When you unveil your summer blueprint this year, how will kids respond? “Ho-hum”? Or “hip-hip-hooray”? If it’s ho-hum, it’s time to go back to the drawing board.
You can stage a spectacular summer for your kids and community if you make a deep investment in brainstorming-ahead of time. Don’t let the mentality “we’ve always done it this way” stifle fresh ideas. Use these thoughtful steps to create a sizzling summer that’ll have a lasting impact on kids.
4 Steps to Make Your Summer Sizzle
1. Identify your purpose.
Determine what you want to accomplish during the summer. Is it outreach and evangelism? pre-evangelism? nurture? recreation, education, or entertainment? Is your goal fellowship or just providing a fun, safe environment for kids? Summer is an excellent time to work on assimilating new kids into your group.
2. Focus your efforts.
Have a flagship program around which you’ll build your summer programming. You may choose to build around your VBS outreach, backyard Bible clubs, or camping programs. The energy invested in doing one thing well will spread into other programs. You may also find that the enthusiasm generated by your flagship program will create excitement for your other summer events.
3. Choose a theme for the summer.
It’s surprising how few churches take advantage of this strategic idea. In our church, we generally have a fall kickoff event in September that sets the tone for the year. We may have a Western Roundup kickoff and then plan a Wild West theme for the summer. Props, costumes, and promotional material purchased for the fall event can be recycled for use in the summer. (This is a real budget lifesaver.)
People readily identify your summer programs visually if you use this hitchhiking method. Here are some summer themes we’ve seen used successfully: Circus, Summer Salts, Wild West, Hot Air Ballooning, Island Adventure, Water Works, Fun in the Son, Sizzling Summer, Kids’ Daze, Olympics, Space, Knights, and Kings’ Kids.
4. Chart a course for a spectacular summer.
Consider the range of activities that’ll match your stated purpose and tie into your theme. Brainstorm summer activities in many areas, such as parent and child events, service projects, just-for-fun activities, outreach events, Bible enrichment, latchkey programs, summer reading contests, and summer school tutoring.
Once a purpose, theme, and direction are established, it’s surprising how quickly ideas will pop. One technique you can use with a group or just as an individual is to think of all the things regarding a theme. Be free to get wild-after all, this is brainstorming. (See the “ABCs of Brainstorming” below.)
Here’s how it works. Say you’ve determined your summer theme to be Wild West. What are things you associate with the West and cowboys?
Take just a moment to jot ideas down. Here’s a partial list we came up with: jail, wanted posters, branding, roping, horseshoes, cowboys, cowgirls, saddles, horses, cows, a marshall, deputies, trail rides, chuck wagons, badges, cactus, and rodeos.
Applying these ideas to our program was fun. Our teachers became deputies. Nametags were cut into badge shapes. We set up a table at our local library and let the neighborhood children make paper cowboy hats and vests. They then colored a wanted poster that let parents know we “wanted” their kids for vacation Bible school. We sponsored a Reading Rodeo library contest and a bicycle rodeo. And we provided pony rides as an attendance incentive.
After you’ve made your brainstorming list, refer to it often. Keep this original “hot sheet” with all the scratches, doodles, and comments. We’ve been surprised how often what seems like a silly or far-out idea becomes an integral part of the summer fun.
The ABCs of Brainstorming for a Spectacular Summer
Children’s workers may be among the most creative group of people in the church today. Here’s how to harness that creative power.
When beginning to plan your summer program, have a short brainstorming session with your volunteer staff. Write the following ABCs on a chalkboard and appoint someone to write all the ideas the group mentions. After 10 or 15 minutes, stop the session and analyze the suggestions. You’ll be amazed at the results if you remember the ABCs:
Accept all ideas.
Go wild. Free associations make for a fun and productive brainstorming session. Often the wilder the idea, the greater number of ideas will “hitchhike” on the idea to generate more ideas. As a result of brainstorming, our Space summer featured a planetarium with toy telescopes and spacesuits. We made a large Lunar Landing Module for kids to explore.
Thinking is free. Indulge. Splurge. Let one idea foster another. Entertain every idea. In our Glory Gulch vacation Bible school, the idea of an old-fashioned oil well became a windmill water pump. The windmill eventually became a 13-foot prop in our western town that actually pumped water and was the visual for our children’s offering contest.
During the brainstorming session, the rule is no critiquing of ideas-no matter how weird or impossible. The whole idea of brainstorming is to form enough raindrops of ideas so that puddles of programs can emerge. In our Daze of the Dinosaurs, someone suggested setting up a creation museum. At first blush, this seemed totally undoable. Later we put feet to the idea and came up with a first-rate museum-complete with fossils, bones, and dinosaur models. Hundreds of people visited the museum, and it generated enthusiasm for our whole summer program.
Mark von Ehrenkrook is a children’s pastor in Washington.
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