Are you undecided about diving into VBS this year? Don’t miss these VBS tips from a leader who hosted a successful, and much needed, VBS last summer in the height of the pandemic. The bottom line? You can do it, and kids need it!
Think VBS just won’t work with the pandemic still hanging on? Think again! Many churches made VBS work in 2020…even in the worst of circumstances. They had great success and are excited to ramp up for VBS 2021.
We sat down with Sharon Stratmoen of Rockpoint Church in Minnesota to find out more about how she navigated the pandemic and had an amazing VBS program in 2020—and what she’s planning for this summer.
Here are 10 VBS tips you can learn from Sharon’s experience.
VBS Tip 1: Don’t skip VBS.
Sharon says that whether or not your church is sure about holding a VBS, in the minds of parents and kids…it’s on! In fact, when her church opened registration for 2021, they filled half their spots in just 24 hours. Now they have over 300 kids registered, with a waiting list in case more space opens up.
So much has been taken from kids in the last year. Birthday parties, soccer games, choir concerts…kids have experienced a lot of loss. The world had to be cancelled. That had a profound impact on many kids. A lot of parents told Sharon their kids weren’t themselves and had even gone into a bit of depression. They’d internalized the anxiety rampant during the pandemic. But VBS flipped the switched for some of those kids. It brought them hope and joy again.
The need for families to have something that feels normal is greater than ever! What an amazing opportunity for your church to reach out to your community.
VBS Tip 2: Make a Plan A, B, and C.
When March of 2020 hit, Sharon and her team knew things might not work out for their normal June VBS plan. So they created a plan with pivot points when they would switch to the next option.
Plan A was to keep their normal date, but move VBS outside. Plan B was to bump their VBS to July, and have it outside. And Plan C was to have an online VBS in July. They identified dates at which, if they weren’t certain Plan A was viable, they would move to Plan B, and so on.
This flexibility in planning allowed them to think through all the options ahead of time, instead of scrambling at the last minute. In the end, they were able to go with Plan B.
VBS Tip 3: Rethink your procedures.
Sharon and her team are veteran VBS leaders. They’ve had years of experience to hone the perfect VBS procedures, even down to things like routing groups of kids most efficiently around their building.
But all of that went out the window for VBS 2020. They knew they had to rethink everything. Rather than focusing on what they couldn’t do, Sharon’s team honed in on creative solutions to make VBS happen with what they could do while following CDC guidelines. That meant creatively thinking outside the box. It meant throwing out the carefully curated rulebook and starting from scratch.
They established policies like:
- allowing only pre-registered kids to join their VBS
- instituting curbside drop-off procedures to minimize the number of people on the property
- providing a team of temperature checkers ready to check kids at the drop-off site
- giving each rotation a clean set of supplies, whether that meant disinfecting between rotations or having a fresh set for each group
- giving preschoolers each their own set of crayons for the week, rather than sharing a bucket
- washing hands regularly, even finding a church member who donated outdoor handwashing stations (kids washed their hands before every rotation)
- making social distancing easy by having kids bring their own beach towels to create their spot
- using pool noodles for visual social distancing when circling up
- planning one-way traffic patterns for kids to move from one rotation to the next
- having kids bring their own sunscreen and water bottles
- providing masks for every volunteer, and optional face shields
- providing child-sized buddy masks, available here, for kids to wear if they had to enter the building
This might sound like a long list of rules, but Sharon’s team had fun with it. They called hand sanitizer “magic soap” and used fun smiley face stickers to mark kids whose temperature had been checked. They were able to have fun with what they could do while keeping kids safe.
VBS Tip 4: Break planning into bite-size pieces.
Rewriting the rulebook for VBS is a lot of work! Start with the big-picture checklist of what issues you need to figure out. Include things like: cleaning, traffic patterns, supplies, drop-off, and so on. Then tackle one issue each time you meet. You don’t have to figure out all the details right away. Just know what details you need to figure out, and check them off one at a time.
VBS Tip 5: Hold your plan loosely.
Sharon’s team planned for the best but also prepared back-up plans for various scenarios. For example, they knew if a rainy day were to happen during their VBS week, they would have to move their VBS indoors for the day. That meant measuring their spaces and understanding how many kids they could fit inside while following CDC guidelines.
When they opened up registration, they knew they couldn’t accept more kids than they could safely fit inside, even though they were planning to hold VBS outdoors.
VBS Tip 6: Communicate well to parents and volunteers.
Once their new, COVID-friendly protocol was established, Sharon’s team made sure to communicate lavishly. They posted their procedures on their website, shared with families who registered, and let volunteers know what to expect.
Your church may have families who are unsure about their kids’ safety, and having clearly-established guidelines will help them feel more comfortable in leaving their kids in your care.
Your potential volunteers may have similar apprehension, and good communication can go a long way in recruiting.
VBS Tip 7: Empower volunteers.
Speaking of volunteers, one of the amazing outcomes Sharon saw was giving her volunteers a sense of purpose. Many of them were also regular volunteers at various non-profits, and their volunteer opportunities stopped due to COVID-19. They were invigorated by the chance to serve and make a difference. Sharon also had access to more volunteers because many high school and college students who might normally have summer jobs didn’t have them in 2020.
VBS Tip 8: Provide student materials to take home.
One thing Sharon found really helpful was giving the kids materials to take home. She heard great stories of kids getting out their Bible books and Bible Buddy game boards. These student resources made a big impact and reminded kids of the great experience they had at VBS. This is especially helpful as kids are spending more time at home and looking for more to do.
VBS Tip 9: Focus on the heart of things.
If you’re on the fence about offering VBS at your church, here’s what Sharon has to say to you: “You need to do VBS. Kids need something to look forward to…you can do it, you just have to start small.”
Things may look different than they used to. While VBS normally has an abundance of decorations at Sharon’s church, an outdoor VBS meant very few decorations, which were waterproof and windproof. Snacks had to be prepackaged. But Sharon’s team focused on what mattered most: kids interacting with each other and learning about Jesus. Sharon said, “People need something normal, and if we can help provide normality for kids and connect it to Jesus, that’s a win-win.”
VBS Tip 10: Don’t be intimidated.
Sharon advises anyone who’s reading this not to be intimidated by all the details and planning. Just think about that one first step you can take that will let you do a VBS. Maybe your normal 3-hour VBS is just 1-hour. Or perhaps it’s three days instead of five. Maybe you scale back on decorations. You can do it! You’re not in this alone; in fact, you can get help through social networking groups for your VBS theme. Connect with others, and reach out for help when you need it.
Plus, Group provides resources to make it easy to adapt your VBS, whether you’re doing it online, as a neighborhood VBS, or at church. You can check out those resources here.
For Sharon, the decision to have some sort of VBS was a no-brainer. And it was all worth it when she saw the pure joy on kids’ faces as they ran down the hill to come to VBS. Even with their masks on, she could see their eyes smiling. Coupled with knowing she was giving those kids Jesus? There was no greater feeling in the world.
Get even more insights from Sharon by watching this recent webinar.
You can also find more resources for hosting a COVID-friendly VBS here.
7 Trends to Watch for in 2021 Children’s Ministry Series
This article is part of a series based on the article “7 Trends to Watch for in 2021 Children’s Ministry” by Thom Schultz. Keep watching childrensministry.com for more on each of the key trends that will impact your ministry in post-pandemic 2021. From the article:
“Trend # 1: Urgent Need
Children’s ministry is more important now than ever. Though we hear a lot about our senior citizens right now, our children are silently suffering in ways we did not imagine a couple of years ago. After months of closed schools and stay-at-home orders, today’s kids feel unprecedented mental and spiritual suffocation. They feel isolated, abandoned, and hopeless. Children desperately need the hope and love that is found in Jesus and his people.”
Ali Thompson is a managing editor for Group. She’s also the author of Wildly Creative Puzzles With a Point (Group).