• PEN: Start Planning VBS Now!

  • Start Planning VBS Now!

    There’s no need to discuss the Covid-19 pandemic other than to say, “It’s horrible in too many ways to count!” Enough said. As summer approaches, one important way we teach the faith to children in our own congregations and to children who are in our respective neighborhoods is through Vacation Bible School.

    So, what should we do for VBS 2021 in this pandemic pandemonium?

    It’s late, it’s late for a very important date. But it’s not too late. The Parish Educators Network offers two VBS solutions to help make this summer’s VBS a success during these challenging times.

    Parking Lot VBS

    We purposely did not want to give children, families, or VBS staff any additional screen time. We need a Vacation Bible School plan in place now. Because of the coronavirus we totally changed our Vacation Bible School in 2020. A snapshot of our pre-COVID-19 VBS looked like this:

    • Held in mid-June
    • Ran Monday through Friday, 9:00 to noon
    • Rotation experience
    • Graded classes with adult guides and youth helpers
    • Two-thirds of the participants were nonmembers.
    • It was one of the best ministries attracting many volunteers, middle school youth, and high school youth.
    • It was one of the best outreach ministries of our congregation.
    • It was cheap daycare for many families.

    It seemed to be going well over the years. As they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” No reason to change it. Like everything in our world, the coronavirus forced us to change. However, one thing I did not want to do, and many of us did not want, was to postpone or cancel VBS. Here are our changes for 2020 and our Parking Lot VBS plans for 2021:

    • We used one 12 x 12 tent that takes two minutes to set up. It is located near the center of the parking lot, considering sunlight and acoustics.
    • We have several greeters at the entrance to the parking lot to direct people and three others directing cars to park in socially distanced spots.
    • Upon arrival our VBS team handed out the craft supplies and snacks for the lesson of the week. Families did them at home.
    • We did not want to give them large lesson plans with detailed sheets. We sent home crafts and snacks, coloring sheets, word finds, and other activity sheets.
    • Opening songs, fun, and engaging ways to cover the Bible story include object lessons, drama, and actions. Close with prayer.
    • We purposely did not want to give children, families, or VBS staff any additional screen time.
    • Held Wednesdays in July at 7:00 p.m. We start June 30th this year.

    Some of the benefits of this format are that more dads and grandparents experienced VBS with their children and grandchildren. Total numbers of children were down; however, the entire family engagement has increased.

    We are blessed with a pastor who has been on the forefront of responding well to the coronavirus regarding worship, thinking differently, and finding good “work arounds” when roadblocks were caused by the pandemic. He is very supportive and engaged in VBS and appreciates doing anything to reach out with the Gospel in new, old, or creative ways. Finally, one of the most important purposes of VBS is that we gained two families this past year with one baptism.

    I am not suggesting you do what we do. Do what seems natural in your congregation. Please do not cancel or postpone Vacation Bible School. VBS is too important and too much fun to be canceled! Plan to do it. Do it well. Do something even if it looks different, feels different, and you have some trepidation. Fear and pressure are good things to have and propel us to new areas, fosters creative ways of doing things, and open new doors. May the Spirit guide your thinking, planning, and actions.

    For more details on what we do or just my thoughts on VBS, feel free to email me . I enjoy connecting with fellow Lutheran educators.

    Bob Brantsch is director of Christian education at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Hudson, Ohio.

    The Virtual VBS

    Putting on a broadcast that may last a couple of hours a day requires some canny preparation. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the past 12 months it is that everything takes a lot more time! Start gathering a staff who is willing to become “Zoom savvy” over the next few months (more on this later). Choose your VBS curriculum as early as possible, and start thinking of ways you to convey the theme of the curriculum and teach the Bible stories at a distance. For example:

    • You’ll need a plan for parents to pick up VBS materials.
    • Recruit VBS volunteers (both children and adults).
    • Discuss how to organize each day’s activities with your team.
    • Ask for donations to cover expenses. Intentional fund raising is a must—ask early and often.
    • Gather your video crew and make sure you have commitments from them early (an experienced video team is essential for success).
    • Create a day-to-day calendar with a detailed time schedule of events such as opening worship, craft time, Bible study, learning VBS music and hymn singing, etc.

    Perhaps some of you had experience with a virtual form of VBS last summer. If you did, you probably have a good idea of what did and didn’t work. If you didn’t do a virtual VBS last year, or if you canceled it because of the pandemic, you’ll need to carefully plan a virtual VBS experience. Many of you have been watching, and in some cases, preparing videos of church services over the past year, but putting on a broadcast that may last a couple of hours a day requires some canny preparation.

    You will need an experienced crew who knows how to operate the camera(s), set up microphones, make sure lighting is adequate, and edit the video(s). If you already have sufficient equipment, that’s great! If not, you may need to rent or enlist the services of someone who knows the technical aspects of video production and who has the equipment to make a quality production. Remember, poor sound and video will result in a less than satisfactory experience for children who are used to watching professional quality TV shows for children. You don’t have to do a picture perfect video, but if you have too many “glitches,” the kids will tune out.

    Think about “chunking” your videos. We use chunking all the time. We don’t memorize a phone number like this: 15328496523. We chunk it: 1-532-849-6523. Chunking makes the number easier to remember. Likewise, we need to “chunk” our VBS videos. For example:

      • Chunk 1: Opening worship-prayers/theme explanation/schedule/announcements/transition to first activity (x minutes)
      • Chunk 2: Bible Story (x minutes)
      • Chunk 3: Singing new VBS songs (x minutes)
      • Chunk 4: Craft time (x minutes)
    • Why do you want to continue VBS even under limited and difficult circumstances?
    • List the names of volunteers you hope to ask for help.
    • What special safety precautions will you need to practice?
    • Chunk 5: Snack time, etc.

    The chunks don’t have to be done in order. They can be pre-recorded and then edited together to complete the VBS program for each day. There are a number of advantages as well. The videos can be posted and viewed at any time during the day. Some or all of the chunks can be viewed in the evening when the whole family can participate. The virtual VBS could be recorded early in the summer and broadcast at a later date.

    Get a committee together and share your situation, expertise, and time. Brainstorm some ideas that could be implemented in your congregation.

    Jeffrey Burkart is emeritus professor of educational media/communications, artist in residence, and director of drama ministry and special projects at Concordia University, St. Paul.

    Photos courtesy the authors.

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