So, you’re thinking about hosting your first VBS! I know the feelings that come with planning a VBS. I felt overjoyed, overwhelmed, optimistic and afraid to fail. Whatever feelings are coming to your mind, know that they are all normal to feel. Make sure to remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. You cannot run a VBS, whether it’s your first or 100th, by yourself. As with any large event, you will need oodles of volunteers. The cool thing is, God has already been working ahead of you.
I pray that as you begin to plan your VBS, things will fall into place. I know that they did for me at my last VBS. God gets all the credit because it felt like He was running the show. I encourage you to take time before you dive deep into planning and spend it with Him. Ask Him to lead you and your team in every step of the way. It’s going to feel like chaos, but God will have it all under control.
Below, you’ll find a pretty comprehensive “How to Plan” for you to use when planning your first VBS. It’s not EVERYTHING you’ll need, but I hope you’ll find it helpful as you prepare.
Jonathan Veliquette (Fellow Children’s Pastor)
Step By Step How To:
1. Ask THE BIG UGLY QUESTION (7-8 months before Summer)
I’m not sure the reason behind you planning VBS. Maybe your church has been hosting a VBS for as long as they remember, maybe you chose to follow Jesus at a VBS when you were a kid, or maybe you’re just a little bit insane. Ok, well we’re all a little bit insane, but that’s beside the point. The big question you need to ask God, ask yourself and ask your team is,
IS VBS RIGHT FOR OUR MINISTRY?
This can be a tough question. I encourage everyone who is planning a VBS to ask this question EVERY YEAR. Yes, every year. VBS can be an incredible jump starter event for many churches. It brings new people into your church, it provides a fun summer activity, and it shares the Gospel with the community. It also takes A LOT of financial and people resources and can be an incredible drain on you as a Children’s leader.
I have been on staff at churches that have hosted VBS programs and some that had chosen to skip VBS and use those resources to pump up their every week services. Whatever you decide, just make sure you listen to God’s guidance and take care of yourself. Everything will flow through you as the Children’s leader. God is the source and you are the main conduit for this event. Make sure you care for yourself and remember to breathe because a conduit does not work properly if it is not taken well care of.
Ok, with all that said if the conclusion is to host a VBS, GREAT! Keep on reading! If you decide to skip VBS, also feel free to keep on reading. I will pause and commend those of you to skip hosting a VBS. It’s a tough call, but really focus on how you can leverage the resources you would have used to make your weekend program STELLAR!
2. Nail Down the Purpose (6 months until event)
First things first! You will need to think through this question, “What is the purpose of my event?” I have hosted a VBS with the purpose to disciple our current kids and I’ve also hosted a VBS with the purpose of getting as many kids in our doors in hopes that they would hear about Jesus and come back. Whatever you decide the purpose of your event is, just make sure you take time to pray and ask God to lead you to what He wants to accomplish. Remember, this is His event, not yours.
I would encourage your focus to be on the community with this event. In many communities, VBS events are well known and attended even if the family doesn’t believe in God or attend a church. The things that will attract your community the most will be the theme, activities, and the décor. However, the thing that will have the families coming back will be the relationships that they develop. Think through these two important factors as you develop your purpose. This event has the potential to accomplish a great purpose, what will yours be?
3. Plan the Basics (6 months until event)
Your purpose will direct your whole event. A lot of people skip over step one, but my philosophy is to always start with the purpose. Filter EVERYTHING through the purpose.
Next, you’ll want to plan a few basics. Think through these questions: (I like to get in front of a white board and write down the answers)
- What dates and times would work best for your target audience?
- We chose to hold ours from 6:30-8:30pm. This allowed people to get off work and feed their kiddos dinner before they dropped them off.
- We always do our VBS events in the summer. The sweet spot for our community is late June or mid-July. Try to avoid July 4th if possible since families will most likely try to plan events around then.
- When it comes to dates, here are some things to consider: When do the schools around you release for the summer? Are there any other community events happening?
- What curriculum would you like to use for the event? There is A TON of options out there! I’ve hosted VBS events where we wrote our own curriculum and where we bought pre-made curriculum. My opinion is, get a pre-made curriculum and adapt it to your church. There is too much to be done when it comes to this event to be creating your own curriculum. Unless you’re a church of 10,000 people and have 10 people on your Kid’s Ministry staff, get some pre-made curriculum.
- As to companies to buy from: there’s Group, Orange, Lifeway, Grow, Children’s Ministry Deals and of course many others. Think through the needs that you’ll have for the event.
- Do you have enough volunteers to do live skits? Live worship? Live teaching?
- Do you need to buy pre-made supplies or can you make your own?
- Do you need to buy pre-made décor or can you make your own?
- Each company has their own strengths and weaknesses.
- Grow is free, but it does not usually come with worship videos and lacks in the amount of content you get.
- Orange has some great quality stuff but tends to be expensive and still doesn’t usually cover all the stuff you need.
- Lifeway would be my runner up choice usually. They have a good amount of content for the price you pay.
- Group is usually the one I lean toward. They have all the video teaching and worship that you will need, and they provide a good amount of polished content.
- No matter what company you choose, you will have to adapt their content to fit your needs. We’ll talk more about how to do this later. It can be tricky, but remember, God’s got this!
- How many kids would attend your VBS event? (Shoot for the stars here!)
- You’ll want to ballpark this so that you know how many volunteers to start recruiting. Side note here, you can never have too many volunteers for VBS. There is a place for every willing person!
- Having a number in mind will help you prepare the amount of supplies you might need.
- What ages of kids do you want to attend?
- We had 2 programs that ran at the same time. We had a preschool program for kids 4-5 years old and we had an Elementary program for Kindergarteners to 5th grade.
- We were blessed to be able to provide childcare for volunteers with kids under the age of 4. Having this allowed us to have more volunteers.
- What’s a general schedule for each day?
- The VBS events that I have hosted have all been at night, but I have had friends host their event in the morning and one even held the event once in the morning and once in the afternoon. The twice a day was necessary due to the demographics in their community. The working demographics were cut in half. Half the community worked during the day and half worked at night. I commend my friend that did this. It took twice the number of volunteers, but God really came through and provided. He always does, right?!
- We always had a rotation style schedule for our VBS events. The schedule would usually go something like this: Large group (30 Minutes), Transition (5 minutes), Small Group/Crafts (25 minutes), Transition (5 minutes), Games/Snacks (25 minutes), Transition (5 minutes), Large Group (20-25 minutes). We found that the rotation style allowed kids to get their wiggles out and best accomplish our purpose. We divided the group of kids in two so that the rotations (Small Group and Games) were smaller. Each section of the night was held in different parts of the church, so it kept the kids moving to another place and allowed for a fresh space to minister to the kids.
- One of the coolest days of our VBS events has been our “Family Night.” We have always dedicated the last night to inviting the family to come, see a recap of the week, experience the large group planning, and have a huge party with bounce houses and food. I would encourage you to think about hosting a “Family Night” to end your event. It’s a great way to get the parents in the building, establish some relational connection, and invite them back.
- How much can we spend on this event? (Not the fun question, but it needs to be answered.)
- Think through major costs and put them on a spreadsheet. Things like: Décor, craft supplies, check-in supplies, volunteer appreciation, volunteer support, curriculum, etc.
- Whatever funds you have available, God can amplify it. Do your best to stick to your budget and get creative when funds get tight. God is not limited by a budget. He is not short on cash.
- Where do we want to host the event?
- Most of the time the answer to this question will be at your church building. Just a few things to think about:
- Where is the best place to reach your community? I’m all about getting people in the doors of the church to become more familiar and comfortable coming back. However, maybe the best thing for your community is to have a “Mobile VBS.” You could have it at a park, a community center, or even have a “Block party” style VBS spread out over the area.
- There’s no correct answer to where that I can give you. You and your team need to decide where the best pace is. Remember to filter this question through your purpose. If the best place is your church, great! If it’s one of the other options, great! Wherever you hold the event, God will be with you.
4. Plan Your Promotion (5 months until event)
Now that you have some basics down, you can strategize how to tell people about your amazing event coming up. My strategy is to communicate in every way possible. There is no such thing as communicating too much. Usually, I would suggest a 3-week promotion for an event, but I suggest way earlier for a VBS. I would get it in front of your church 5+ months in advance. You want people to put it on their summer calendar so that they can plan vacations around it. It’s not as important or appropriate to communicate it to the community just yet. Most likely your community isn’t going to plan their vacation around your event unless they have made it a priority to come in the past. If that’s the case, they probably go to your church already!
Before we get to the promotion details, I encourage you to think about your needs for the event. This is an event that EVERYONE can get behind, even if people don’t have kids in their life. Think through how you’ll have people sign up to volunteer. We created an online sign-up where people could let us know they’d like to volunteer. You can use resources like Eventbrite.com or Jotforms.com to create sign-ups. You’ll want to have a place for people to sign up before you announce the event. It’s never too early to ask for help!
We are blessed to have a graphics/communications department at our church, so we had them whip up some graphics. If you don’t have access to people with graphic arts skills, no worries! Remember that this is really God’s event that you are planning, He’s got this. With that said, one of my favorite graphic creation websites is called Canva. It’s free and there are a ton of “How to” videos on the internet. A lot of times, the curriculum you purchase will have some stock graphics you can build upon. I always try to use these graphics for every slide, invite card, directional sign, etc.
Here are the ways we used the graphics to promote our VBS event. Don’t feel like you must do all of these, but the more the merrier!
- Signs: We had an outdoor sign made for each of our campuses. Go big here! The goal is to have as many people as possible see this. We found that a lot of our attenders saw our sign the day of the event and decided to bring their kids. Try to limit the information on these. You’ll want to make sure the date, time, place, and your website is on them. I usually order these well in advance, but don’t put them up until about a month or so before the event.
- Print items: We made a TON of handout cards to have all around our church. I recommend having the full graphic on one side and the information on the back. Keep it simple and sweet. I try to answer these questions: who, what, when, where?
- Make sure you always have these on hand in your classrooms whenever you announce the event in adult services.
- Make sure to encourage your kids to hand these out and invite their friends BEFORE school gets out. Once school is out for the summer, they will likely not see their friends before the event.
- Social media: If you don’t have social media for your ministry, that’s ok, promoting for this event is a great time to start one. I would post a “Save the date” on your social media 5+ months in advance. As it gets closer to the event, post on your social media once or twice a week for the 3 weeks leading up to the event. Get creative through fun videos or graphics. Remember that you’re mainly communicating to parents with social media.
- A fun idea we went through with was a countdown. We would post a countdown 10 days until the event with a fun fact about the event. Your team could even create a fun storyline to go with the countdown to keep people engaged and anticipating the event.
- Sunday avenues: We had the “Host” announce it from the stage the 4 weekends leading up to the event. We included a slide and some fun facts for them to use. I encourage you to get wacky here if you can. Have your host wear a costume, throw candy to the crowd, or do something else memorable. Have them encourage your church to invite the neighborhood and possibly even invite the parents of the kids in the neighborhood to serve alongside them. This is a great way people without kids can be a part of the event. Sunday kids’ services are also a great place to promote. If you can get the kids excited, then you’ll most likely get them to the event.
- Emails: Email all your current volunteers and ask them to support this event through helping at the event, on workdays (you're gonna need some dedicated work parties to pull this off), and most importantly pray for the event. A second email to all the parents in your ministry to support and attend the event is very important. Challenge them to grab invite cards on Sunday and hand them out to all their neighbors and friends.
- A few other ideas we didn’t tap into: An ad in the local newspaper, flyers at local restaurants and gyms, a local mailer or door drop off.
5. Plan the Details (3-4 months until event)
Ok, so you’ve got your purpose, the basics, and promotion down. It’s time to get into the question, how can we pull this off? I had to keep reminding myself that this was God’s event and that He had it handled. It can seem like a lot, but our God can handle it easily.
When it gets time to plan out the details of a large event like this, I like to go back to the white board. I’ll divide the board up into categories and start listing things that need to be done. Here are some categories I would focus on and some things to do to tackle them.
- I made myself an excel spreadsheet with colored sections for each area I had volunteers in. The main volunteer groupings were: Small Groups, Large Group, Team Leads, Games, Crafts, Nurse Station, Check-in Team, Snack prep, and Décor Team.
- Start recruiting leaders to be “Team Leads” if you can. I like to have a volunteer over each area so that I’m not running around like a chicken with my head cut off during the event. (Well, let’s be honest, I was anyway, but I wasn’t as stressed as I would have been without team leads!) Plus, whenever you can hand off ministry to volunteers, it just makes the event better. You’re not doing it alone!
- When you have team leads for such a big event like this, you can have them communicate with their volunteers. Try to lean on them as much as is healthy for them. You can have them lead meetings for the volunteers, communicate through texting/calling, and even help write thank you cards after the event!
- Communicate with each group of volunteers. Make sure they know when they’ll need to be at the event, what they’ll need to bring, and about when they will be done. I usually send out an initial email, once they sign up to serve, and 2 more before the event. Know that no matter how many times you communicate to your volunteers, there will always be confusion and more questions. You’re not failing at your job, an event like this just takes a ton of communication. Remember that! You’re not failing at your job, people are just hard to communicate to sometimes!
- Hold at least 2 volunteer trainings about a month ahead of your event. I like to give 2 options for volunteers to attend just in case they can’t make one of them.
- My meetings usually look something like this:
- Meet as a group and see how everyone is doing. Always have snacks!
- Pray and give a general overview of the event, the schedule, where things will be, and rules/tips. I like to do a quick recap of what it means to be a kids ministry volunteer here. You know: appropriate touch, signs of child abuse, what to do in case of emergency, etc.
- Then I usually have the team lead take the volunteers of their area to a different room and talk over what serving in that area will look like. Make sure your team leads feel ready for these meetings and have candy on hand.
- Think through some ways to support and care for your volunteers during the event. As you know, taking care of kids for 2 hours can be exhausting. Rewarding, but exhausting.
- We always had a bag for each volunteer that was stocked with some survival supplies. Things like hand sanitizer, band-aids, paper, pens, hair ties, line ropes for the younger groups, water bottles, candy, etc.
- Always have some hearty snacks, if not a quick dinner, for your volunteers. Depending on the time, food may or may not be important. Since we always held our VBS around 6:30, we provided lots of yummy food. A hangry volunteer is not a good volunteer!
- At this point you should have chosen what curriculum you’d like to use. The next step is to decide what, if any, modification you need to do to it for your use. I always found the polished and pretty materials the companies give out look great, but don’t fit perfectly. We may choose to change an activity up some or put in our own activity. What I always ended up doing was copy and pasting the curriculum into my own document that was worded in a way my volunteers would understand. I think this is the way to go. Take time to comb through the curriculum and choose what you want to do, what you want to take out and what you want to modify.
- The easiest thing to do, if your short on time, is to print out the curriculum and make edits using a pen. You can neatly write notes, cross out activities, and add in different activities. Then you can copy this new hand edited copy for your volunteers. It won’t look perfect, but at the end of the day, this might not be the most important thing. Either way you go, I think it will work out great!
- Make sure that you make yourself a master supply list and start gathering supplies now. Here are a few ideas to help:
- You can set up a booth in your church lobby and allow people to come sign up to provide supplies. You could have index cards with the supply and quantity needed. This is a great way for people to support the event while not having to help with kids. Make sure you give them a time and place to drop off supplies. Either way, you’ll be surprised by supplies on your desk, in your kids area, and maybe your own porch!
- Give a volunteer the master supply list and have them scout out your kids supply closet. It would be great if they could set supplies aside in a designated area, but at least knowing what you already have would be a huge help.
- Online shopping is your friend here! With modern smartphones, you can shop anywhere/anytime. You can shop while you wait at the DMV, while you wait to pick up your kids from school, you can even shop from your bed!
- Lastly, you will have at least a few things to pick up at the store the week of your event. That’s totally normal. See if you can hand off a credit card to a trusted volunteer and have them shop for you. Remember, it’s all about handing off as much as possible and healthy to volunteers.
- Event Setup
- Here is where a checklist is going to be your best friend. Work from the top down by creating headings on a document for each area of the event (I.G. Décor, Games, Small Group, Large Group, Craft Area, Check-in, etc.) Google Docs has a bullet point that is an empty box. I like to use that since I can print it out and check off the boxes when they are done. Once you’ve made the headers, begin to fill them in with practical things to be done. You can go the extra mile and assign yourself or volunteers due dates for each thing.
- Talking about task management, I use a software called Asana. It’s an online company that helps companies get things done. Check them out if you need help staying organized with tasks. I know I needed it!
- Make sure that you are recruiting volunteers for setup and tear down. If you don’t, guess who will be doing it? You! You have bigger fish to fry.
- Tip: I like to make a master checklist of things that need to be set up the day of. I’ll write it on a large stand-alone white board and allow my setup volunteers to come take on assignments without asking me what to do.
- This one always falls on my back burner although it’s one of the most important tasks. My motto is, if you think it would be even a little helpful to have a sign, make one!
- Here are some of the signs to focus on: welcome signs with directions for the event, directional signs with arrows, a sign at each area with instructions, “bathroom here” sign, a map with where everything is located, and a goodbye sign inviting them back on Sunday.
- Tip: pick a fun background to have as the background of your signs. You want the signs to be clear, but don’t be afraid to make them fun also!
- Plan a vacation for yourself
- Ok, now hear me out on this, you and your immediate family will want/need some time together after VBS. It’s a huge event that will dominate your attention from this point on. Take time to plan a vacation now. Go to the beach, lake, mountains, desert, or the moon. Just kidding on that last one, but you get my point. Go somewhere to get your mind off the organized chaos that you just led. Make sure that you get time daily during your vacation to be with God. He will be the key person to help you recover.
- Meet with your church facilities team
- This is a team that most likely wants to have your back. If you give them the rooms you’ll be using, any needs you’ll have (like extra garbage cans, extra paper towels, etc) and assure them that you’ll be doing your best to take care of the building, they will be best prepared to have your back.
- Last time I met with my facilities team, they caught that the sprinklers would have been on at the time and place where I was going to hold games. That would have been a fun surprise! Glad they caught that!
- Plan the family night, if you decide to have one
- This night is a great opportunity to include the parents on what their kids have been doing the whole week. Instead of having the parents drop their kids off, have them stay with their kids. Nice plus here is that you will need much less volunteers with the parents present!
- I try to make this night a huge party. Have the last act of a continuing skit on this night, play a recap video with pictures and videos from the event, provide a simple dinner (I.G. Hotdogs, chips, veggies, and water bottles), rent a few bounce houses, and put out some lawn games.
- It’s helpful to have a few “fresh” volunteers for this night. Fresh as in they haven’t helped at all that week. This will give the volunteers who have kids in the event a chance to just enjoy the night.
6. Where the V and the B meets the S! (Last month before the event)2-3 Weeks until the event
- This is the perfect time to order any last minute online supplies that you’ll need. You can often find the best deals online, but you must wait for them to arrive.
- As you begin to stockpile supplies, begin to also gather them in designated sections. I divided them up by section of the event so that I could ask a volunteer to run and grab the supplies and it was clearly labeled which was what.
- I’m a big believer in checklists, take time to make a master supply list and a master action list. Lean on volunteers as much as you can.
- Plan now for the weekend after VBS. See if your church leadership will allow the kids to sit in service the weekend after VBS. It would be great to give you and your volunteers the weekend off. If they aren’t ok with that, then plan your volunteer schedule now. Get that planned so that you aren’t planning it while you are trying to recover.
- Make sure that the promotion plan is being followed. Sometimes things fall through the cracks. Communication is key!
- Start looking ahead at the weather. If it starts to look like inclement weather is coming, plan out a backup. If you had planned on games being outdoors, pick a good place where the kids can run wild in the church.
- Send a text or call your volunteers to remind them what time to be there. Kudos if you can film a short reminder video of yourself talking to the camera. A video like that is personal and very effective.
- Send one last email to parents to remind them of the event.
- Get there early, take time to pray, and have fun!
- Hold a meeting each day before the kids get there. Include all the volunteers. This will allow you to communicate any last minute changes, answer the oodles of questions they’ll have (You know, those questions you’ve answered a million times) and pray with them.
- The first day of VBS is always the bumpiest. Buckle in, do your best to dot your I’s and cross your T’s and ride through the first night. Each night after the first gets progressively easier.
- Take a TON of pictures!
- Plan to give a report on how the event went to the church. We had a short presentation planned to show pictures, give stats, and praise God the Sunday after VBS. Whatever your report is, have fun and celebrate what God did!
- Take the info that you gathered above and post it on your social media and send a recap email to parents.
- Sharing the great things God did through your VBS helps setup momentum for the next year, so hype up the event!
- WRITE THANK YOU NOTES! VBS is one of those events you can use to make the ask for people to volunteer on a regular basis with kids ministry. Make a great impression by being thankful. Bonus points if you can budget some $5-$10 gift cards to volunteers that did a killer job.
- GO ON VACATION. Turn off your phone, load up your family and just go!
- Praise God for an amazing week and for the love of all that is good and holy, GIVE YOURSELF A PAT ON THE BACK. Or a back message, or whatever, just give yourself some credit for surviving and thriving your first Vacation Bible School. You did it!