Vacation Bible Schools, kids camps, and sports camps are fabulous ways to reach out to your community, but they don’t just appear out of the sky. You know well (really well) that it takes a lot of sweat and hard work to make your summer event even happen. But, can you make your VBS the place to be this summer? The short answer is a resounding yes. You can have a supercharged VBS right now, in your church, with your current resources.
As a children’s pastor, I’ve led a lot of VBS events and kids camps. For many years the events were good, but nothing spectacular. That’s when I changed my approach and implemented new principles. At one church I served in we went from around 80 kids per VBS to over 300 kids. Our VBS Family service actually beat our Easter attendance two years in a row. VBS became our church’s favorite week of the year.
Get the word out
If they don’t know about your VBS they won’t come. So, how do you stand out in a city where eighty other churches are all hosting summer events? First of all, don’t promote like everyone else. Think differently.
- Tip #1: Direct mail works. We used direct mailers to target specific neighborhoods, especially those close to our church with lots of families. By targeting specific rural routes you can avoid the high costs of sending to an entire zip code. Be sure to offer an online registration method so they can register as soon as the family receives the card.
- Tip #2: Give back. One of our most popular methods was giving away free sno cones at a local Wal-Mart. We offered them free of charge to any adult, child, or employee who asked for one. If they wanted a flyer we would hand one to them and even had registration forms right at the table. It was a no strings attached gift.
- Tip #3: Advertise clearly. Don’t use the banner offered by your VBS publisher. They’re too hard to read from the road. Print your own on a solid background with large block text. I often used white text on a blue background because it was so readable. Sometimes function wins out over design. Yard signs are also a great option for spreading the message.
- Tip #4: Utilize social media. Run ads using Facebook or other social media sites. Create a graphic or video that’s easy for parents to share on their news feed. Build word of mouth. It’s still one of the most effective tools. Encourage parents to post once they’ve registered. You can even offer a freebie like a t-shirt to the first ten kids who register and post about it online.
Get the whole church involved
VBS is not just for the current children’s workers. We got everyone involved from youth to seniors. How? We made it the place everyone wanted be. If you missed that week, you missed out. Also, the pastor supported the vision of the ministry and that got people excited. At my current church, we had to create a waiting list of volunteers because we made the event such a joy to serve in. People even took their vacations to serve.
- Tip #5: Create tons of volunteer jobs. Not everyone wants to lead a group. That’s great! Put them in registration, snacks, greeters, or errand-runners. Give multiple opportunities for people to serve. Build a team bigger than what you think you need. At one church where I served as children’s pastor, our average attendance was around 325 on a Sunday but we recruited over 100 volunteers for VBS.
- Tip #6: Encourage volunteers to recruit their friends to serve. People like to serve with people they know and that’s totally cool. Let them serve together and watch your volunteer numbers increase.
- Tip #7: Get people talking on social media…and it doesn’t have to be your job. Recruit volunteers to take pictures and post them online. The more people talking, the more the word will get around. Don’t wait for the week of VBS, get them posting leading up to the event too.
- Tip #8: Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! Keep your volunteers informed, trained, and in the know. If they don’t feel confident, they’ll split. Make sure you’re not just staffing an event but building a team.
Get the parents to visit
Our VBS family service was the capstone of our week. We got more visitors to our church on the Sunday following VBS than any other Sunday of the year. It gave the parents a chance to see our church, and gave us the opportunity to make strong connections with the families. My current church offered a kids camp instead of VBS, but we still made sure to create a family service because it gave us an opportunity to partner with parents and inspire them.
- Tip #9: Create a service for the entire family. Don’t invite them back to see a service for adults. Gear the service towards kids, but do it in the main sanctuary. Keep the decorations up, use music from the VBS during worship, and teach a lesson related to what you learned during the week. My current church offered a kids camp, instead of VBS, and the Friday Night Finale was a huge priority. It’s the perfect opportunity to give parents a glimpse of their child’s week, and to partner with parents, inspiring them to take the lead in the spiritual development of their kids.
- Tip #10: Bring your best. You have to make it a service people want to attend. I love making drama a big part of our VBS or kids camp services, so we always made sure to leave the drama on a cliffhanger at the end of final assembly. How will they know what happens next? Come to the family service and find out. From top to bottom, this service has to be the most excellent service you will do the entire year.
- Tip #11: Give something away. I loved giving away a big gift at our family service, but something that was equally effective was giving away a small item to every child. It could be a silicone bracelet, sunglasses with the logo, or a t-shirt. Don’t go to the VBS company to find these items. It can be really expensive. Instead, use your own imprint company to find the best deals.
- Tip #12: Make your Senior Pastor shine. Ensure that your Senior Pastor has an opportunity to speak during the service. Best case scenario is have him be part of teaching the Bible story or at the very least greet the crowd. We sometimes had our Pastor interact with one of the puppets or characters from the VBS services. It’s important for visitors to connect with your pastor so they will be open to returning.
VBS or kids camp is likely your number one outreach of the year. Make every moment of VBS or kids camp count. Implementing these principles will help you supercharge your summer event. Check out this video of one of our family services from our “GLO” kids camp.
Which tip could you implement with your current resources to supercharge your summer event?
Written by Dwayne Riner. Dwayne is the head writer for Equip KidMin curriculum, he has been in children’s ministry for over two decades.