The desks have been cleaned and the report cards handed out, but there’s only one thing on every child’s mind—the sound of the last bell that rings out loud and clear, “SUMMER IS HERE!” Yet it’s typically a matter of only a few days until parents hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored.”
And how does the church respond? Some answer by placing a Summer Vacation sign on their children’s ministries door. But when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” he didn’t mean only when school was in session. Summer is when we can minister to kids without the typical challenges and distractions that can be overwhelming during the school year. To reach out to kids and families in this ripe season, use these ideas that really work.
Summer Outreach Tip 1. Dream the Dream
A dream program will meet needs in your community. Do you have a lot of families in need of childcare? Are kids in your area on a year-round schedule with only a few weeks off during the summer? Does summertime bring a lot of new residents to your vacation community? Ask questions that’ll help you focus on meeting the needs of families in your community so your summer outreach opportunities will be irresistible. Take into consideration things such as climate, available space to house programs, and assurance that programs can be adequately staffed.
Today’s kids and parents are savvy when it comes to quality programming. Kids want to learn something new, meet friends, and connect with adults who care about them. And parents want kids in a safe environment that stimulates all the senses rather than those only activated by video games. Combining these elements with a ministry’s desire to share Jesus’ love with kids will help you create a sure win this summer.
Summer Outreach Tip 2. Recast an Old Friend
For years, vacation Bible school has been the tried and true summer program for churches. But for many children’s workers who’ve been organizing VBS for years, it can begin to feel like the same old thing each year. To put a fresh face on your vacation Bible school program, try these ideas.
Use Different Terms.
If you’ve begun to feel that you’re only reaching churched kids when you promote vacation Bible school, call the week something different. You may want to advertise as a day camp or use only the theme as the program name, and leave out the VBS.
Try a New Locale.
Attending a program on a church campus may cause some families to break out in hives. Help them ease into your ministry by offering vacation Bible school at an alternative site such as a school, park, or fairgrounds. Obtain the proper permits to hold your program at the site, and survey the site to get a handle on any facility needs and security issues. Using an alternative location in the community is also a great way to give your church a presence outside your church walls.
Take It on the Road.
Reach out to areas that may not have the resources to provide their community with a vacation Bible school. Inquire with inner-city kids clubs to see if your church can provide a VBS for neighborhood kids. Or if kids in your community head to cabins for the summer, ask a resort if your church can use its facilities to hold a program for vacationing families.
Summer Outreach Tip 3. Feed the Brain and the Heart
Even though kids can’t wait to take a break from school and homework, their minds still long for stimulation and a good workout. Day camps can be a great outreach tool by providing a fun learning environment in areas of interest such as art, science, or sports. Offer day camps that not only educate kids on a particular subject but also show how God is present in everything we do. Have daily devotions that complement what the kids are learning, pray before snack time, and invite kids back for church on the weekend. Here are a few day camp themes to get you started.
Kids love to do science experiments and learn about how things work. Design your day camp around nature and lessons from Genesis and the Creation.
Performing Arts Extravaganza
For kids who love to pretend or are dramatic, spend a week teaching them how to become a character, build sets, and have good stage presence. Teach kids about how God has given us each gifts and talents to share with others. This camp is also a great building block for getting kids involved in ministries such as puppetry, worship, or drama.
Many of the sports camps offered over the summer are overnight camps that are pricey and geared for older kids. So offer a day camp that focuses on one sport such as soccer or basketball, or offer a fun fitness program to spark kids’ interest in a variety of sports. Have students from a local Christian college or members of your local high school’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes program provide the expertise you need to teach sports fundamentals. Lead devotions each day that share the faith of Christian athletes such as Olympic soccer player Michelle Akers or St. Louis Rams’ football player Aeneas Williams. This day camp program may even spark a church team roster for local recreation programs.
Summer Outreach Tip 4. Get Kids Together
These brief events are also great for connecting kids inside and outside your church.
Flip for Fun Fridays.
Pick a day of the week to provide a weekly opportunity for kids to attend a field trip with your church. Venture to places such as the zoo, beach, or museum. Place kids in small groups for the day led by an adult or teenager.
These fun days provide a great opportunity for kids to hang out together and build relationships with each other over the summer in a different environment. These events also provide an easy and convenient way for kids who are already plugged into your ministry to invite their friends who may not attend church. Challenge kids in your ministry to reach out to their friends by providing fliers with all the necessary information.
Start Summer Clubs.
Book or movie clubs provide another window for kids to peer into your church over the summer. Before school dismisses, distribute fliers that advertise your club—when and where it’ll meet and what’ll be provided. Public schools are typically very open to churches advertising a program that enhances what the school is trying to achieve during the school year.
For book clubs, partner with your church library or a Christian bookstore to provide good books for a variety of reading levels. Have weekly club meetings to discuss a book, and provide activities during your meeting that complement what the kids are reading. Choose books that teach good values and life lessons to enhance good discussions for your leaders.
A wholesome movie in an air-conditioned room is always a treat on a hot summer day. Provide popcorn and drinks for participants, and allow for a time following the movie to discuss the film. For preteens, try a “dive-in” movie and show the movie at a pool after dark. Kids can float in the pool to keep cool as they watch the movie projected on a big screen.
Summer Outreach Tip 5. Don’t Forget the Small Fries
Preschoolers often get left out of summer plans even though parents look diligently for something worthwhile and structured for kids this age. Include preschoolers in vacation Bible school and day camp programs, but provide separate and age-appropriate programming for them. If you plan field trips for this age group, require parent participation since car seats are an issue. Use these ideas to reach out to preschoolers and their families over the summer.
Organize Parent-Child Play Groups.
Help parents and kids get together by planning playgroups at local parks. Organize the playgroups by neighborhood so kids will get to know other kids who’ll attend their elementary school. Distribute fliers in the neighborhood and provide information about what your church offers kids.
Offer Swimming Lessons.
If you have people in your church who are lifeguard certified, ask them to help you provide swimming lessons at a local pool, free of charge. Have your church sponsor the lessons by renting the pool for one or two hours for several weeks over the summer. This is a great way to reach out to families who may not be able to afford to send their children to a swim class, and it shows that your church cares about children’s safety.
Throw a Kindergarten Round-Up.
Before school begins in the fall, have a party for all your preschoolers who are entering kindergarten. Set up stations for kids to visit and meet others who’ll be going to their school. Give away pencils or backpack ID tags printed with your church’s name and phone number, and provide parents with highlights about your upcoming programs for kids during the school year.
So the bell is about to ring; are you ready for summer?
Carmen Kamrath is the children’s pastor at a church in Loveland, Colorado.