After a week to recover from the insanity of Vacation Bible School, this is a great time to reflect upon the experience my team had with Weird Animals VBS 2014 at Fairfield Christian Church. I have used Group Publishing VBS programs for a few years now, including last year’s Kingdom Rock VBS. Check out some videos from our 2013 VBS…
BUILDING ON LAST YEAR’S PROGRAM
In 2013, I had a great, small group of key leaders who helped make a statement to the church and the local community that we are serious about VBS. We went all out last year, and I think we are reaping the benefits this year. I say that because of 3 things that changed for the better between our 2013 and 2014 VBS programs.
- Our early registration numbers were much higher this year.
- The earlier kids and families are invested in the program, the more time they have to make VBS a priority and to invite friends.
- Our 1st night attendance at VBS was 20+ kids higher than last year.
- The 1st night is key because if everyone has a great time, not only will they come back the rest of the week, but they will go home and invite friends the next day. I believe our 1st night attendance was higher this year because of the success of our program last year.
- The total number of volunteers was much higher than last year.
- The way we scheduled volunteers was different this year, and really we had an excess of volunteers (if that is possible) during the week of VBS. I believe our church saw how big of an impact we had last year with VBS, and more people were eager to get involved this time around.
LESS IS MORE
In 2014, we spent much less money and did not spend as much time and energy on decorations, but we did enough to have a quality, attractive church building that fit our VBS theme. It helped tremendously that we were able to borrow most of our main stage decorations from a much larger church that already did Weird Animals VBS 6 weeks earlier. This saved us a ton of time and money.
Our key leaders still worked 12-15 hours/day the whole week before VBS, decorating the church and getting all our stations set-up and organized. The self-sacrifice of these volunteers is incredible.
Ironically, even though we got a later start on our VBS prep this year, we went into the week of VBS much more organized than last year. There are 2 reasons for this:
- Because we spent less time on decorations, we were able to spend more time planning the teaching activities.
- Our ministry assistant took a great deal of the planning efforts off my hands this year, and this is a good thing. She is a trained/experienced children’s minister who is currently working as a church secretary. She loves VBS and really stepped up this year, and trusting her with more responsibility than last year allowed us to divide and conquer without me worrying about the quality of the work.
A LOOK AT THE NUMBERS
I do not want VBS or anything we do to be all about the numbers, as numbers can be deceiving about the success of the long-term goal of making disciples who make disciples. For example, in 2013 we had significantly more people come to our family event at the corn maze/pumpkin patch than we had come to our Christmas Family Experience. The corn maze was a fun fellowship event, while Christmas FX was a special worship service. Obviously the worship service had a more spiritual focus and ultimately more of a long-term impact on those who participated.
VBS is unique because it is SO MUCH FUN, yet so great at teaching kids about the Bible at the same time. The key to VBS is finding the right balance of “fun” and “inviting” for guests and “intentionally Gospel-centric” for everyone who needs to hear the truth of God’s word (basically everyone at VBS). I feel that we were very intentional about all the activities we planned for VBS, tying every little thing to the Bible point for the day. So for me, the numbers tell us how many people were exposed or introduced to God’s amazing story in the Bible. So here are some key numbers for the week:
Average attendance: 115 kids/day
- By comparison, a normal Sunday morning for FCC Kids has anywhere from 60-90 kids depending on the season. Easter Sunday we had 100 kids. To average 15 more than Easter that for 5 straight days is pretty awesome!
Total kids who came to VBS at least one day: over 130 kids
Attendance changes from Day 1 to Day 5 (the last day): 98 on Day 1 and 124 on Day 5
- Almost everyone who came to VBS came back the last day (and most other nights)
Total volunteers (including those who helped decorate before VBS): 90+ adult & teen volunteers
Money raised for our mission offering (Operation Kid-to-Kid): $770
Kids who came all 5 days were at VBS for 12.5 hours.
- This is equivalent to coming to Sunday morning church programs once a month all year or coming to church for 3 months of the year.
I AM BLOWN AWAY
Looking back on things, I truly am blown away by what just happened at Weird Animals VBS. When you compare our VBS numbers to our Sunday morning attendance and our attendance at other events throughout the year, nothing even comes close to the success level of VBS. This is fantastic because VBS really is focused on teaching the Bible.
I am also blown away by how many volunteers we had step up this year. I hate to sound negative, but I cannot quite figure out where all these volunteers are the rest of the year. Our children’s ministry uses around 50 different volunteers over the course of a month for everything from nursery workers to teachers to the check-in desk. So why does that number jump so significantly for VBS? I am not totally sure, but I do know that success builds success. People have bought in to what we are doing during the summer at VBS to reach young people for Christ, and that shows by the way all kinds of new people step up to help that week. *To be fair, we do have a number of VBS volunteers who can help for 1 week but cannot help with FCC Kids on Sunday mornings because they are already serving elsewhere in the church on Sundays.
WAS THE MATERIAL GOOD?
Just like any curriculum that I use for any children’s ministry program, we took the material from Group Publishing and used the best parts, throwing out the rest and creating our own material to fill in the gaps. This year, the snack ideas were great, so we went by the book for that station. The material for games was good too, so we used Group’s ideas (as many as we had time for). KidVid cinema was mostly by the book as well, although we did throw out the parts of this leader guide that were simply designed to get you to buy more materials from Group Publishing.
Speaking of Group designing their VBS to make you spend more and more money with them, that is definitely the case with Imagination Station. We came up with alternative ideas for all 5 days of imagination station at Weird Animals VBS. Check out all those ideas in this other post…
PICTURES & VIDEOS
We had a great photographer at VBS all week snapping hundreds of pictures. I made a slideshow video everyday to show at the “Tale End” of VBS. I also had all these videos playing on a projector screen in the lobby all week so that parents could watch them as they dropped off and picked up their kids. You can see all of our videos here…
Weird Animals VBS 2014 was a huge success for our church, and once again, I was very pleased with the VBS material produced by Group Publishing. I have previously expressed my dissatisfaction with some of Group’s Sunday School curriculum, but their VBS programs are top notch. Another church in town has done the same VBS as us the last 2 years, and when I went to their church this summer to see about borrowing a few of their decorations, I saw a row of Group VBS cans in her office. I asked her about it, and she said she has happily been using Group VBS for 18 straight years. That speaks volumes about what they are doing with VBS programs year-after-year.
I have already been looking at Group’s Everest VBS for 2015!
I have learned that with all programs in the church, a curriculum or “program-in-a-box” can only take you so far. The rest is about making adjustments to fit your situation, finding the right people to fill the right roles, working as a team toward the same goals, having the attitude of “whatever it takes to reach kids for Jesus,” and most importantly trusting God to be in control of your program.