The more I am involved with Vacation Bible School (VBS), the more passionate I’ve become about keeping it strong and viable. For many churches, it is an important tool in reaching out to communities and fostering leadership within the congregation.
We in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching have been providing churches and educators information and guidance about Vacation Bible School for more than fifteen years. We offer workshops for dioceses and consult with people planning VBS who visit us physically or online.
I also spend a lot of time listening and asking questions. I’ve learned that VBS is a terrific way to give adolescents leadership roles while they work with adult mentors. I’ve heard about the difficulties of offering all-day programs that couple VBS programming with child care. And I’ve watched programs at the same church evolve to match changes in congregational and faith formation leadership.
A Presbyterian church in the Washington, D.C. area went from a traditional one-week VBS program for children to an intergenerational format offered in the evening and combined with a meal. In the transition year, leaders created a low-key format tied directly to the church’s mission.
At this time of year, summer seems far away. We are entering the Season of Epiphany and looking ahead to Lenten programs and the joy of Easter. Vacation Bible School is at the back of most of our minds.
However, church educators and leaders who consistently offer creative, vibrant VBS programs tell us that planning should begin now, long before published curriculum is purchased or developed in-house.
We’ve discovered that good VBS programs are an integral part of a church’s mission instead of an auxiliary activity that gets tacked on to a list of Christian formation offerings. The unique identity of a church—such as a place for outreach, or mission, or care for the environment—should be mirrored in VBS program themes and activities.
Christian formation leaders looking for new ways to approach Vacation Bible School might consider tapping into a new ChurchNext class where I talk about planning and offering a VBS program that meets the unique needs of churches everywhere. I begin with the basics of planning, which involves teachers, parents, and young people (among others), and I end with lots of practical tips.
This class is ideal for those who are new at organizing or volunteering at a VBS. It can also serve as a helpful refresher for seasoned VBS veterans, drawing in people of all ages in congregations. Here’s how they described the class on the ChurchNext blog:
Dorothy helps us step back a bit to think more deeply about the who, what, where, how, and especially why of a church’s VBS program. She offers assistance on selecting a curriculum, staying organized, selecting volunteers and staff, and getting the whole church involved.
After taking the ChurchNext course, get some help in selecting a published curriculum from the CMT. Early each year we identify and review many of the new programs available to churches. Our reviews are published online by late February. Last year’s reviews were downloaded more than 6,000 times. We look at both newly published programs and perennial materials from online publishers.
Start planning now for a Vacation Bible School that spreads the Good News of God’s love that brings hope to people of all ages!
Dorothy Linthicum (@dslinthicum) is an instructor at Virginia Theological Seminary and program coordinator in the Center for the Ministry of Teaching.