We know that Vacation Bible School (VBS) is a highlight of the year for many of our churches. With stay-at-home orders and physical distancing guidelines forecast to continue into the summer, we can expect that VBS will have to look different this year. Here are some tips for how you might consider re-imagining your VBS to fit within conference, county, state and federal parameters (whatever they are, at that time).
Have you already purchased a VBS starter kit for the summer or written your own program? You can still use these materials! Haven’t thought about it yet? You still have time!
Initial questions to consider:
Adapted from the North Georgia Conference
- Why do you want to host VBS this year? Is it out of a place of obligation or tradition, or is it a sincere desire to offer a discipleship experience for your community?
- Have you polled your families to hear their opinions about what to do with VBS this summer? Are your families screened out? Do they want a VBS experience this summer, whatever it looks like?
- Has your budget changed, due to the pandemic? What does giving look like at your church? Can you afford a large VBS endeavor?
- Who are your usual volunteers? Do they represent vulnerable populations (e.g., age 65+) during this pandemic? Can you staff an in-person event without them?
- Do your volunteers have the bandwidth and tech skills to lead in a virtual environment?
- Can you adequately sanitize take-home supplies and/or sanitize classrooms and facilities for an in-person event?
- Will your families be comfortable with the possible spread of germs from picking up VBS materials from the church or having the materials delivered to their doors?
- If you send home materials and, especially, send home food, how will you ensure a safe, sanitized environment when preparing snacks or meals?
What can happen at home?
Similar to what many schools are providing, churches can create at-home packets available for pick-up or home delivery. Be sure to send home the Bible story/lesson and any accompanying materials. Does your VBS typically involve crafts? Send home the instructions and materials so families don’t need to worry about not having the right supplies. Does your VBS typically involve games? Send home the instructions so families can play the games together.
What can happen online?
If your families have access to reliable internet, consider offering VBS activities online. For example, stream your opening/closing VBS skits on Facebook Live (or whatever platform you’re using to live-steam worship). Send out the age-level Bible study lessons to a variety of adult leaders and schedule video conference calls for kids, youth and adults to gather in small groups to learn together and discuss the Bible lesson with their peers.
Check out these free virtual VBS materials:
- Knights of the North Castle from Cokesbury
- Where in the World is God? from the North Texas Conference UMC Center for Leadership Development
What about music?
For so many kids, the music is the best part of VBS! Consider live-streaming 15- to 30-minute segments where kids can dance along with your music leader and learn the songs. To make ministry easier for you, the United Methodist Publishing House is offering the music videos from three of their VBS themes for free on their Amplify Media platform. If you’re using one of these themes for your VBS this summer, you could send the link to families so they can sing along at home.
What about missions?
Does your VBS typically include a mission component? Take a look at this blog from the Mission Engagement Team about what to consider as you plan what’s best for your context to engage in mission this summer.
If you’re sending out VBS packets, consider including information about local resources families can tap into if they need assistance feeding, clothing or getting medical help for their family members. Are schools providing meals for children? Does the church have a food pantry or clothing store? Where can low-income and/or uninsured families go for medical treatment in your community?
What timing makes sense? Daily or weekly, summer or fall?
Still want to host your VBS in a daily format for 3-5 days? You can still do so or adjust your schedule to offer livestreaming and video conference VBS events on a weekly basis, or however often makes sense for your community.
Was your VBS typically held during the day, in the evening or over the weekend? You don’t necessarily have to follow that same format this year. What are the best days and times for your community?
Would you rather wait to have VBS when folks can gather in larger groups? Press pause. Be patient and nimble. Plan to host VBS later in the summer or fall when the COVID-19 restrictions have lifted.
What else should you keep in mind?
We know that each church community and each individual home is a unique environment. Not every family supports church involvement. Not everyone has the ability to drive to the church to pick up packets or buy activity materials. Not everyone has the time/capacity/interest to help kids with crafts or play games together. Keep this in mind as you develop your plans. Think about your families and what makes the most sense for your community.
Some (not all!) options for VBS:
- At-Home: Create VBS-in-a-box kits for families to pick up at the church or deliver to people’s homes so they can implement VBS lessons at home.
- Virtual: Re-imagine VBS as a virtual event – a one-day extravaganza or daily/weekly activities.
- Collaborate: Partner with multiple churches to divvy up the work. (Some of you already do this!) If technology isn’t your forte, consider partnering with another church (regardless of location) that has more experience doing ministry in the virtual world.
- Postpone: Press pause and hold off on hosting VBS until your county / the state lifts social distancing restrictions.
- Cancel: Save money by returning purchased supplies or save everything for next year.
- Innovate: Let go of your plans completely and get creative! Maybe instead of VBS, your church hosts a church-wide virtual scavenger hunt or promotes family prayer walks/drives through local neighborhoods.