Making the Most of VBS

Sunday, February 25, 2024

The KidzMatter Blog/VBS/Making the Most of VBS

Children’s ministry leaders love VBS. I confess it’s my favorite week of the summer! I’ve been leading VBS for the past 33 years and always look forward to the music, laughter, friendships, and surprises.

But in all the busyness, fun, energy, and excitement, we sometimes drop the ball. Focused on the wrong things, we miss our opportunity to really reach kids with this extraordinary event. And at the end of a wild week, we wonder if it was worth it. Let’s explore some key things to focus on so you can make the most of that week you have with kids.

What’s Your Why?

VBS is a lot like a journey—you’re heading toward a destination. But what’s your VBS destination? What’s your goal? Making the most of VBS requires that we begin with an intentional purpose. This is the why—why are you doing VBS? What do you hope to accomplish? Making the most of every moment we have at VBS means keeping our eye on the why!

So, why are you doing VBS?

What transformation do you want to see in kids? in families? Have you ever considered where VBS can take your future children’s ministry? Where can VBS take your community?

Having a solid “why” is the foundation for making every part of your VBS count! I’d encourage you to write out your why like this: “Our VBS will ______________, so that ________________.”

The first line forces you to choose one thing that matters most to you in that week. Yes, VBS can do so many things. But if you had to choose one key goal, what would it be?

Our VBS will introduce kids to the love of Jesus…

Our VBS will show kids that church is a warm, safe, fun place to be…

Our VBS will welcome in kids from the housing development next door…

The second line is the transformation you want to see afterward. When you accomplish part one, what difference will you see in your kids, families, church, or community?

…so that our church family will grow.

…so that kids will make a faith commitment to Christ.

…so that kids will be eager and ready to share their faith when school starts.

There’s no right or wrong “why.” We each have a different purpose for VBS because each church and community is different!

Unite Your Staff

No matter what your destination is, a solid staff is going to play a big role in getting there. It’s critical that you make sure your entire VBS team is on board with why you’re doing VBS. Does your team know and understand the ministry destination?

For example, if your why is all about outreach and growth, but you have a leader who’s totally focused on one aspect, like making sure kids bring their Bibles, you’re not moving in the same direction. So it’s key to make sure everyone is wholeheartedly onboard, traveling toward the same destination.

When the team at Group started doing mixed-age crews, we had to continually convey that relationships were at the core of our purpose. We’d seen that kids focused more on relationships and less on competition and approval when they were with kids of other ages. So we shared that why again and again and again. Until people tried it to see the benefits for themselves. And it stuck!

Think Small: Small Groups

There’s power in working with small groups of kids. That’s why at Group’s VBS, kids move in mixed-age crews of no more than five kids and one teenage or adult Crew Leader. These small groups follow a schedule and move through stations like games, Bible, snacks, and crafts.

In a small group, kids have an easier time building new friendships—ones that keep them coming back and help them realize they’re part of a bigger family of faith. Remember, just because kids are at VBS with lots of other kids doesn’t mean they’re building friendships.

You’ll also set your volunteers up for success. I’ve found they’re more likely to return when they have a manageable number of kids to build relationships with.         

And you’ll instantly raise the odds that kids feel cared for, listened to, and valued. That matters in a big way! Research continually shows that relationships with a caring adult make a long-term difference in kids’ lives. One study asked children if they had at least one caring adult in their lives outside of the home. The research concluded that kids who identified a caring adult in their lives were more likely to finish tasks, succeed in school, volunteer, and have meaningful conversations with their parents. These kids were also less likely to bully, argue, or feel depressed.

Child development experts at Harvard University studied children to determine what made some kids more resilient. One key factor was a relationship with a caring adult.

Sadly, another study showed that 13.5 million young people couldn’t even name one formal or informal mentor in their lives. Not one! This same study confirmed that kids with a caring adult in their lives were more likely to stay in school, enroll in college, become leaders, and generally set higher goals for themselves.

What better place to find a caring adult than in your church! Small groups give kids the opportunity to develop relationships with caring adults. And that makes a difference long after your VBS ends!


That leads us to our third important stop toward our VBS goals: make the most of conversations.

Small groups allow kids to feel valued and loved, but deep conversations in those small groups transform hearts and lives! Fearless conversations mean everyone gets to share and listen. We ask questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer—questions everyone can respond to. This takes us beyond Bible facts and deeper into what it means to live daily in a relationship with Jesus.

Too often, we focus on questions that simply review Bible facts. These have one right answer, and we call them closed-ended questions. Closed-ended questions do not make the most of the time we have with kids because they shut down conversation and relationship-building.
Part of fearless conversations is that we all share—even leaders. When leaders share their thoughts about faith, insights about life, and how they’re addressing tough times, we get real with kids. By sharing questions, hurts, doubts, and challenges, we grow closer to others and to Jesus.

Keep It Simple!

As you head toward your ministry destination, keep it simple! Make the most of what you want kids to learn. That can be tough for those of us in Christian education—we love God’s Word and want kids to love it and soak it all in, too!

But remember, during VBS, you’re more likely to have kids who’ve never come to church before. So, this is a great time to check to be sure you’re keeping things basic.

One way our team does this is by using one simple, memorable, applicable Bible Point each day. Every single game, craft, and experience ties back to that one easy-to-remember Bible truth. So, rather than trying to ensure kids have memorized all ten commandments in one day, we might focus on the truth that “God guides us.” By repeating this phrase and focusing every activity on “God guides us,” we actually go deeper than if we’d tried to cover a lot of Bible content.

Brain research proves this out—it’s how God made us. Repetition takes information from our conscious to our subconscious, making it part of our everyday language and awareness.

Another way to make every moment count is to be sure your words and phrases are clear. Think of worship leaders who exclaim, “Lift up Jesus.” If you’re new to church, what does that mean? Even the phrase “accept Jesus into your heart” can be really confusing to kids who think literally.

Just Try One!

This path I’ve laid out may feel daunting, impossible, or strange. Maybe this journey looks so different from, you think, “No way! I just can’t do this.” Or, “Are you kidding me?”

Look over these four ways to get the most out of your VBS. Commit to one. Begin taking steps toward that important “why.”

Write out your VBS why. Have a clear picture of what will happen as a result of your VBS.

Share the VBS story. Everyone’s got a story that keeps them going. A child whose life changed. A family who came to faith. What if your whole church, or VBS staff, knew that story?

Share your vision with your ministry team and with families and kids at your church. Give them a heads-up about the exciting direction you’re praying that God will take you during VBS and afterward.

Begin identifying your best small-group leaders. These team members don’t have to prep lessons or supplies—just their hearts!

Check your curriculum for open-ended questions that allow everyone to participate and not just one person with the right answer.

VBS has the power to take your church to new, surprising, and transforming places. What you do in that one week can make an eternal difference in the lives of kids and their families.

Sharon Stratmoen is the Preschool Ministry Director at Rockpoint Church in Lake Elmo, MN, where they host 450 kids for VBS. In the summer of 2024, she’ll lead her 34th year of VBS—the best week of the summer! She also serves on the VBS Team at Group Publishing. 

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Membership with KidzMatter PRO strengthens your skills and links you with a thriving community committed to empowering kidmin leaders like you.