How to Choose the Right VBS Curriculum
By: Tony Kummer
Vacation Bible School curriculum options are getting better every year. With the host of excellent VBS themes comes a problem – which one is right for your church? Here are the top eight elements to look at when choosing a Vacation Bible School curriculum.
Vacation Bible School publishers typically downplay doctrinal distinctives. This makes sense, because they are trying to reach the largest cross-section of churches. But you can't assume that every Vacation Bible School curriculum is theologically neutral. How can you evaluate the theological bias of a VBS program?
* Check to see if the publisher has a statement of faith.
* Dig a little deeper and see what types of churches typically use their curriculum.
* Read the sample lessons carefully and with discernment.
* If you are trying a new publisher, always check with your pastor or church board.
2. Quality of the Lesson Plans
Not all Bible lessons are created equal. When I think about quality, I like to see lessons with clear learning objectives. Good curriculum will balance between challenging church kids and connecting with the unchurched. This is not an easy task! I also check to see of the Bible references clearly support the lesson aim. Too often, verses are jammed into lessons just to fit with the daily theme. Look carefully at the Bible teaching; it's the heart of every great Vacation Bible School curricula.
Many curriculum publishers have online forums where you can share ideas with other Vacation Bible School directors. This is a great way to get support and make new friends. Some publishers even offer regional training meetings. This is strength of using a major publisher's Vacation Bible School curriculum.
4. Ministry Setting
Think carefully about your ministry setting. Not all themes will fit well in every community. For example, some Vacation Bible School curricula might not connect with city kids the same way they connect with rural children. If you reach unchurched children, find a VBS program that leans toward evangelism. If most of your VBS learners are from other churches, select a curriculum that leans toward discipleship.
5. Music and Video Demonstrations
What music styles are influencing the culture in your town? I give a lot of weight to the music when choosing a Vacation Bible School curriculum. If possible, let some kids in your life sample the music off the publisher's website. I have been surprised to find that music I thought was "cool" sounds like "pre-school music" to our kids. It's also important to find a publisher that offers DVD music demonstrations.
Vacation Bible School as a concept has less cultural draw than in previous generations. Most publishers offer a good selection of publicity material to help boost attendance. Be careful; the cost of these can add up quickly. I usually make flyers with the approved advertising logos that are included in the curriculum. We also place a large sign on the road by our church. This works well because of our location, but you may need to get more creative.
7. Easy To Use
"Easy" has become a buzzword for children's ministry curriculum. While there is a danger in lowering expectations for your volunteers, we all have to negotiate time in our busy lives. I try to make things easy on the preparation side, but expect a lot of energy and compassion from our workers on the scene. Finding a VBS program that makes things easy is always a plus.
Many of the larger Vacation Bible School curricula have similar price points. Watch out for hidden costs, such as workbooks, craft kits, and extra teacher manuals. If budget is a concern, get creative with snack donations and craft supplies. I know of several churches that work together to save costs by sharing their materials. You can also shop around online and find steep discounts on Vacation Bible school curriculum.
Night or Day Vacation Bible School Schedule?
A reader recently emailed me asking for advice about her VBS schedule. I thought it was a good question so I wanted to share a few quick thoughts here.
Here is what the reader wrote: "This will be my first year directing VBS, and our theme this year would lend itself well to an evening VBS, but I'd like a little input from people who've tried it. Do you have any information on evening vs. daytime VBS programs?"
This is definitely a church-specific decision because so many factors will relate to your church uniquely. If I was a new VBS director, I would ask the church what they have done in the past or what other churches do in the area. Then, take an extra step and ask why. Sometimes doing things the same way is really the best idea, while sometimes a change is needed. Whatever the situation, this should give you a good starting point.
Pros and Cons of a Night VBS Schedule
In general, finding adult volunteers will be easier for a night VBS. Many parents who work during the day can make time to help with an evening schedule. This might be a downside for retired or senior adult volunteers – ours like to be home before dinner. So, check with some key helpers to see what makes the most sense in your church.
Kids will sometimes have baseball or gymnastics practice conflicts in the evenings. Many sports programs run on weeknights so that parents can attend. Children may also be at the swimming pool all afternoon and not make it to VBS on time.
In my experience, kids have more energy (or wildness) with an evening schedule. This can make things more fun or out of control, depending on the child.
From a directing standpoint, an evening VBS gives you all of the next morning and afternoon to prepare the next day's activities. This can be helpful if you or your volunteers are not into early mornings.
Pros and Cons of a Day VBS Schedule
Senior adult workers prefer morning VBS schedules, at least that is the case at my church. For me, that made the morning much easier to staff. On the downside, volunteers (and kids) would sometimes miss for doctor appointments during the day.
Our attendance was stronger in the morning with parents looking to keep kids active during summer downtime. Babysitters were always glad to bring their children to our program, too. You might want to be careful of daycares. I have heard stories about preschool overload when too many came without warning.
Tony Kummer is a children's pastor from Indiana and founder of www.Ministry-To-Children.com.