Countdown to VBS

June 10th, 2011
Photo © by twerksome21 | Flickr | Used under Creative Commons license.
You’ve picked your curriculum; you’ve sent out the invitations; you’ve recruited most of your volunteers.  The big pieces are covered, but now Vacation Bible School is staring you in the face, and you’re wondering what you are forgetting.  Here’s a list of important last-minute (though hopefully not TOO last-minute!) pieces to consider.

1.  Prayer

We all know that we should be praying for VBS.  We hear it all the time.  But taking the time to pray for each volunteer, youth and child before VBS truly will draw you into a closer community when you actually gather together.  Before you begin each day at VBS, pray for and with your volunteers.  Lines of communication opened in this short time can carry over to long-term pastoral relationships.

2.  Risk Management

You are about to welcome a large group of young children, teenagers, and volunteers into your church to have a LOT of fun.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, probably nothing major at least. But there are certainly risks.  And where there is risk, there needs to be risk management.  Managing risk protects both your participants and the church.

Many congregations have a policy in place to prevent the abuse of children and vulnerable adults, often referred to as a “Safe Sanctuaries” policy.  If your church has such a policy, familiarize yourself with it and make sure you adhere to it in every aspect of your VBS program.  If your congregation does not have a formal policy, you can still take basic steps to make sure everyone stays safe.  For starters, use the buddy system - even for the adults: no adult should ever be alone with a group of children and/or youth.  Take special care in transition times to make sure all participants are accounted for at all times.  When it’s time to go home, only release the children and youth to the responsible adult who dropped them off. 

It is also worth a conversation with the chair of your trustees committee or like group to confirm that all the planned activities are included under your congregation’s insurance policies.  For example, if you are transporting neighborhood children in church and/or volunteers' vehicles, make sure that such transportation is covered under the church’s AND the volunteer’s liability insurance.  Likewise, if you are including anything particularly risky (though fun!) activities such as a bounce house, check with your committee and/or insurance provider to see if you need a special policy rider.  

3. Volunteer Recruitment

Hopefully by now you’ve got your leaders in place, but you may be looking to fill a few more spots. Think about members whose schedule or health doesn’t generally allow them to volunteer on a regular basis.  Perhaps this special event is a great place for them to plug in.  Ask the kids who they would like to have serve with them - there’s nothing more likely to inspire a volunteer to respond than an invitation from the kids!

4. Teacher Training and Communication

You want your teachers to feel fully empowered and equipped!  Provide your teachers with your curriculum as soon as possible and encourage them to spend time with each of the Bible stories.  The more they are immersed in the scripture, the more naturally and effectively they will share the stories with the children.  You may hold a teacher training session to introduce the curriculum and logistical concerns specific to your program.  Give each leader a small bag with a list of the participants in their group (including emergency contact and pertinent medical information for each child), a list of locations for each activity, a daily schedule, a pack of tissues, a few band-aids and a small container of hand sanitizer. 

5.  Supplies

Your biggest supply needs will likely be decorations, crafts, and snacks.  Many of these supplies can be purchased with your curriculum, but someone will certainly need to make a few shopping trips to pick up the rest.  This is a great task to be delegated to volunteers who would like to help but are unable to be at the actual VBS sessions.  Just be sure that they are aware of your budget and familiar with your church’s purchasing policies (special relationship with particular retailers, tax-exempt status, reimbursement procedures, etc).

6.  Publicity

A of kids find their way to Bible School because the church has posted a large banner outside the church.  Make sure that your sign is effective - you want it to be visible and eye-catching, but you don’t want it to be so involved that the essential information about your event is hard to read from a passing car.  Make sure that accurate VBS information is posted on your church website and any blogs or social media pages your church (or members) maintain. Submit your information to local news outlets to be included in their community announcements. Target an audience with children through local parenting websites, blogs, and magazines.  Are there organizations in your area that serve children and families?  Inquire about distributing invitations to their clients.  

7.  Youth Involvement

Some of your best helpers at VBS are your youth!  The younger kids love being with them, and it’s important for the youth to have an opportunity to be the older ones for a change.  It’s best to keep about a four year difference between the youth and the kids they are partnered with, so perhaps assign younger youth to work with preschoolers, etc.  Remember, though, that under most Safe Sanctuary policies, youth do NOT count as a second adult and need to be protected, too.

8.  Teacher Appreciation

Volunteers make VBS possible.  It will be fun for them.  But there will be moments that will be trying, so show your teachers some love with a little treat each day.  If you can tie them into your theme, great - but more important is to make your teachers and volunteers feel appreciated throughout the week.

9.  Physical set-up

This is another great place to delegate!  It can take many hands to prepare the facilities, from decorating to moving tables.  In order to make the most of your volunteer power, schedule a workday a day or so before VBS and get as much ready as possible so that when kids arrive you can focus on them.  

10.  Thank Yous

Event planning 101 suggests that you prepare thank you notes as much as possible before your event, which can include collecting addresses of volunteers, purchasing stationary, addressing envelopes, keeping good records of volunteer participation, and writing/printing notes (which can be personalized after the event).  After VBS, you will be tired, no matter how smoothly your event runs.  It’s human nature to want to move on quickly, and sometimes thank yous get lost in the shuffle, but they are essential in affirming the ministry of your volunteers . . . which will help bring them back for VBS next year!

When is your VBS? What tasks have you saved for the last minute?

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