Commentary: Your church needs to be planning for VBS now


BRENTWOOD, Tenn. — For many churches, dates for Vacation Bible School are among the first placed on the church calendar each year. Churches give VBS high priority because pastors recognize VBS as one of the most important evangelistic events for the entire church year.

In some churches, a volunteer serves as the VBS director. Other churches may have a children’s ministry staff person who’s responsible for coordinating VBS. For some churches, especially single-staff churches, the pastor may wear the hat of VBS director. When a VBS director is wearing multiple hats, it is not uncommon for earlier events on the calendar to quickly push VBS planning to the back burner.

But preparing for Vacation Bible School can be compared to preparing for a trip. When I go on a trip for five days, I don’t just throw a toothbrush and some clothes in a bag and head to parts unknown. When planning a vacation, I sometimes spend months learning as much as I can about my destination. As a result, I can make lists of items I need to pack to enable me and those traveling with me to have the best experience possible.

Similar to planning for a destination vacation, planning must take high priority when preparing to guide children and families on an exciting journey during VBS. The destination for some may be accepting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. For those who are already Christians, the destination may be growing in their daily walk with Christ. When a church recognizes the potential for eternal impact, VBS planning may become the most important planning of the church year.

I often hear, “There is no tired like VBS tired.” Let’s face it. VBS is hard work! But it’s worth it. VBS is the one week of the year with the potential to mobilize the entire church to reach the community with the gospel. At the same time, churches are providing a unique discipleship experience for individual children and volunteers.

Enlisting volunteers early in the year and providing teaching resources are important parts of VBS preparation. In order to be successful, volunteers need to receive more than a leader guide. Volunteers need training. While most churches schedule VBS during the summer months, the planning and training process should begin much earlier. Thousands of leaders attend Lifeway VBS Previews in January each year. State conventions and associations schedule training sessions as early as February.

Training is an important part of seeing people come to Christ through VBS. Lifeway VBS statistics show that for every person trained for VBS, we see 1.1 salvations. Awareness of those statistics motivates me to see every VBS leader trained to share the gospel. Training VBS leaders includes more than Bible study leaders. Music, crafts, recreation, missions, and even snack leaders need to be trained to share the gospel during VBS. Recreation and snacks are areas where kids often let their guards down and are more open to conversations. I have heard testimonies of recreation and snack leaders who had an opportunity to lead a child to Christ. A trained leader will be more confident in having gospel conversations with children, parents, and grandparents.

Enlistment and training are key elements of preparing for a successful VBS, but there is so much more. Every April and May, multiple people ask me: “Are you getting ready to start working on VBS?” People are often surprised to learn I work on VBS all year long. While some breathe a sigh of relief when the last decoration comes down, some of the most important work is just beginning. Personal follow-up with prospects and individuals who have made decisions needs to start right away.

By now, you may be thinking “VBS is months away and we are already behind. How can we map out a strategy for VBS without getting overwhelmed?” Lifeway prepares a VBS Administrative Guide each year to help in planning a successful VBS. The VBS 2024 Administrative Guide presents a six-step strategy to guide churches in VBS planning.

  1. Know your purpose and theme.
  2. Start planning.  
  3. Enlist and train your workers. 
  4. Promote and publicize. 
  5. Register participants. 
  6. Continue the connection.  

Each step has tips and tools to help you accomplish that particular step. One of my favorite tools for helping VBS directors is the planning calendar provided in step two. The calendar is a checklist of tasks that need to be completed before, during, and after VBS. The list is divided into months leading up to VBS, helping VBS directors track their progress as they move toward VBS week. The calendar begins with tasks to be completed as early as six to nine months before VBS and gradually adds additional tasks. This planning process helps directors avoid feeling overwhelmed by attempting to do multiple tasks within a few weeks before VBS begins.

Lifeway’s VBS Directors Club is another great resource. The VBS Directors Club gives access to recruiting and enlistment tools, downloads for exclusive themed clip art, training presentations, a downloadable VBS planning timeline, and more.

In the midst of everything that must be done before VBS, it is easy to forget the purpose of VBS. The VBS director may have gathered all the items on the supply list. Teachers may have cut and sorted all the items in their leader pack. Worship leaders may have learned the motions to every song. Craft leaders may have organized every item possible for a project. But a leader who has not studied information on sharing the plan of salvation is not ready.

Always remember that the main purpose of VBS should be to reach lost people for Christ. You can have lots of fun with a theme and share all kinds of stories from the Bible. But remember to keep the main thing the main thing—helping unsaved children, students, and adults come to an understanding of their need for a Savior.

When you have made your lists and checked them multiple times, what else do you need to do? Be intentional about informing leaders about how your church plans to handle decisions during VBS. Help leaders know it is not their job to save people. They may not see results from their efforts right away. Their role is to share the good news of Jesus prayerfully, carefully, and lovingly. Encourage leaders to leave the rest to God.

Consider having a commissioning service on the Sunday before VBS begins. Pray with leaders, thanking God for the privilege of sharing His love with future generations. Ask God to bless the preparation of each leader and to give them opportunities to share with children, students, and their families. 

If you find yourself questioning how you can justify months of planning for one week out of the church year, remind yourself of the main purpose of VBS. VBS is worth it!


Vicki Hulsey has served as a childhood specialist for the Tennessee Mission Board for 19 years. Previously, she served on church staffs in the areas of preschool, children, students, family and education ministries.