Vacation Bible School is coming.
(As I wrote this post, I prayed for you. I prayed that God would give your ministry fruit from this massive labor of love and give you peace in the midst of anxiety and long task lists.)
In my experience, the weeks before VBS each year are hectic and stressful. You’ve done months of small preparations like choosing your curriculum, writing and giving announcements, making checklists for supplies, and scheduling volunteers.
Now, in the final days, you’re spending your time at Costco buying everything you’ll need, on the phone double checking to make sure your scheduled volunteers didn’t accidentally book their Summer vacation during VBS week, and organizing bins of supplies for each kids room.
But now you’re here, taking a break from all that activity to make sure you didn’t miss anything. I’m sure you’ve got it all covered, but just in case you may have overlooked something important, here are a few think about in the final weeks before VBS.
6 Things to Consider Before VBS Starts
Over-communicate everything. This may seem like a given for you. You’re a veteran ministry leader and you know that success and failure often depend on how thoroughly you communicate. So take this as a reminder that your kids, their parents, the church body, the staff, and even community leaders need to hear everything three times.
That’s a lot of communicating, but it’s necessary. You’re not the only one talking to them. They all have multiple inputs and multiple messages to digest. To break through the noise, you’ll need to repeat yourself ad nauseum.
Don’t be afraid to use every communication medium you have access to. Send emails, make phone calls, make Sunday morning announcements, send notices home with kids on Sunday morning, send snail mail, post on social media, send text messages…you get the idea.
Buy more and better food. One mistake I see time and time again is VBS leaders underestimating the food factor in VBS success. I’ve interviewed families that for years about which VBS experience they preferred and, without variation, the biggest factor was the food that was provided for the kids.
Plenteous goldfish snacks and a massive sheet cake aren’t enough. You don’t need to provide a 5-course meal, but you should be thinking like a parent. No parent wants to pick up a kid from VBS who’s hangry and ready to eat the car seat because they weren’t fed properly at church. Plan to provide both small snacks and actual meals.
Here’s my recommendation on VBS food types. Provide a mix of healthy and fun food, but not at the same time. For snacks when kids are done with a physical activity, provide a healthy, crunchy snack. For example, after outside play, have cold water and chilled bite-size veggies and fruits ready. The kids are hungry and thirsty and way less picky about what they’ll eat.
Later, provide a fun meal like pizza or hotdogs/burgers with low-sugar drinks (think lightly sweetened lemonade or heavily diluted fruit punch). Most parents don’t mind their kid eating fun, unhealthy food after they’ve already had some fruits and veggies, but they don’t want to pick up a sugared up kid, either.
Design VBS into your overall ministry strategy. If VBS is just a standalone event in your children’s ministry, you’re missing an amazing opportunity. I hope that you’re tying VBS into your overall ministry strategy more deeply.
Many VBS curriculum options also provide a Summer-long Sunday curriculum to coincide with VBS so that the whole Summer is thematically connected. You should definitely take advantage of that connection.
But you can tie VBS to the rest of your ministry in other ways, too. For example, have the rest of your Summer and Fall schedule mapped out and on the calendar. Give that schedule to every parent so they know their kid’s ministry opportunities aren’t limited to VBS and Sunday School.
Connect new VBS parents to your online community so they can stay in the loop. Add them to your email list or Facebook Group. Or plan to add them to your HuddleUp account so they can connect there.
Help your volunteers see their week of VBS commitment as a connection to families that they should be maintaining beyond VBS week, too. Your volunteers, after all, are the primary connection point between families and the ministry.
Train your volunteers well. If you’ve overlooked this aspect of VBS preparation, it’s not too late. You can still train your volunteers for VBS week at the last minute. In fact, that’s one of the things that TrainedUp does well; training people without scheduling training meetings.
Since your volunteers are the primary interaction-point with the kids and parents you’re trying to reach, those volunteers absolutely must be trained well. You can’t expect to have much of an impact on families if volunteers are unprepared.
For VBS training, you should be focusing on two main areas. First, they should know the curriculum and the plan for the week. They should have the curriculum in hand as well as directions on how and when to use each part. Second, you should be training your volunteers on how to interact with kids and parents. Don’t trust that your volunteers already know how to treat visitors, handle tantrums, talk to parents, or teach lessons. Even volunteers that serve on Sunday mornings need a refresher on these things for VBS week.
Don’t skimp on safety. It’s too easy to shrug off security for VBS. After all, it’s only one week and there’s so many people around that surely nothing bad would happen, right?
Wrong. Predators look for those types of opportunities. They know that background checks are lax or nonexistent for VBS. They know that the larger crowds create opportunities for less accountability.
You cannot skip background checks for VBS. You must have a security team in place for VBS. You must require the 2-adult rule in all rooms with all kids during VBS. You must ask about allergies with visiting families. You must respect occupancy limits for rooms with lots of people. You must have an emergency plan ready and your volunteers know what to do.
If you need some simple, direct training for your volunteers related to emergency situations, we’ve provided some videos you can use for free here.
Delegate everything for the week. Finally, as the senior leader in your ministry, you should not have tasks to complete or responsibilities to manage during VBS week. Your only role should be to oversee, supervise, and coach.
Every other thing should be handled by your team. If you have a large ministry, you should have coaches over groups of volunteers. Those coaches should be guiding their group. For example, you should have a couple people responsible for keeping everything happening on time. And that small team of time-keepers should have a coach keeping them on-time.
Your room leaders should have a coach helping them with supplies and answering questions. Your food team should have a point person that’s keeping them moving together with the right food and drinks at the right time. Your games team should have a coach. Your worship gathering team should have a coach.
Your only job is to support and encourage your coaches and their team volunteers. Everything else should be done by the people you’ve put in place.
If you’re busy doing, then you’re not leading. If you’re not leading, then you’re letting too much happen by chance or accident.
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