Navigating VBS 2021

by Betsy Parham

“Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children.”

Mark 10:14


As Christian education leaders we all want the children of the church and community to come to Jesus. We want them to come to church. We want them to come to Sunday and Wednesday services, and we want them to come to VBS!


While at VBS children have an opportunity to experience God’s love, are introduced to Jesus, God’s Son while discovering life changing stories of Bible heroes. Yes, we can all agree we want the children to come to VBS yet our lives have now changed due to the events of 2020. Let’s hear what several leaders have to say about their plans for VBS—Vacation Bible School!


A few days ago we polled five long-time VBS Directors and asked them what questions they are grappling with concerning VBS this year. We also asked them to share where they are in the decision-making process. May you be encouraged to know you are not alone during this constant season of change. 


Questions! Questions! So many questions to ponder! 
·  Should I do an in-person VBS?

·  Should I offer an online AND in-person VBS? 

·  When should I decide what to do? 

·  How do I overcome the fears of the parents and volunteers? 

·  How do I promote it – since many aren’t coming to church during the winter?


Should I do an in-person VBS?


Andrea Dagnall with Parkview Church of the Nazarene in Dayton, OH says, “I am currently planning an in-person VBS during the summer months.” 

"In unprecedented times big decisions like VBS are hard to make. Los Angeles county has not lifted lockdown since March 2020, so it looks like we will be getting creative with doing VBS this year.  We will plan for an on-line VBS, with the hopes that we can quickly change to in person if mandates are lifted," states Rev. Kristiane L. Smith, Associate Pastor, Santa Clarita UMC, Santa Clara, CA.


“Children benefit from in person VBS. While at VBS leaders are able to connect with them on a more personal level and show God’s love. Sometimes that is very hard to do with them through a computer screen,” says Becci Benson with Heritage Church in Enterprise, AL.


Lauren Bedevian with Memorial Drive UMC in Houston, TX shares these words. “The question of whether churches should have an in-person VBS really depends on the individual church and area they are located in. Church leaders cannot necessarily make their decisions based on a national opinion at this time. So many areas are impacted by the pandemic in different ways. Now- this is NOT to say we shouldn’t take the pandemic into consideration and have precautions in place. Cities that only have a handful of cases can operate differently than cities who have overfilled their hospital’s capacities."


Some things to consider are:

  • Is your church worshipping in person? If not, you probably would not then offer an in-person VBS!  
  • What do the hospitals capacities look like in your area?
  • What are other churches in your area doing?
  • What do the numbers of positive cases look like in your school district? 


Should I offer an online AND in-person VBS? 


Lauren shares these thoughts. “Because of 2020, we now operate differently than we ever have before. We have learned how to reach a virtual audience in ways we never thought possible. With this cultural shift, I think it will always be a wise idea to offer more than one event style. We could probably look at virtual church, VBS, Bible studies and socials as a new learning style. Even when this pandemic is a distant memory, virtual learning has the ability to remain an active partner in our ministries.


Offering  virtual VBS option in even in the smallest way can open doors that we were unaware even existed before 2020. I see our church offering a virtual component for VBS this summer. It likely would not give a full exclusive experience, but it will allow for us to reach those that otherwise were inaccessible.

With our newfound knowledge and experience we have the opportunity to partner with underserved populations.

  • Homebound families.
  • Special needs families.
  • Children in hospitals.
  • Vacationing families and more.”

Lauren concludes, "If you have the ability to offer something virtually, it will only benefit your ministry."


Kimberly Orrick with Trinity UMC in Smithfield, VA shares, “As I am pre-planning for VBS 2021, I am simultaneously planning for it to be in person and virtual. I am hopeful for a return to in person experiences with our church families, so I am planning for that. At the same time, I am aware that some families in our church have medical issues that could prevent them from attending, so I want to have an option for them as well. Either way, VBS will be a blessing!"


When should I decide what to do? 


Becci Benson says January and February is a good time to start asking your team to begin praying for God guidance and direction. She will wait until March to start looking at the current situation, meeting with our team and putting God’s plan for our VBS on paper.  Andrea also feels March is the month for decision making.


Lauren shares these thoughts concerning decision making. “Your decision to have a VBS should be made based on many factors. The largest factor in determining when you need to make a decision lies with you. How much time do you personally need to plan an event? How long would your volunteers need? Ideally, the sooner you can have a decision, the better. But we also live in this strange period of life where flexibility is key.


At this point, our church is moving forward with the vision to have in-person VBS for this summer. Now- what it will look like exactly is unknown. Every church needs to have a backup plan prepared.”


How do I overcome the fears of the parents and volunteers? 


“When advertising your VBS, I feel it would be beneficial to list the safety precautions your church will be taking to keep everyone as safe as possible,” states Becci Benson.


Lauren says, “To overcome the fears of the parents, volunteers and sometimes even senior pastors, you need to have a very thorough plan. You articulate over and over again what your plan is. This includes the health and safety precautions and all communications for your VBS. The more people know, the better they will feel. The more intel that people can be given allows for that knowledge to spread and therefore accepted. You need a wide range of acceptance for your plan in order to be successful.” 


How do I promote it – since many aren’t coming to church during the winter?


Becci and her leadership team plan to follow these steps:

  • Mail a postcard to the families in the church and past visitors of your VBS.
  • Place signage outside our church building.
  • Send messages via email/text message. 
  • Place ads in your local newspaper. 

 Andrea plans to:

  • Send postcards to families.
  • Place ads on Facebook.
  • Use large outdoor banners and signage around the church building.

Lauren says, “Promotion is all about drawing attention!  We need to be communicating and promoting our ministries now more than ever. It takes a person MULTIPLE times and methods for a concept to be understood or heard. So we are going to have to reach out with all our typical communicating tools and then some. Posting a flyer on the church bulletin board is not going to cut it anymore. We need to utilize all the resources that are available to us. Yes- you can still use your church bulletin board, and much, much more!

  • Explore social media option.
  • Call families.
  • Send text messages.
  • E-mail families.
  • Announce your events in worship.
  • Be creative with your printed media. Use a variety of text and graphics to draw attention and interest to your families.


Hopefully, this blog helps you in the decision-making process. Please feel free to post your comments concerning your plans for VBS and summer programing here. Let’s share ways to help each other minister to the families we serve.


We're all in this together!


Written by Betsy Parham

Cokesbury VBS