Vacation Bible school provides creative ways to teach children about Jesus and make faith formation fun. Here are some ideas to spark your planning for the coming season. While these ideas are especially appropriate for small congregations, they can be adapted for churches with a larger VBS program.
Go intergenerational. Maybe your church only has a few children. Try an intergenerational VBS with all ages taking part in activities together. Adapt activity centers to meet the needs of each participant. VBS groups travel together to each activity center as “families.” As various ages travel through activity centers, interactive learning occurs together. Children and youth benefit from older members’ wisdom and knowledge of the Scriptures. Adults benefit from the energy and excitement of the younger ones. Everyone has a chance to learn and share. All your participants are inspired to grow in relationship with God. The combination of concrete thinking of children and abstract understanding of adults can bring new meaning to each activity.
Promote early and in tandem with other church events. Albert Simon is a longtime VBS director for a small congregation in West Virginia. His church announced dates for VBS 2013 at the closing celebration of VBS 2012. Then beginning in September, they included the 2013 VBS dates in their publicity for an Advent Festival, an outreach event designed to reach folks in the community who had never attended church before. In mailings and social media, Albert included VBS 2013 as a “save the date” mention. At the Advent Festival, Albert handed out postcards promoting VBS for summer 2013. This sort of piggyback publicity can stretch limited church budgets as well as keep VBS in people’s minds year round. “People’s calendars are so full these days,” Albert said. “We let people know about VBS early.”
Use social media. Perhaps your congregation is small in numbers but moderate in tech savvy. Albert described how he sets up his church’s VBS as a Facebook event. “People can integrate the Facebook calendar and sync with a smartphone via Google mail and Google calendar, and then get a reminder about VBS on their mobile device.” And it’s free.
Recruit through your community connections. Here’s another cost-free idea. Is a member of your church a soccer coach? Does another member teach dance? Use such community connections to recruit new VBS participants. Ask if you can speak for five minutes at places where structured activities for youth and children are held. Invite those kids to VBS. This outreach strategy helps children to learn about God and build a relationship with your congregation for years to come.
Serve a free meal. Meals draw people into the church. With a small number of children for VBS, offering breakfast, lunch or dinner can be more manageable. It’s a ministry for children who are on a free lunch program and don’t have that opportunity during the summer. For evening VBS, offering dinner is helpful to adult volunteers and may bring in more children and their parents, who won’t have to prepare a meal after a long day.
Be realistic yet dream big. Finally, don’t let the size of your church limit your expectations and goals. In visiting small congregations during VBS, I am often amazed at classrooms overflowing with children and beautiful, elaborate decorations. Last summer I experienced VBS at the church of Meaghan Ross, a VBS director from North Carolina. “We’re a small church,” Meaghan explained. “Fortunately, we ended up with a very large number of children for VBS. It was really easy to adapt the curriculum we chose to a large class size instead of the small class size that we were originally planning for.” If you’ve spent more than five minutes in VBS, you’ve probably already discovered that flexibility is your friend.
CATHY ROBINSON is the director of VBS Resources for Cokesbury and Abingdon Press and a longtime Christian educator.