“When will things be normal again? I just want things to go back to normal.” I hear this phrase all too often. It is not just adults who are yearning for those “good ole days”, but children too.
As a church, we are regularly working toward finding our way back to normal. And even if it is not the old normal we reach, we can create a new normal for our communities. One of the “normal” experience’s children (and adults) have is attending VBS or Vacation Bible School. The thought of providing this normal annual event may seem daunting. I am here to offer a few tips on how to offer a safe VBS during a pandemic.
I need to preface this with a few things:
-As I write this post, it is the middle of Spring, 2021. Many would say that we are still very much in “code red” of this pandemic. I live in Houston, Texas which is in the top 5 largest cities of the United States. We are most certainly in code red. These pieces of information are important for you to know because our backgrounds matter. My city with over 2 million residents is going to need to respond differently than a city with 2,000 residents. Where your city stands in this pandemic is going to critically impact how you plan. Following your local guidelines is strongly encouraged.
-As a children’s director, I do have some “authority”. But when it comes down to it, there are many people above me in leadership that help shape the decisions our church makes. If I am not on the same page as the leadership above me, my efforts may fall short. Before you decide what direction, you are going to take, ensure any supervisors or leadership above you is on board with decisions that are made for VBS.
Of course, the easy way out of all this would be to cancel all events. But since when are those in children’s ministry known to take the easy route?! Besides, when else do we get to bathe in glitter, and make buckets of slime?!
Now for the fun stuff!
If you have the ability, plan all activities outdoors. It has been proven that outdoor events are safer and have less risk to spreading the virus. This may be more of a challenge for some churches compared to others.
- Living in Houston, Texas in the summer is not “cool”. And when I say cool- I mean in regards to the temperature! Have you ever felt temperatures that literally felt like 109 degrees Fahrenheit? Because I have.
- We also struggle with (what seems like every summer) rain. And by rain, I mean hurricanes.
But if you can make it happen, do it!
Here are some ways that our church has taken this adaptation or is considering and is making it work.
- Our “Recreation” rotation is moving from inside our gym to our soccer field outside. We will have “pop up” tents (think tail gating) to provide shade and protection from the elements.
- Our science rotation is also moving from inside to outside. We are taking a portion of our covered drive through and making that the science area.
- Our snack rotation is combined with our science rotation, so they too will be outside.
- Drop off and pick up will all be outdoors. Parents/Guardians will no longer need to enter the building to drop off or pick up their child. We will have stations around the church for these beginnings and ends.
PPE- Personal Protective Equipment
Wearing masks, diligent hand washing and social distancing have been significantly helpful at keeping the virus away.
If we were to have VBS today, all of our children and volunteers would wear masks. If we were requiring masks, we would likely even have some specially made with our VBS theme. If we have to wear masks, we can at least make it fun.
This pandemic has taught us the crucial importance of hand washing. So, I know that we will build in extra trips to the bathroom for hand washing. We will also ensure all groups have their own bottles of hand sanitizer for regular use. One idea we may incorporate is having the children use hand sanitizer at every new rotation. This will help us ensure consistency and protection across the board.
Our church has been using a spraying sanitizing system for our worship spaces in between services on Sunday mornings. Using a system like this or other aerosol sanitizing sprays will show a proactive approach to keeping a handle on germs.
Social distancing with children is hard! But one way to encourage distancing is by considering the travel routes your groups are taking from one rotation to the next. Consider each group’s route and encourage them to take routes where they are not passing other groups. It may not be the quickest way to get to their next rotation, but it will help avoid cross contamination.
Early Registration and Limit your Number of Participants
I know VBS is often the time when we get the largest number of children into our church. We traditionally have between 700-800 children and 100-200 volunteers. This year, we have to adjust. Limiting the number of children within the building also lowers the number of volunteers.
Some churches have an open registration where children can show up the day VBS begins. If we don’t require pre-registration, we run the risk of an uncontrollable amount of children showing up. Our church has always required pre-registration. We usually run out of space 2-3 months prior to our week of VBS. This year we know that things will be even more tight. We do not have a specific formula that we are working off of to limit the numbers. We just know we have to set limits.
Another option that could be a possibility for some communities is to host multiple weeks of VBS. If you want to reach the same amount or more kids, you may consider splitting the number between two weeks. This could be done by ages or simply by which weeks work best for which families.
We can do this!
All this being said, we can do this! It may (oh, it will) look different. But now is our time to shine. We can show that we are able to adapt. Even if your church decided to do a 1-day VBS experience, that is better than nothing. I think that the theme scripture for Cokesbury’s 2021 VBS-“Discovery on Adventure Island” is the perfect inspiration for us all in this time. “Arise! Shine! Your light has come, the Lord’s glory has shone upon you!” Isaiah 60:1.
If there was any time that our world needed to see us shine, I’d say it is now.
Lauren Bedevian has been in full time children’s ministry for 10 years. She graduated from Pfeiffer University in 2010 with a degree in Christian Education, and is certified by the United Methodist Church in Christian Education. She currently serves as a children’s director at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. She is a single foster-mom that has fostered over 10 babies in just five years. She is also a “cat mom” to her fur-baby: Roofus. She enjoys writing and sharing her knowledge and experiences both with fostering infants and children’s ministry.