As church staff know only too well, we’re often in the midst of one high holy season as we’re planning the next.
While March blooms with early blossoms and offers the promise of warmer days ahead, it’s the ideal “shoulder month” to spring into your summer planning — including laying the groundwork for vacation Bible school (VBS).
What VBS offers
VBS programs present a unique approach to Christian community outreach and education for children:
- Sharing stories from the Bible in new ways through music, games and skits so that children can discover how to be like Christ
- Making new friends and growing relationships with current friends at church
- Experiencing new and fun activities like crafts and mission projects
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor.” (Luke 2:52)
Children grow in wisdom as they experience lessons from the Bible, in divine favor as they learn about God and God’s love for them and in life skills.
Once you’ve determined that you’ll host a VBS program and have selected your resource of choice, you’ll want to set the groundwork for promoting it within your church and community.
Enlist a team
Recruit a team of volunteers to share the responsibility of publicizing your event. Consider inviting youth and recent VBS “graduates” to be a part of your social media dream team.
Sometimes it can feel like the majority of church work is done by the minority. So how do you equally delegate the workload by encouraging and convincing other people to volunteer their time during a busy summer? By using consistent messaging and tactics that capture the attention of people and move them to participate, you can rev up your volunteer recruitment. These same innovative, invitational and promotional skills can later be mirrored to encourage VBS volunteer sign-up and ultimately child participant enrollment.
Once you have your publicity team in place, it’s time to get to work!
Build early social media buzz
- Establish your VBS hashtag. Then invite your followers to connect and to share with their friends across all social networks — using the hashtag — to take the news beyond your church community.
- Create a public VBS Facebook Event page and invite members to like and share posts. Keep the conversation going by uploading images, video testimonies and memories from past participants. (Essential note: Always obtain permission from legal guardians BEFORE publishing photos and names of children or youth from your church.) Remember to update your event regularly with program details, invitations and more.
- Add an emotional pull with Instagram. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a 1000 words. Encourage members to share images and memories from past VBS programs to promote interest in your upcoming event.
- Use Pinterest to highlight themes and Bible stories from past VBS programs to inspire families and to encourage them to register.
Consider other promotional tie-ins
- Host an Easter egg hunt, and/or similar events, and then use these opportunities to invite participants to VBS.
- Create a flyer, poster and/or invitation to share with the families of children and youth. Include the name and address of your church, VBS dates and times as well as a way for people to follow up — whether that’s online or by phone. Specify age limits for VBS eligibility. Promote your hashtag. Ask families to share flyers with neighbors and friends.
- Screening your VBS program materials early to identify promotional resources. Curriculum publishers often offer (or include) tools to help churches share about and register families for VBS.
Set the timeline
Two months before your Vacation Bible School program starts:
- Post promotional banners on your church grounds and utilize your outdoor signage. Make sure that all promotional materials and listings include the dates, times and where to find more info (i.e. your website or special landing page on your site).
- Display posters in your church and (with permission) throughout your community. If members own local businesses, ask if they’d be willing to display posters in their establishments.
- Send invitational postcards and letters to the children and youth of your congregation. Don’t forget to include those who have attended past programs. Email parents to announce your program while encouraging them to register their children by providing a link to your registration page.
- Make announcements to the congregation during all services and plan for follow-up reminders each week. Your messaging should encourage members to have their children participate and invite family friends to attend.
- Host an information and registration table in the church lobby or concourse to allow people to easily ask questions and for you to share your passion for the program.
Four weeks before VBS starts:
- Announce your program in the church bulletin and in the Sunday morning worship program.
- Write a press release to send to local media, submit the details to local online event calendars or consider placing an advertisement in your community newspaper.
During and following VBS:
- Keep records of attendance with the names of the children and youth who participate along with the mailing and email addresses of their parents.
- Once VBS is over, reach out to visitors by making phone calls, visits or by sending cards or emails upon completion of the session. Prepare information to invite them to other services and activities at your church.
- Express gratitude to the leaders, volunteers, publicity team and church family for their support and interest both during and after the event timeframe. Post-event, share some of the stories and testimonies to express the joys and impact the program had on the children as well as those working/volunteering. Celebrate how God moved through and blessed your VBS time, and pray for future and continuing positive impact for the children.
Preplanning and praying for your summer Vacation Bible School program is essential to a successful and impactful event. By taking steps early to plan you lay a foundation that helps alleviate many stresses you and your team may encounter. This allows you to stay focused on what's most important: encouraging and/or introducing kids to God's love for them and helping them understand their value and role in the Kingdom.
Betsy Parham is an editor with the Cokesbury VBS Team since 2002. She enjoys time with family and friends, gardening and watching football and basketball games.