This article was originally published in the December 2007 issue.
It is courtesy of Vacation Bible School Nut, www.vacationbibleschoolnut.com.
If you’re reading this article, you’re excited, scared, nervous, or a combination of all three. You’re about to embark on a thrilling journey, because there’s no greater outreach ministry to children than Vacation Bible School. In this article, you will find valuable resources and ideas that will help make your VBS the success that God wants it to be.
While this is not an exhaustive list of what you need to consider, it will get your blood flowing and ideas popping for leading a tremendous VBS.
First Things First
- Take a deep breath. If God called you, He won’t abandon you, but will see you through to success. Get ready to work hard and trust Him.
- Pray for wisdom and direction. This may seem obvious, but prayer can be too quickly placed on the backburner when tackling a giant like VBS. The ideas below will offer ideas on how best to pray.
Take a Look in the Rearview Mirror
- Find out what’s been done in the past. Did your church host a VBS last year? If this is the first year, are there any similar events your church sponsored that could serve as a resource? Pull what you can from the past. Don’t reinvent the wheel.
- Meet with the previous VBS director to learn how she led the ministry. If she moved or is no longer at the church, give her a call. Ask for notes, ideas, resources, secrets, and suggestions on how you can take your VBS to the next level.
- If you can’t reach a previous VBS director, discover from former VBS teachers and leaders how the event was handled.
- Note past mistakes that need to be corrected and positive changes to be implemented for greater success.
- Ask your VBS veterans for help. Don’t even think about putting on the “Lone Ranger” mask for this ministry. Let them know you are depending on their support when peak planning time hits.
What’s It For, Anyway?
- Interview your church’s appropriate staff members and/or pastor to learn the goals and purpose for your VBS.
- Tailor your planning strategy for that purpose. A community outreach-driven VBS will function differently than a VBS serving only your existing church members.
- If VBS has always been perceived as glorified babysitting, commit to showing your leadership what the ministry was designed to be: an opportunity to change the lives of children eternally.
- If this is your church’s first VBS, get help from another area church, whose VBS ministry you respect. You may end up partnering together for one VBS or just sharing ideas and/or resources.
- Find out what your church will budget for VBS. If possible, the church should pay for VBS without charging kids a registration fee.
- Plan to spend $10 or more per child for everything (curriculum, crafts, snacks, decorations, supplies, etc), depending on the scope of your VBS. It may be your greatest opportunity to impact children in your community, so it’s worth the investment.
- If necessary, plan fundraisers to double as a promotion for VBS. Make sure everyone knows your fundraiser supports VBS. Give the fundraiser a theme that matches your VBS.
- Offset some costs by purchasing VBS t-shirts from the publishers and selling them to participants at a slight mark-up. It may not make a huge difference, but every little bit helps.
So Many Choices, So Little Time
- Review and choose your VBS curriculum. There are numerous resources available today.
- Does your church have a denominational preference for VBS? Find out if your church has a preference on which curriculum it uses.
- The theme is a biggie. It builds excitement for your leadership and attracts kids to your VBS. The theme is not the main purpose—sharing the gospel is. Think of your theme as the icing on the cake, the gift wrap covering the present.
- Check out what Bible stories and passages the curriculum is based upon. Make sure they take your VBS in the direction God wants it to go. If your goal is evangelism, your curriculum should focus on scriptures that invite children to receive Christ as Savior and Lord.
- Consider the age range of children who attend your VBS. Most start kids at 4 or 5 years old and go through the 5th or 6th grade. You may want to offer childcare for your leaders/teachers with children under your starting age group. Think through the logistics before determining your range.
- Listen to the music. Some VBS directors even choose their curriculum based primarily on the quality of music offered. While most don’t consider it that foundational, exciting and upbeat music can pump energy into your worship and classroom singing.
- Evaluate the growing number of technological tools available from the publishers. Personalized church Web sites, e-recruiting, and online registration are among the advancements publishers are creating to make our lives easier. Take advantage of these.
- Reproducible or non-reproducible? That’s the question! You’ll find publishers that create all-in-one kits that allow you to print and/or photo-copy everything you’ll need. Others require you to order specific quantities. Decide which will work best for you and your budget.
Catch the Vision
- Dream big! This may be (and most likely is) your greatest opportunity to reach children and their families in your community with the gospel of Christ and life-changing ministries your church offers. VBS is an incredibly exciting ministry. Where else can you have so much fun making an eternal difference in others’ lives?
- Set your goals. How many kids will you invite? How much money do you need to raise for VBS? What do you hope your attendance will be by the end of the week? When will you complete your follow-up after VBS? Be sure your goals are reasonable and measurable.
- Get creative! Think of ideas to make your VBS unique. If your theme is an island treasure hunt, send your kids on a crazy pre-VBS scavenger hunt around your community. Invite a local radio station to broadcast from your church during your last day of VBS. Brainstorm with your leaders for big ideas.
- Don’t be satisfied with mediocrity. Use the time and resources God gives you to the utmost. Give your kids a reason to beg their parents to take them to church.
Get Out Your Daytimers
- Choose your schedule. Many publishers include formats for the traditional three hours per day/five days a week, plus weekend formats (Friday and Saturday) and all-summer-long formats (one day a week for 10 weeks). Feel free to structure your VBS in a way that fits your church schedule the best.
- Consider alternative schedules like Tuesday through Saturday. The late start will give you Monday to wrap up any finishing touches, and Saturday as an opportunity to invite families to your closing service.
- Schedule your VBS early in the summer. A late May or early June event seems to be the most popular time to catch families before vacations and summer sports activities.
- Find out when popular community events are taking place and schedule around them. Don’t try to compete. There’s a strong chance you’ll lose.
- Make your schedule leader-friendly. Larger churches have the human resources to pull off a morning VBS. If most of your teachers and helpers work during the day, an evening schedule would work best.
- VBS should trump other summer church activities. It may be the largest and most effective outreach event your church hosts each year.
The VBS Maze
- Don’t forget to keep your classroom layout and schedule in mind as you plan. They’re inseparable and will determine much of the success of your VBS. You’ll find help in your curriculum’s director’s guide.
- Organize your rooms to create a smooth flow for kids and leaders. Minimize the time required to transport a group of children from one activity to the next. Avoid forcing two classes to simultaneously squeeze through the same narrow hallway to get to their next activities.
- Always have a “Plan B” in case the weather forecast looks gloomy. Rent or borrow tents, or change the activity and bring it inside.
- First, talk to leaders from previous years about serving in VBS again. This group is your prime recruiting pool. If some seem burned out, offer a switch in area of service. Moving from crafts to snacks or Bible teaching to recreation can provide a refreshing change.
- Constantly communicate to your congregation to build their excitement. Posters, bulletin inserts, skits, announcements, newsletters are easy tools to get people thinking, “Vacation Bible School” Recruiting is much easier when leaders are anxious to be a part of something fun and exciting.
- Make a list of teacher and leader vacancies, and the people most suited to fill them. If you don’t know your congregation very well, ask someone who does.
- Recruit with an enthusiastic vision of your VBS – don’t use guilt. It usually doesn’t work and may build long-term resentment in those who turn you down.
- Make it easy for people to say, “Yes.” Your VBS schedule, training meetings, and leader responsibilities should be designed to fit your recruits’ schedules as much as is reasonably possible. Don’t over-burden them with unnecessary tasks and frequent meetings.
- Involve your church’s youth group and senior citizens as teachers and/or helpers.
- If your efforts are falling flat, evaluate them and make changes. If your VBS is right around the corner and you’re short on leaders, reformat to adjust to the leaders you have. Don’t try to run a 50-leader VBS with only 30.
- For additional teachers and leaders, seek help from a neighboring church or denominational office.
Getting the Word Out
- Please don’t keep your VBS a secret from your community and expect tons of kids to show up. Give your promotion the priority it deserves. Craft a simple plan to communicate your VBS to your neighbors.
- Start promoting VBS at least six to eight weeks prior to your starting date. People often don’t pay attention for the first two to three weeks of your efforts. Spread the word often, using a variety of methods to help your VBS sink in.
- To prepare your church congregation for the best week of the summer, your VBS, try some or all of these ideas: hang posters everywhere, include bulletin inserts each week for four weeks, generate excitement through your church and parent newsletters and/or e-mails, perform skits during your worship service, and/or create an early-registration contest.
- To invite children in your community, try some of these: distribute theme-related invitations door-to-door (such as a flyer in an empty plastic cola bottle as a “message in a bottle” for your island theme), post flyers in local store windows, submit an article to a local newspaper, or create an eye-catching theme sign outside of your church.
- Sponsor a fun kick-off event with food and outdoor games, and invite everybody in your community. This is a great way to not only promote VBS, but to introduce people to your church who may not have ever set foot on your campus. An event like this costs some money and labor, but it pays big dividends in building relationships.
Bring Your Theme to Life
- Build up your theme to add excitement and energy to your VBS. Take your kids on a journey to a tropical island, a foreign country, outer space, or wherever your VBS calls. If you work hard on your theme, your kids will remember your church and the life-changing experience they had.
- Be sure to budget for theme-related decorations. When preparing your budget, plan for supplies for classrooms, hallways, and your main assembly area. If you’re pinching pennies, as most are, invest some time and talent into creating your own decorations.
- Have a room-decorating contest among your teachers. Give a special prize for the room with the most creative décor.
- Schedule at least one training meeting for your leaders four weeks before VBS. Two weeks before the training, give them a copy of their instructions or leader guide to review for their respective roles. Use this time to cover the schedule and other details to prepare them and make them comfortable about what’s going to happen on the first day of VBS.
- If you would like, invite a representative from your VBS publisher to train your people on the curriculum. Contact the publishing company; many have reps who can motivate and educate your group.
- Contact your local Christian bookstore about sponsoring a workshop where publishers would come and share their materials. You may find additional training events that have already been scheduled. VBS workshops are growing in popularity with local stores.
Sign Me Up!
- Start early signing up kids for VBS. Provide a simple sign-up form for all of your age-appropriate Sunday school classes three or more months prior. Taking care of registration for your church’s kids will make life easier when VBS arrives.
- Some pre-registration ideas include leaving sign-up forms in your neighborhood flyers, registering kids at your kick-off event, or encouraging parents through a parent or church newsletter to pre-register their kids.
- Invite families to register online. If your church has a Web site, ask about adding a registration form to the children’s ministry section of the site. Many publishers offer customized VBS Web sites that are easy to use.
- No matter how hard you try to pre-register, you’re going to have new children show up on the first day (which is fantastic, by the way!). Give your teachers registration forms, so children can complete them in their classrooms.
- As you’re probably well aware, security is becoming a growing issue for churches. Unfortunately, the church is one of the last institutions to implement reliable procedures to protect children from individuals that would cause them harm. It’s extremely important to adopt a strategy to keep your kids safe throughout the week of VBS.
- For preschoolers, consider using two-part sticker labels that serve as security “claim-tickets.” One part is attached to the child’s back and the other is kept by the parent or guardian. The same number is printed on each part, ensuring the child is picked up by the right person
- Enlist a couple of volunteers to walk the church premises and serve as security immediately before, during and after VBS.
- Consider your VBS “exit strategy.” Control how children exit your church at the end of VBS each day. Instruct parents to pick up their preschoolers from their classrooms. Older kids could meet their parents in their classrooms or outside the church, while supervised by your leaders.
That’s All, Folks!
- Including a closing event at the end of VBS provides a super opportunity to invite the family members of your VBS attendees to your church. This is a golden opportunity to reach families who otherwise might be wary of coming to church.
- For your closing, change your schedule to allow for a family walk-through, a closing service, and a meal (if your budget permits). Communicate all of the exciting activities the kids enjoyed. Use this time to show how much your church cares about families.
- Offer a free meal with simple stuff like hotdogs, burgers, chips, etc. It’s cheap, but will give a comfortable, welcoming atmosphere to your guests.
- Use the closing service to honor your kids’ attendance and efforts throughout the week. Give certificates to every child who attended and special rewards for those who brought guests, served others, assisted a teacher, etc.
- Also, recognize your leaders and the tremendous amount of time and effort they invested in preparing for and leading in VBS.
- Speaking of thanking your leaders, be sure to send them thank-you notes immediately after your VBS is over. Without them, VBS could not have happened. Show them how much you appreciate them, and they’ll never forget it. Fail to show them, and they’ll never forget it, too!
- Consider giving inexpensive gifts, such as a small book or gift basket, to your key leaders.
- Contact children and their families who attended as guests within one to two weeks after VBS. It’s easy to crash after VBS and put this off for a month or more, but don’t. Timing is critical to your follow-up. Your efforts will show them how much you want them back.
Here are some final tips for those of you who say, “This all sounds great, but I’m trying to throw this together last minute! How can you help me?”
- If your church suddenly decided that it would be “really great” to host a VBS in a few weeks and drafted you to lead it, you may have to tell them to forget it and start planning for next year. It’s too important to throw together. Don’t set up VBS for failure by winging it.
- Another option is to reformat a five-day week VBS into a short weekend event (Friday-Saturday) or spread it out over five weeks (one lesson per week).
- If you have to put something together quickly, don’t worry about all of the decorating and promotion extras. Do what you can with the time and resources you have. Gain the experience for next year.
God bless you for your hard work in reaching families for Christ! Go Get ‘Em!