Love it or loathe it, Vacation Bible School looms on our advance planning calendar.
Maybe you’re new to ministry altogether. Perhaps you’re one of the first timers at the VBS helm, desperate for tips, and don’t even know where to begin. At some churches, VBS is a major outreach event, and for others, it’s a simple fun addition to the young people’s ministry schedule.
Regardless of where your church is on that spectrum, summer will careen towards us faster than we want to admit. If you’re the ministry staff person or volunteer leader who’ll be taking on this incredible opportunity of VBS as a first timer, let’s look at some tips.
VBS First Timers Tip #1: Where’s Your Team?
If you’re new to this role, you might want to jump in and prove yourself as super human, thinking you can get this task done on your own. Look, there’s lots of room for differences of opinion in ministry. But, can I just unequivocally tell you that attempting VBS solo is a massive mistake? You physically, spiritually, and logistically cannot be in more than one place at a time. Gather your trusty crew and sit down with them.
You might need to plan the when/where of your VBS according to the team’s availability. For instance, there could be more volunteers free at night, rather than during a weekday morning. Don’t have a crew? Well, don’t just depend on a bulletin blurb to bring them running. Personal request is the number one way to increase the team. Be looking now for people who are great at décor, and folks who have cheerful hospitality pouring out of them. Find the musicians, the teachers, the members of the craft circle – cast a wide net! If they haven’t served at VBS, they’re totally missing out.
They don’t even have to love spending time with children. There’s always a task that can be done beforehand or behind the scenes. And don’t forget to include the teens of your church – their creativity and energy will be a huge boost for your VBS squad.
VBS First Timers Tip #2: What’s Your Theme?
Many publishing houses are producing incredible packaged Vacation Bible School kits. There are the big name, all-inclusive ones that it seems like everyone in town is using. Lately, there are newer companies who are bringing new methods and ideas to the table. An additional consideration: some cost hundreds just for the basic kit, and others are completely free. Or, you and your team might have a flood of inspiration and want to create your own entirely!
To help choose, I highly recommend asking your peers what’s worked for them, as well as spending time personally researching the theological concepts that are presented. Don’t forget, you can take the building blocks of a packaged set and adapt it for your own context, needs, and theological traditions. Having your team work on this choice with you can help keep momentum and excitement going as your plans take shape.
VBS First Timers Tip #3: How Much Green?
Ok, so you caught me trying to be clever and rhyming my tips for VBS First Timers. I’m talking about how each church has its own budget, which for Vacation Bible School might be $0, might be $500, or it might be $50,000. Some churches have historically charged a fee to attend, and others do it for free. Having spent most of my years in ministry working with next to no funds available for VBS, I promise it can be done, and done well, with very little money. We also never charged participants a fee.
Having budget information helps you determine just how much work you can outsource (i.e., purchasing the merch, craft kits, décor, lesson materials, etc. from the publisher) versus how much you’ll have to creatively work on with the team. Be sure you know what you’re working with before you place that giant and expensive order full of flashy stuff. If you’re short on funds, make a master list of what you need, and what you think would be nice to have. Throw open every closet door in the building to hunt for materials. (Why does every church seem to have storage to explore?) Then, make specific requests to your congregation to gather the rest.
And Tip #4: What Does Your VBS Mean?
Individually, and as a team, spend some time in thought about why your ministry is doing Vacation Bible School. Are you hoping to reach new people in your community? Is the primary purpose to remind the young people who come about Jesus’ love for them? Will VBS be a chance to serve families in your area, providing them with a safe, loving, and fun experience to bring their children to in the summer time? It might be all those things! Remembering the purpose of your event helps keep your expectations reasonable, and gives you goals to shoot for. Also, this clarifies the way you’ll communicate information to the people you want to come.
As a member of the VBS First Timers club, these tips may not be something you’ve considered. Don’t be afraid as a first timer leading Vacation Bible School. Sure, by the end of the week you’ll be exhausted; yes, the songs will get stuck in your head for months; sure, you might end up eating “Lydia’s purple cloth” made out of dried fruit for dinner… but it’s also an exhilarating and unique chance to feel Jesus working through you as you share God’s love with kids.
Maresi Brown is the Administrative & Interview Specialist for Youth Ministry Institute. She spent nearly 20 years in ministry to young people and families at a United Methodist Church. Maresi is an avid knitter and resides in St. Petersburg, FL, with her husband, 3 kids, and 2 dogs. You can connect with Maresi at the social media below.