Summer Vacation! It’ll be here before you know it and dedicated children's ministers, parents and parishioners are planning to make it exciting and memorable with Vacation Bible School (VBS). Whether your VBS is grand or modest, run by professionals or parent volunteers, these tips and resources will make sharing the Gospel message with children in your community a powerful and fun experience -- for the kids AND the leaders.
Tips for VBS Leaders
Theme is King: From the Wild West to Outer Space to the Deep Ocean, creative themes keep kids interested and give organizers inspiration in planning curriculum-based games, arts and crafts, songs, dramatic and outdoor activities. Having a new theme for each week of VBS keeps it fresh and encourages parents to enroll their kids for more than one session. Plan your own themed curriculum or purchase it pre-packaged from publishers. This article lists several publishers and resources for planning VBS curriculum for many denominations.
Volunteer Volume! Volunteers are what make VBS a reality. Without the help of parents, teens and church members, the summer program would be nearly impossible at most congregations. Keep it simple and stress-free:
- Recruit lots of teen helpers. Little kids love big kids and when coached, big kids are awesome helping hands, activity leaders, supervisors and role models.
- Schedule VBS around your volunteers. Sometimes it's difficult to get enough volunteers to staff VBS the same hours as you have in the past. Consider mixing it up - changing to a half-day or evening format may be just the fix for attracting an abundance of help.
- Give all parents an opportunity to support VBS activities. Offer volunteer jobs that span the week, take-home jobs like shopping for supplies or preparing craft kits, and one-time spots like leading the morning prayer, a song, or an art activity. Ask parents to donate supplies, provide healthy snacks, etc. Making it easy for everyone to get involved, even in a small way, builds commitment and rapport with your congregation.
- Schedule and sign up volunteers online and save a tremendous amount time (and stress). Our simple online calendar sign-up tool eliminates the need for clipboard sign-up sheets, spreadsheets and reply-all email when coordinating volunteers to help with activities or to bring snacks and supplies. VolunteerSpot makes it easy to ask for help, and easy for parents to choose when and how they will contribute (with a few clicks). Not only do volunteers get plenty of time to organize their calendars, automated reminder messages give VBS leaders peace of mind knowing they will have the help they need when they need it.
- Provide orientation materials and in-person briefings to get volunteers up to speed on VBS formal and informal requirements. Cover things like background checks and safety considerations, what to do if kids get out of hand, Gospel messages, songs and activities to be covered, contact information, and even small stuff like reminding volunteers they will likely get messy and wet in the course of a typical VBS day.
Welcoming to All: VBS extends the reach of your church into the broader community. Think about everything a new family will need to feel welcome and inspired to learn more about your congregation. Some things to consider:
Frequent Communication: Along with daily craft projects, send home a note or an email letting parents know what happened each day - the lessons, the songs the activities. This information will help parents engage their kids in conversation about VBS and the Gospel messages. Also cover any special instructions or supplies needed for the next day.
- Mail (or email) welcome packages including an enthusiastic letter from the Children's Minister or VBS leader. Include other information important for your VBS: E.g.: important church website links, instructions for parking, drop-off and pickup, church background and minister bios, a campus map, emergency contact information, what to bring (water bottles, change of clothes, snack, sunscreen, etc.), hours, behavior expectations, etc.
- Post extra signs during VBS weeks showing parents and kids where to park and gather. (Put colorful signs down low too so it's easy for kids to see 'em too.)
- Food = Fun! Welcome everyone with coffee, orange juice and muffins on the first morning (or every morning). If holding an evening VBS, consider providing a simple dinner (pizza, fruit) for both the kids and volunteers arriving after work.
- Provide colorful t-shirts name badges for all staff and volunteers so they are easily recognized and remind them to introduce themselves to new families. Provide name tags for kids on the first day - or have them make their own as a craft activity.
- Post a daily agenda and activity instructions at each station for volunteers (remember, they are new too!).
Follow Up: VBS enhances bonds with your current congregation and builds new relationships within your community. Make sure to take advantage of this outreach opportunity by following up with VBS families. Here are some ways to make a lasting impression.
Give Thanks: Letting your volunteers know that they’re appreciated is a big part of retaining your staff for next year’s VBS. Send personal letters from ministers and kids, give public recognition during Sunday services and in church newsletters, and post photos and thank you messages on a bulletin board and the church website. Our free Volunteer Recognition eBook is filled with other low cost/no-cost tips and ideas for thanking volunteers.
- Send a letter home with kids on their last day of VBS summarizing the week's events. Include information on future church events and let parents know how happy you are to have been a part of their children’s summer and religious education.
- Have the kids themselves write their parents a note about how much they loved VBS. Mail it home the week after their session has ended.
- Enroll children in Sunday School who aren’t already.
- Add VBS families to the church contacts database and keep them posted of session openings throughout the summer and activites into the school year.
- Share rosters with contact information (with permission) of families who attended so parents can arrange post-VBS playdates.
- Provide a list of qualified VBS teen volunteers who babysit. (Red Cross-certified, background checked).
We hope these tips make your VBS season a bit easier and even more enjoyable. Please click 'comments' below to share your church's best practices, tips and VBS traditions.