Here are some more thoughts from my visits…..
* Check-In & Check-Out. As I mentioned in my last blog post, organization is incredibly important. Most of our VBS planning is in the hope of getting visitors to our churches. It is critical to think about what a parent and kid see when they first come to your church and what they experience as they leave. The check in process seems somewhat standard. The check out process varied and I saw some great ideas.
– A number of churches had a closing celebration that allowed parents to pick up multiple children in one location. Each kid was with their group and the parents had to check out with their leaders.
– A couple of churches actually give the parents a small card with the kids name on it when they drop the kid off at the check in table. The kids are then escorted by runners to their group inside the worship space. When the parents come back (or whoever is coming to pick up the child), they give someone at the same table their card again and the runner goes into the sanctuary to pick up the kid and bring them to the parents.
– Another church had all of the groups go to one large room. For this process they had to order paper bracelets that have printed numbers on them. These are the kind that you peel apart and they stick on your wrist. When kids are dropped off in the morning the parents receive one of those paper bracelets that has a printed number that coordinates with a paper bracelet put on the child. Before a child can leave, the parent has to produce their bracelet, the teacher sees that they match the numbers of the kids wrist and cuts the kids bracelet off. There are other adults waiting at the doors that check each child as they leave to make sure they do not have a bracelet on, showing they are with the correct adults.
* Using Youth as Volunteer Leaders. I’ll hit this topic from another angle in a following blog post that will ask some questions about how we use youth as leaders but here I want to focus on the positive. Many churches have a great experience using youth in worship or to host a group because it allows the youth to test their wings of leadership. Youth can also help to fill the holes where adult leaders are lacking. Be specific with what is expected of these youth leaders. Many of them have never interacted with children and so they do not know how to help behavioral problems or know what it looks like to stay engaged with them. Since in many churches they are hosting the groups, helping move them from station to station, they are the primary face of the church and the hands of feet of God to those children. Help them catch that vision. The churches where the youth were the most invested, engaged and helpful were churches where youth helped with the planning of VBS content and were required to attend training along with the other adults.
* Utilize volunteer leaders outside your church. This may not be a fit for your church but a few churches I’ve visited allow for non-church members volunteers from the community to help. I talked with one mother of three who were members of a small church in a nearby small town. They loved their little church but she appreciated being able to volunteer in leadership and have her kids participate in a VBS to get a “big church” experience like she had as a kid. She said they while would they didn’t want to leave their small church, she sometimes she just really missed these kind of things from a big church.
* The Queen of VBS. I commented on this in a picture I posted on our children’s ministry facebook page but at one church I visited, I was introduced to the Queen of VBS. She’s been teaching forever and the kids are always excited when it is time to come to her class. The youth that got assigned to help her was ecstatic. The youth apparently fight to get to work with her. Her decorations were very simple but she has created a variety of games/centers that she adapts each year to theme. The students work through the stations and activities throughout the week. Each kid is given a game board and these activities move them along the game board. At the end of the week, the kids get to pick a prize based on how far they’ve made it along the board. Since it is a third through fifth grade class, the third graders don’t finish everything during the week and so don’t get the bigger prize…a beanie baby or webkins type toy. Her daughter that volunteers with her said it is hard not to help the “little ones” but that her mother is adamant they earn their rewards. She says that it keeps the kids wanting to come back because they have something to earn, something to look forward to. It shows them how they have grown and she has years of exciting kids and youth that prove she is doing something right. What I appreciated the most was that she had simple decorations and activities that allowed for small modifications each year to fit the theme but that allowed for her to really focus on the content she was teaching. I also appreciated that she came into VBS looking at the longer view of discipleship. She builds her program on a longer relationship with the kids and with the content.
I hope these have been helpful. Again, I’d love to hear from you. What great ideas have you tried?
Next week, I’ll be writing a post talking about the other side of VBS. Including some good questions I heard while visiting. VBS is not working for everyone and I want to encourage some dialogue in our churches about the purpose and intent of VBS. “Tune in” again here for the start of that conversation.