A Weekend Vacation Bible School Experiment

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Today our church wrapped up our first ever weekend Vacation Bible School event and I am feeling pretty good about it.

Artwork Displayed Gallery style during VBS wrap-up on Sunday morning
Artwork Displayed Gallery style during VBS wrap-up on Sunday morning

What we did:

We planned a VBS weekend with sessions Friday evening, Saturday morning, and Sunday morning.  We weaved lots of family events into the schedule including Ice Cream sundaes on Friday night, Coffee and Donuts on Saturday morning, and a Family VBS service, Worship/ Art Gallery, and free meal on Sunday.  Our theme was something we developed ourselves that covered the stories of Crossing the Jordan River, and the Battle of Jericho from the book of Joshua.

"Trumpets" that brought down the walls displayed in our worship art gallery.
“Trumpets” that brought down the walls displayed in our worship art gallery.

Why we switched to a Weekend VBS instead of a five-day Vacation Bible School.

Our church has a long history of having an evening Vacation Bible School in late July, but we didn’t have VBS at all last summer because of staffing changes.  When it came time to plan Vacation Bible School for this summer we asked a lot of questions about why we have done what we have done for so long and here is the feedback we received:

  • Many years ago we switched to an evening VBS as opposed to a morning schedule because we had so many working adults in the church and had trouble finding volunteers.
  • We planned the VBS in July to avoid conflicting with other church’s VBS schedules.  (much of our attendance is dependent on families who send their children to various Vacation Bible Schools at different churches throughout the summer).

Makes sense, but we also heard this feedback:

  • Both our parents and our volunteers hated the evening schedule.  They felt the evening was their family time and resented having something that sucked up all their available time together for an entire week.  They were tired after working all day and were extremely drained by the end of VBS.  We even had families who intentionally planned their vacations so they would be gone during VBS and wouldn’t have to participate.
  • Our families didn’t love having VBS at the end of the summer.  Our school year starts mid-August and we live in a college town where summer kind of “ends” August 1 so many families like to take vacation time before the fall responsibilities begin.
  • We really felt that if we were to continue having a VBS program, we should begin to think more about how we could use it as an outreach rather than just a stop on the VBS circuit for families from other churches.

We still didn’t feel like we could pull off staffing a day time Vacation Bible School and we had heard of a new VBS plan that was scheduled over a weekend and it seemed like something that may work in our context.  So, we picked a weekend in early June (thinking we would be ahead of all the other Vacation Bible Schools planned in our area) and we set about planning.

At the time I was completely unaware that a curriculum for a weekend Vacation Bible School already exists.  I opted not to try to adapt a 5-day-program into 2 1/2 days so we wrote our own.  If you are interested in a Weekend VBS curriculum, check out Group Publishing’s Outback Rock.  Gospel Light also has a couple of Weekend VBS curriculum options found here.

Going God's Way VBS- Jericho Wall Backdrop
Going God’s Way VBS- Jericho Wall Backdrop

What We liked about the Weekend Schedule:

  • It was fun and quick and the volunteers and the kids were still having fun when it was all over.  We didn’t experience a loss of energy from those helping.
  • The schedule encouraged families to be involved each day and they really did participate!  It allowed for church staff and volunteers to have multiple interactions with the children’s families.
  • Having the last session on Sunday morning allowed the entire church to be a part of Vacation Bible School.  They got to participate in singing the songs from VBS, see the work the children created, and come to the meal after service.

The challenges of planning a Weekend Vacation Bible School:

  • Weddings and Vacations.  We could not anticipate how many conflicts people would have with the date when we selected it and while a weekday VBS would still conflict with family vacations, more people were away for just the weekend and many of our regular church families were unable to participate.
  • VBS Overkill- There were four Vacation Bible school programs in our small town the week before ours.  So, Monday-Friday children were attending VBS and then ours started Friday night.  So, even though we said that we wanted VBS to be an outreach to children not already a part of a church–when the reality hit that those on the VBS circuit would likely not be attending our event–it was a little scary.  I feared we might have very small numbers.  We were able to use this as an opportunity to encourage our church members to really be active about inviting people.
  • An experiment is hard to plan for- When making a big change it is hard to know what success will really look like.  It was difficult for me to not get caught up in dangerous comparisons with other churches.  We aren’t the biggest church in town and we certainly didn’t have the largest VBS program, but the event was bathed in prayer and we put our guts into planning it.  God’s name was glorified, volunteers were able to serve in a meaningful way, and children heard about a powerful and loving God who wants to work in their lives.

A weekend VBS program is a great option for churches who have a limited volunteer base and who are willing to take a risk.  We ended up with a smaller VBS than we had hoped, but had a great group of kids that were excited to be there and many who had never attended a Vacation Bible school before.

If you are planning a weekend VBS or have tried one, I would love to hear why you chose this format and how it worked for your church.