gift bags with soup fixings or dry cookie dough ingredients. Distribute gift certificates to a favorite restaurant, ice-cream shop or coffee house. Prepare an elegant brunch and have the youth group dress up and serve it to your volunteers in white-glove fashion.

Want to pump it up even more? Pick any one and do it before VBS starts. You’ll communicate to your volunteers that you care about them not only what they can do for the ministry. Finally, be sure to give each of your volunteers a fanny pack “survival kit” for VBS itself. Fill it with the essentials: bottled water, candy mints, uplifting Scripture verses, tissues, bandages, lip balm or hand cream.

Funding and Promotion Ideas

It’s never too early to think of new and creative ways to fund and promote your VBS. This year, make it a goal to think outside the box. In other words, think in bold, never-before-tried strokes. Take the extra step and watch it pump up your church’s VBS experience.

* Ask for a single generous gift to cover your VBS expenses.

* Allow church members to sponsor one, two or three children to attend VBS.

* Have a fun race or walk where church members ask for pledges and then donate them to your VBS program.

* Post colorful flyers to let people know what supplies they can donate. Visit local craft and hobby supply stores and ask for a discount on the merchandise you need in exchange for free advertising in your church bulletin.

Consider promoting your VBS by handing out balloons one Sunday with a postcard invitation to attend attached to the bottom of the balloon. Or you can make magnetic prayer reminders using colorful cardstock and magnetic strips and add the dates and times of your VBS. If you have photos or a scrapbook from last year’s program, display them on a table where everyone can enjoy them.

Rotation Model Energizer

The growing trend in energizing the VBS experience is VBS programs built on a rotation model. Many educators agree that the rotation method is how children learn best. Rotation gives children the chance to visit activity sites throughout the day. Sites or stations engage children in a variety of activities that utilize all of their senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

In a VBS format, rotation means that your children will divide into groups (school age or mixed age) and each group will visit—or rotate to—station activity centers. There are a number of effective group-organizing techniques to get your VBS off to a great start each day. Bright, colorful flags, banners, balloons or color-coded poster board (with children’s names printed) help children know where to gather and line up. Leaders wearing color-coordinated shirts that match group colors and color-coded wristbands for each child help children visually identity what group they belong to quickly and easily.

After they line up, children start their day at an opening assembly. Here, children are welcomed and may enjoy a puppet skit that introduces the day’s Bible story, key Bible verse and/or lesson focus. Children may also hear words of welcome from the pastor, celebrate birthdays, sing upbeat worship songs, salute the Christian flag and hear details about how they can help with this year’s VBS missions project.

Soon after, groups separate and begin their rotation to the activity centers. Centers vary but usually focus on Bible storytelling and drama, crafts, video, science, games and reproducible activities that reinforce Bible learning.

At the end of the day, children gather for a brief closing for announcements, distribution of take-home handouts and a quick “Jesus loves you and so do we!” before dismissal. To extend the VBS experience, children are often encouraged to bring a friend the following day so that the love of God’s kingdom is spread throughout the community.

Teen Talk

If you’re looking to make the most of your VBS experience this summer, don’t miss the opportunity to get teens on board. VBS field tests by Christian curriculum publishers prove the valuable contribution that teens make with children. Children adore teens who care for them and put them first. And teens, who may at first be hesitant to join the fun, will be anxious to jump in again next summer.

It’s All About Relationship

How many times have you heard it? “I came to Christ when I was eight after attending Vacation Bible School at my church.” A wonderful and lasting VBS experience would not be complete without mentioning the most important part of the program: Christ-centered relationship.

Today’s children live in an advertising world, with an almost endless array of entertainment choices. Rarely, however, does any one compare to the VBS experience, which commits to bring the Word of God to life with a live cast–that is, a loving church community. Children are eager to learn of the power and wonder of Jesus’ love and faithfulness when churches promise to come along side with a servant’s heart.

Are you ready to get started? Let the planning begin. I pray for God’s grace and blessings on your Vacation Bible School experience this summer. May it be all it can be—and more!