This article was written by Sarah Ables, a member of the INCM Blog Team.
I love summer.
I can see it now: the warm weather, full days of sunshine, and the easiest footwear: flip-flops.
But my favorite part of summer is VBS – Vacation Bible School or Very Best Summer.
VBS is typically an action-packed, week-long experience where kids encounter the love of God through stories, worship, games, crafts, and activities.
Some VBS’s are done in churches, parks, neighborhoods, or even ball fields!
Our VBS is hosted in our church building, and I LOVE IT!
I love seeing:
- the children in our gym, hands lifted in worship.
- a new set of leaders sharing Jesus with the kids in our community.
- the kids play games in the church, laughing in the hallways, and being encouraged to get loud and have fun.
I love everything about VBS.
Yes…even the planning.
The Impact of VBS
VBS is important and makes a big impact in a short amount of time.
Our VBS runs for 5 days, 3.5 hours per day.
We get 17 hours with these kids.
The average child who only attends church on Sunday spends about 40 hours a year in church.
That’s if they show up semi-regularly (2-3 times a month).
In one mid-summer week, we get almost half of the year’s hours, and in that time, they get to encounter Jesus!
This is not something to be taken lightly.
5 Things to Know
Maybe you’re starting your own church VBS for the first time, or you’re looking to refresh the experience after many years of learning.
It doesn’t matter if you use a pre-written curriculum, write one yourself, or hire professionals to come in and help you host the Very Best Summer program.
As you go into the VBS planning conversations, knowing these 5 things can help prepare you and your team to begin planning for VBS, with no prior experience needed.
1. Know Your Purpose
Not every church does VBS or its summer program in the same way.
Knowing your purpose for this program helps you determine what kind of program you want to provide to your community.
For some churches, VBS is an outreach program for their communities on their church campus.
Some churches pack up their totes and head into another area to bring Jesus to kids who may not be able to get to their church.
Other churches use VBS as a summer curriculum on Sunday mornings or in neighborhood backyards.
There is no wrong way to do it, but knowing what purpose the program needs to serve will help guide you and your team in all decisions.
2. Know Your Team
Ministry cannot be done alone.
Identify early who your team is, and get to know them.
Do you know which members of your team are planners and need to start talking about July VBS in January?
Which members of your team work best under a little pressure and may wait until a few weeks before the program to start the work?
Who loves glitter and has a glue gun in their purse at all times?
Knowing your team, and how they use their gifts will allow you to lead them in the best manner for them.
If you don’t have a team, get to know your existing volunteers and ask them to join you in putting on a VBS for your community.
3. Know Your Audience
It’s the kids at our church, right? Yes and no.
That’s an easy one, right? Yes and no.
The primary audience for VBS is, in fact, the kids in our church and our communities.
But what do those kids need during the time they spend at VBS?
Here are some questions to consider:
- What time works best for your families?
- Will most kids who attend be hungry for a meal or will a small snack tide them over?
- Do some of the kids who are attending speak a different language?
- Will there need to be transportation provided to get kids to and from your VBS location?
These are just a few questions that are critical when planning your program.
Knowing how to best provide what these kids need will help your VBS have the most impact.
4. Know Your Limits
As leaders who are called to bring children to Jesus, our heart wants to do everything in our power to make that happen, but that leads to burnout in our minds and bodies.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to know your limits and honor them.
Decorations are great and help provide an immersive experience, but if you or your team do not have the time, resources, ability, or whatever to make that happen, let it go.
Trinkets and crafts are the same.
They are wonderful tools, but should not be something that takes the place of the reason for providing VBS.
Do not wear yourself out on the small details.
Instead, put your time and energy into ensuring the kids in your VBS have a chance to learn about and begin to walk with Jesus.
5. Know Your Savior
The very best thing you can do for your VBS or summer program is to pray early and pray often.
VBS is a ministry like no other and it is easy to begin to focus on your to-do list and take your eyes off God.
As the dates get closer and you begin to feel pressed, it is tempting to take those 30 minutes of prayer and Bible time and use it to gather supplies instead.
I know because I have been there before.
Those 30 minutes on your knees in prayer and in the Word and in worship will do more for your VBS than anything else.
Invite the Holy Spirit into all these spaces.
Make room for Him to move and do what He does.
I wish I had enough time and space to lay out in exact detail all 8,734 things that will be needed to plan a VBS from scratch. But we don’t have enough time to go over them!
Learning these lessons was not easy, but keeping these things in mind as we go forward into VBS planning has made all the difference in our program, our church, and our communities.
I am praying it does the same in yours.
Sarah Ables has been serving at Central College Presbyterian Church for 11 years in Children’s Ministries. She is employed full-time as a project manager in the financial industry but is excited that she also gets to use her skills to support leaders who serve children and families. Sarah lives in Ohio with her husband of 19 years and her 16-year-old son. They enjoy doing puzzles, playing board games, and singing loudly to musicals.