I know we are all in a bit of panic mode when it comes to our summer plans. We have no idea what the future holds with our large group gatherings and everything is confusing with some areas opening back up and some locking down further. I know VBS has been keeping me up at night wondering when and if. One thing I will not worry about is how.
A few years back I worked at a church that was in an area of about 5 other churches. I would see their VBS signs pop up and realize that we were all doing the same package and of course mine was the one later in the summer when all the other kids had attended other churches earlier. Who wants a repeat? I sat down with my committee to come up with a way to create a unique VBS that focused on the areas that our church was passionate about without losing our minds.
You may be thinking that this seems like a lot of work. Well, VBS just is…a lot of work. So much work. But creating your own really isn’t that different from buying the package deals, reading it and realizing you have to edit and change a large chunk of it anyway. Honestly, the big companies have already given you the tools to do it yourself. The schedule is right there just begging for activities that share who you are as a church and what you value. And you don’t have to buy a bunch of expensive tchotchkes that will end up in under the seats of 100’s of mini-vans at the end of the summer.
The beauty of this is that you can tailor it to the attendance you expect, age ranges and budget. You can make it intergenerational and family-friendly. It can be whatever you want it to be with the basics in place:
- A trick here is to pick a theme of a past big VBS and buy décor on the cheap from places like Oriental Trading. We have done a spy (secret agent) theme a travel theme (this one is broad and can incorporate many former VBS packages), sports during and Olympic year and nature.
- With each theme there was an underlying theme:
- Spy was secret “service” with a service theme
- Sports was being part of a team
- Travel we spent time learning about different cultures
- Nature we learned to care for creation
- Once you have a theme, brainstorm Scriptures and Bible stories for each night.
- The years of box VBS have already set you up for success with registration. I am sure you already have a system that works for you.
- We had a local screen printing company create our logo and shirts.
Opening and Closing Time:
- We always have a little puppet skit to introduce the Bible point of the night as well as sign language for it. A fun way to remember. Your years of the box VBS have also trained you for this!
- Find a fun way to ID your groups of kids:
- Countries for Olympics
- World landmarks for travel
- Animals for nature
- Again, go with a schedule that has always worked for you and enter in the activities you want.
- Once again rely on your past experiences. How did small groups work best? How do you like to separate ages? What activities kept their attention during this time?
- During craft time the first night the kids always decorated a folder that had activity sheets for each night of small group. Now you have a craft down and activities for the kids to work on in small groups! A big resource I have used are the Children’s Worship Bulletins. You can search by Scripture and the kids can work on those as small group leaders share the Bible story. Coloring sheets and posters from Illustrated Children’s Ministry are wonderful as well.
- This is however you want to share the Bible story in a deeper way. Some ways we have done it:
- Yoga – Michel Gribble-Dates does great work with this. We used some of her plans as well as created our own. The kids learn the story as they do yoga moves.
- Object Lessons – Just like Sunday morning.
- Prayer Stations – Praying with the theme of your Bible study in creative and artistic ways after they hear the story.
- Children’s books – Sharing a children’s book that connects with the theme and Bible story for the night.
- This is one area that I thought might lack from the DVD dance parties of the packages. We took a simplistic approach and our music director led the kids in songs in their small groups each night. Hand motions were created to go along. He shared different instruments and how they are played as well as some music games.
- Music was more a part of our VBS activities than part of opening and closing time. The kids did learn a couple of songs to sing at the finale on the last night.
- I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time with games and sometimes just give up and let the kids go wild. Water balloons, tag, etc. Sure, you can make a game to go with the theme, but by the time you explain the rules, often it is time to move along to the next things. All this to say, I don’t put a lot of energy in connecting the games to the theme. It is more of a fun release!
- Each night in crafts, our kids would create a piece of their “outfit” for finale night. We kept all their completed items (except their small group notebooks) together in a separate room to be distributed to their small groups before the finale. Some things we did:
- Spy: colored white sunglasses, briefcase out of a box, special agent badge, walkie talkie made of wood
- Travel: camera out of a small box, white hat decorated with marker and foam stickers, scrapbook, fanny pack (Below the “Pyramids” are getting ready for their finale entrance.)
- You can do anything here, some things we did:
- STEM and Science projects
- Learn about artists and created art in their style – we used this with our travel theme and learned about art of the country we were learning about
- Service projects – tie blankets, placemats for nursing homes, care packages, community garden
- “Experts” – for travel we had people from other countries share about where they are from. For the sports theme we had some hook ups with local athletes that had gone pro come talk about being a team player.
- We collected money in small groups each night after the first. 2nd night pennies and nickels, 3rd night dimes, 4th night quarters, 5th night dollars. The small groups competed against one another for the most money collected. All monies were donated to a program we learned about that week.
- Snacks were served each night and we usually kept it pretty simple.
- Our finale was simple where each group entered in all of the swag they made throughout the week. They sang a couple of songs on the chancel with the music director and were released to their parents.
- With the money we saved, we hired a shaved ice truck to come celebrate our finale with us!
Of course this is a brief overview to show you that this is not out of your reach. Especially this summer when you may have to rethink how you do everything. This is simple, adaptable, and allows you to be creative and focus on what is important to your congregation. If you are interested in seeing a complete VBS package that was successfully used, please PM me in the Hope4CE Facebook group and I would be happy to send it your way.
My prayers are with you all in this time as we think about the future of our beloved summer traditions.
Karen Miller is Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and a Member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee