If you are anything like me, as soon as the New Year arrives, your thoughts fast forward. In the midst of your normal ministry, you begin planning for a big summer event: Vacation Bible School.
And while prepping for VBS can be a really fun and exciting experience, it also comes with its share of challenges.
Recently, I reached out to children’s pastors and other children’s ministry leaders on Facebook to find out what they considered to be their #1 challenge when planning for VBS and how they face it.
The Challenge: Scheduling
One of the first steps in planning for VBS is putting it on the calendar. This can also be a huge challenge. When is the best time to schedule it? How can I avoid… the heat, Little League, the State Fair? Fill in the blank. Regardless of where you serve, there is always some event or activity that could potentially draw families away from attending Vacation Bible School.
How can we as children’s ministry workers face this challenge?
One children’s pastor admitted that when it came to sports and trying to schedule VBS around the many extracurricular summer activities, they finally gave up trying. “It is when it is, and the families will have to make a choice.”
Another suggested that you do as much research as you can and just set a date. Avoid the big events. State fairs. Big tournaments. Contact other churches and network with your community’s children’s pastors to prevent too many overlapping VBS-like events. Do your best to work around those big events and avoid the frustration of trying to accommodate every family’s schedule. It’s not possible.
The Challenge: Volunteers
The VBS challenge most mentioned by children’s ministers was the issue of staffing. Church size did not relieve anybody from this. A church needing 20 volunteers felt the same pressure as a church needing to recruit a couple hundred. Summer is a busy season for most people and getting them to joyfully donate part of that time to VBS is not always easy.
How can children’s ministers face this challenge?
The response from many children’s pastors was faith and determination. There was anticipation that God would provide. And if they did not get all the volunteers they were hoping for? “We’ll still make it happen.”
But there was also a bit of frustration expressed about the times when people do not step up. Knowing exactly how to face the staffing challenge was tough.
A great story came from a children’s pastor who is looking to recruit close to 300 volunteers for her VBS this summer. How does she face the challenge? “First we pray for God to bring them and prepare their hearts.” After time spent in prayer, she advertises the need to the church body. Her team then calls people in the congregation and personally invites them to get involved. Through this method, they “lasso them in.”
Another children’s pastor has all her volunteers come to the front during church on the Sunday before VBS for a prayer of dedication. The sight of 100+ volunteers has an effect. Year after year, additional people volunteer after seeing the prayer of dedication.
The Challenge: Purpose
Several children’s pastors pointed to the purpose and goal of VBS as a challenge. What is our goal? Who are we trying to reach? Is our target audience going to be the non-churched? Are we okay if our audience is mostly churched families?
For Kathy White, the Children’s Pastor of Sheridan Wesleyan in Sheridan, Wyoming, her church’s biggest challenge was determining whether they were meeting their goal to reach out into their community. “After keeping statistics for 5 years I realized it is mostly churched kids attending. So after doing much praying and research, this year we are offering a Sports & Stuff Camp for free at the church.” Kathy and her church are hoping to reach the non-churched families in their community with this significant change in programming.
Was she scared? Absolutely! “Scared, nervous, totally outside of my comfort zone. But, before I jumped into it, I contacted a few key ‘sports heads’ and asked if they would commit to helping. Once I had 5 quality leaders I jumped for the chance. Now our high school FCA group is going to help, and our high school cheerleading squad (some) are going to teach the cheerleading track. We even have a local artist who is going to do an art track.”
There were others who were of the same mindset as Kathy. Seeing so many churched kids and very few non-churched families participating, some wondered if “the message hasn’t changed, but perhaps the vehicle should.”
Others were quick to point out, however, that using VBS to evangelize and disciple these churched kids is not a negative thing. “I was a churched kid who accepted Christ at VBS. We need to reach the ‘churched’ kids, too,” shared one children’s pastor. Another added that kids who grew up in church often point to VBS as the most memorable program for them and the place where they made decisions for Christ.
One suggestion given on how to successfully face this challenge was to determine early, prior to planning, exactly who the primary target audience would be. Once that was established, make plans based upon that knowledge.
So how about you?
What challenges do you experience as you prepare for Vacation Bible School?
How do you face these challenges?
Feel free to answer in the comment section below!