Vacation Bible School, or VBS, is one of the highlights of my year. When the next year’s theme is announced, my mind already starts rolling with ideas. Our team jumps into action in January, which is typically seven months before VBS!
And here we are in 2020, the year of changes, uncertainty, cancellations and most of all- flexibility.
By mid-March our VBS registration was at capacity. Over 700 children and leader had preregistered. At the same time the full effects of the pandemic began to take place.
Our team held on to the hopes that we would still be able to offer an in person Vacation Bible School despite the pandemic. In June we were really focused on the accommodations we would need to make in order to have an in person VBS.
We made plans for child drop-off stations.
We made plans temperature screenings.
We made plans smaller class sizes.
- We made plans moving two of the four rotations outdoors and more.
We were determined to do whatever we needed to do to make this ministry opportunity work! The end of June came around and the decision was made to move VBS to a virtual model. Living in Houston, Texas, where the illness and death rates continued to rise led us to this unprecedented predicament. Yet again we were looking at how we could continue with our mission to provide a VBS to children and families but this time with a social distanced narrative.
Our first quest. We had to decide ways to offer VBS. Our team made the decision to move forward with a virtual VBS. We tossed around ideas of offering a new kind of VBS to save our “Knights of North Castle” theme for the following year. We had already invested so much time and energy to this theme and we did not know if we could or even wanted to pull it off the way it deserved. Ultimately we decided to move forward with a virtual model using Cokesbury’s Knights of North Castle curriculum.
We made the decision to move forward with Knights of North Castle VBS from Cokesbury for many reasons.
The main reason being that Cokesbury did all the virtual groundwork for us!
Cokesbury provided a complete at-home VBS experience that did not require us to start from scratch.
Cokesbury provided music videos.
Cokesbury provided Bible lessons.
- Cokesbury provided instructional craft and science videos and more.
Also, because of our early planning efforts, bulks of our supplies were already purchased. There were a couple crafts we had planned on using that were not included in the at-home VBS produced by Cokesbury. Yet, we were able to make those additions to the virtual component with little issue!
Our next quest. How would we get the supplies to our 500+ children who were still registered? Our team decided to offer a drive-thru “armor” pick up. All along the way we had conversations with those had registered through email newsletters, Facebook updates, texts and phone calls. We wanted to be sure that everyone knew about our change from an in person VBS to a virtual VBS. We created a private Facebook group and invited those registered to join. This is where we would post announcements, photos and most importantly- the daily VBS videos.
We wanted to plan a couple events that would safely get families out of their homes and engaged with the church. They key here was safety. Because we learned that outdoor events posed the smallest risk, we looked at those options.
Armor Up Supply Bags
Plans had to be made to assemble our Armor Up Supply Bags. We had to make sure the bags could be distributed in a safe and engaging manner! Cokesbury’s curriculum offered us many options. After careful decision making we selected to use five crafts and five science experiments. We looked at the selections and options then assembled the items that were needed to complete these activities. Rather than tossing the items haphazardly into a bag or box, we wanted to go about this in the most organized fashion.
We decided to label each project that would be part of the supply bags. We created supplies based on crafts and science. We made labels for Craft One, Science One, and so on.
Certain crafts and science activities required more preparation for bagging than others. (For example, the instant snow science activity item did not come individually packaged. Our team took the large bags and divided them out into smaller snack-sized bags with the appropriate portions.)
Every bag was created with a specific child in mind. Included in every bag were a VBS shirt and an age-appropriate student activity book.
Our Vacation Bible School lasted four days or four sessions, which meant we included four crafts and four science activities to correspond with the videos. We provided extra crafts and “filler” activities that would have been included for an in-person VBS. These were no longer essentials to our virtual VBS, but special additions.
We included a general overview for each day to help guide the families in each day’s activities. This overview gave them each day’s activity as well as additional instructions about mission collections and drive-thru events.
- We did not include basic drawing or coloring supplies like crayons or markers. We made sure our families knew to have these basic supplies available to them before the start of VBS.
Armor Up Supply Bag Assembly
Our Children’s Ministry staff as well as some at-home volunteers did the prep work that included individually bagging each craft and science project. When it came time to pack the 500+ bags, we reached out to our church staff for help. Our church was and still is in phase one of the pandemic rules or our city, which limits non-staff on site. We found that this gave a wider opportunity for pastors, administrative team members, and other ministry leaders to participate in VBS in a new way.
We laid out the clearly labeled supplies on long tables. This process allowed us to walk down each assembly line picking up one of each item for the bag.
We made sure the bags stayed in alphabetical order to assist in the pickup process.
- We were able to pack over 500 bags in about six hours.
Armor Up Supply Bag
Our armor pick up was advertised as a drive-thru celebration. We encouraged families to come and drive-thru the church parking lot to pick up their VBS Armor Up Bags.
We enlisted the help of several staff to help with this task. Staff members were divided up into various teams.
The music team included four of our pastors and our youth director. Each staff member dressed in full costume and endured the two hours in the Texas heat.
Several members of our VBS leadership team along with church staff were on hand to distribute these Armor Up Supply Bags to families.
The media team set up a sound system. They made sure everyone heard the Knights of North Castle VBS music as they made their way through the line. This idea also encouraged them to listen to their Student Take Home CD’s, which were a part of their supply bags.
Several leaders were part of the decorating team. Because we had purchased most of our supplies, this included decorations as well. We used a bulk of these decorations to liven up our outdoor space. Using the Cokesbury decorations helped make the space inviting. My favorite decorative items were the Castle Pillars. We made sure to stack them so everyone in their cars could see them!
- We even rented a “snow” (or bubble) machine! Cars could drive through the “snow” after they picked up their Armor Up Supply Bag. The drive thru celebration was really our kick off to VBS. Not only did it provide the families with the supplies for VBS but it also gave them a means of re-connecting to our church campus and staff.
Quarantine Quest: Our Virtual VBS
We started the week of VBS with a neighborhood scavenger hunt. Earlier this year during lent, a neighborhood church had done something similar with the Stations of the Cross. We created six videos, which were done by our pastoral staff and music team. We then attached QR codes to those videos and posted them on signs throughout the neighborhood. There were two locations were on our main campus, one on our West campus that happens to be just down the street and three others were placed at church member’s houses. The Knights of North Castle Scripture Treasure Lanyards for each of the stations. We ended up leaving the stations up for two full days because of the high demand!
Snow Cone Treats
One afternoon we had a popular snow cone truck come to our church parking lot. We wanted to invite families to our campus in a safe way. This also gave them a way to cool off from the Houston heat! In the kid’s kits we gave them a coupon to get a snow cone for free. Families came to campus and used a photo booth we set up to take pictures as they cooled off with a snow cone. Many of the children and parents too commented how it was so good to see some familiar faces, even from a distance.
We ended our VBS week with a drive-in Closing Celebration. Families registered ahead of time in order to reserve a spot in the parking lot.
During this time:
We read the theme Bible verse.
We practiced the key learning’s called Castle Callouts.
- We sang five of the VBS songs.
It was a simple 30-minute service but it gave our families a significant conclusion to VBS.
One of the hurdles we had to overcome was the inability to personally see children engaging in our VBS. We had to rely on family members to send us photos and videos of what the children were doing. We set up a VBS specific email address that families could send in their pictures and videos. Families sent in their photos and videos in many different ways expressing their gratitude for VBS.
“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” Ephesians 6:10
This theme verse gave us strength all along the way of our VBS journey. Overall our team was pleased with this Quarantine Quest VBS. Going virtual was not ideal, but it provided many meaningful experiences for our children and families. One mom said that “I've been missing the way we used to worship and feeling connected. So it has been very uplifting to spend this week worshipping with my family. The themes of truth, peace, faith and salvation can carry through from the children to us adults, truly. So in some ways this year's VBS possibly did more for me than the kids!”
Another mom (actually a few parents) told us that this was a great way for her kids to ease into virtual learning. It gave her as a parent a lesson plan to follow and her boys a daily routine.
The week after VBS we asked families to share with us some of their favorite moments. In every comment we received they mentioned the videos: the singing, the dancing. We would have struggled a tremendous amount more had it not been for Cokesbury’s initiative to create the virtual content. While we still much rather prefer an in-person VBS, we were thankful to at least provide our community with a sense of normalcy for their summer. We greatly look forward to 2021 VBS where the “Quest for God’s great light” will hopefully not be one in quarantine!
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 four years. She has 2 cats- Olive roo and Roofus. She enjoys writing and sharing her knowledge and experiences both with fostering infants and children’s ministry.