Believe it or not, VBS planning time is just around the corner and I wanted to share this experience with you. In June, 2004, about 60 kids and leaders attended our community-wide VBS. Four churches in our small town were involved — Methodist, Baptist (that’s us), Presbyterian, and Episcopalian. The community VBS is a long-standing tradition in our town and it’s a good one. But, as the new pastor in town, I thought we could reach more kids and families, plus have more fun! In 2005, we enrolled over 200 and had an average attendance each day of 181!
How did we do it? None of these steps is new or revolutionary, but they worked for us. Here’s what we did:
- We changed the time from morning to evening. Even though we’re in a small town, our folks have the same time pressures. We also wanted the entire family to attend, and working moms and dads are usually excluded from morning VBS. Our schedule ran from 6 – 8 PM each evening. Last year we added a snack supper at 5:30 PM and that helped busy moms, too.
- We promoted VBS as an intergenerational event. We wanted the whole family — moms, dads, kids, grandparents, cousins — everybody was welcome. Having intergenerational VBS also eliminated the need for a nursery, as under-3s had to have a parent present.
- We moved VBS outside. I can hear the groans now — “But it’s hot here in June!” True, but we didn’t have an inside space large enough for 200 people. And it was hot, but we had plenty of water available. An unintended consequence was that we had no discipline problems at all. Kids and adults all had a blast! One night it rained and we improvised inside, but outside worked for us.
- We dressed in Bible costumes. That’s right — in the heat of the Virginia summer everybody was wearing a Bible costume — tunic, head scarf, sandals, the whole deal. We provided X-large T-shirts for kids who needed a costume, and we scrounged scrap material for head bands, belts, and sashes.
- We ditched the “performance” at the end of the week. Our philosophy was that the entire week was a drama in itself, with parents and kids participating. The last night we concluded in our celebration circle, singing the songs that we had grown to love during the week. More importantly, we didn’t consume valuable VBS time each day rehearsing for a program — we lived the story every day.
Of course, VBS involves a lot more than these 5 steps, but those are the things that made a difference. Last year we did it again with even higher attendance. This year another church is hosting VBS on their 16-acres, so we’ll have more room to spread out.
The curriculum we used was Group Publishing’s Jerusalem Marketplace. Last year we used their Bethlehem Village. For 2007, there’s a Sea of Galillee theme. Other publishers have similar themes, but this one worked for us. We didn’t cut corners by leaving out elements essential to the theme. Our budget was about $3,000 split among the 4 churches involved. Last year it cost us less because we reused some supplies we had bought the year before. If you want to see photos of last year, go to our church website here.
If you’ve got some VBS success stories, share them with me and I’ll post them here. When it comes to VBS, we’re all in this together!