From a First-Time VBS Director

June 27th, 2013

After a staffing change last fall left my church without a dedicated children's minister, I got the fabulous idea that I should volunteer for the responsibility of leading Vacation Bible School for our congregation this summer. I did not become heiress to the role by any legitimate means—I hadn't even helped out with VBS since we came to this church two years ago! (Don't judge: daytime VBS is tough for working moms!) But with a love of kids, organization, and decorating, the task appealed to me—especially after I saw the Everywhere Fun Fair theme from Cokesbury (one look at Pinterest shows how popular pennants, pinwheels, and all sorts of carnival-type stuff is right now!) And no one else was stepping up to do it, so there I was, a first time VBS director, learning as I went.

Well, last week was the week! I survived, and I'm here to share what I learned, in order to show that just about any jo-shmo can step up to the task and help create a great VBS experience!

1. Start Early

I took advantage of an "order by Dec. 31" deal to get my Starter Kit six months in advance, but I confess that after opening the package excitedly, I just let the contents sit for a few months before I really dug into planning. And then I ended up missing another good deal because I hadn't yet figured out what additional materials we would need. Retailers and publishers want to know early if they're going to need to reorder before VBS season, so the good deals are early-to-mid spring. (That said, my late start paid off in the end when I got a big decorative item for 70% off!)

Especially as a first-timer, I needed to peruse most of the manuals included in the starter kit before I could even get a handle on what our program would include. There were so many different stations and elements we could include, it took me a while to get my bearings and make decisions based on what our small size and limited budget (not to mention my sanity) could handle. We were at minus-two months before I could even begin briefing other leaders (also inexperienced in planning a VBS!) on what needed to be done, and by that time, I was feeling the stress.

2. Delegate

If the paragraph above didn't give me away, let me confess here that I am a Type-A planner. I love to organize things and I like working independently (major introvert) so I often default to doing things myself, rather than getting others involved. For a program with as many moving parts as VBS, I knew I needed lots of volunteers to execute the plan, but for a while I still held delusions about making most of the plans myself.

Realizing that others could and would handle the details of their areas was a huge weight off my shoulders—one that should not have been such a startling revelation, but for do-it-yourself types like me, it is the most important lesson one can learn.

Once I had a good list of volunteers signed up and got commitments from the people who would head up each area (crafts, food, etc.) I typed up the basic information about dates and times, the names and contact info of volunteers that would assist them, and any additional thoughts about their area. I handed my leaders these sheets, paperclipped to the appropriate manual from the starter kit, and let them go!

Results may vary, from knocking it out of the park to (I suspect) not even looking at the materials provided. But everything was great, and my hardworking volunteers made all the difference.

3. Don't Panic, Just Do It

This became my motto in the final weeks before and during VBS. It coincided with a busy time for me, professionally, and I had a lot to do in all areas of life. When I feel overwhelmed, I start to shut down, anxiety hindering my ability to act. I started repeating this mantra ten times a day, when the sight of a messy house or a long to-do list would threaten to paralyze me. Panicking over a task takes up valuable time that you could just be doing it—or delegating it to someone else!

I'd been anxiously putting off calling my volunteers the week before to make sure (for the leaders) they had everything they needed, and (for support volunteers) that they knew when and where they were helping out. I'm just not a phone person, but I wanted to be more personal than email. The task was done in 15 minutes, but how much time and mental energy has I wasted postponing the task?

On the delegation side, I wasted time brainstorming how exactly certain set pieces could be built, when in the end, all I had to do was make a rough sketch of what I had in mind, and hand it over to my volunteer builder, who was more than capable of figuring out how to make it happen.

4. Let Some Things Go

From decorating to parent-outreach, I had some ideas that, in the end, just had to go by the wayside. The law of diminishing returns applies even moreso with kids (think of how little kids often prefer the box to the present inside), and I realized that when it came to decorations, enough was enough, and that to expend further time, energy, or money would not enhance the kids' experience one iota more.

We had planned to offer a coffee time for the parents in the half-hour before pick-up time, but it just didn't pan out. Most parents were either volunteering with VBS or wanted to make the most of their free time (another benefit to evening VBS), so we let it go and focused instead on the big last-day celebration, a "Family Fun Fair" to let parents and siblings join in some thematic fun and see the kids perform some VBS songs.

5. Live and Learn

There are certainly things we'll do differently next year—things that are impossible to know without trial and error. Some activities take longer than the time you allotted (crafts), others should have shorter time allotments (our opening gathering and music). Some age groups need longer for certain things (2 and 3 year olds eating!).

I underestimated the importance of the volunteers who guide groups of children from session to session. Next year, we'll give them more training on crowd-control and make them the point people for connecting with parents.

If you're thinking about leading your church's VBS, go for it! Even if you have a full-time children's minister, she'll appreciate delgating the responsibility to you. And even if you're anxious about all it entails, don't hesitate to let others help. Most of all, don't panic, just do it!

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