We're celebrating 90 - that's 90 years of providing the very best VBS curriculum, resources, and training - by going to the archives for ideas and advice that is just as relevant today as the day it was first printed. The following article was originally published in 1998. (By the way, the author of this article now leads LifeWay's VBS Publishing Team and is unaware that I'm reprinting this blast from the past.)
At my age I have shopped in almost every section of the ladies' department in the store. Let's just say the size and style I chose depended on my various, um, needs. I was always rather skeptical of those tags proclaiming a garment to be "one size fits all." However, a slight adjustment or a simple accessory would usually make it the one item of clothing that met my changing needs.
LifeWay Christian Resources faces an incredible challenge in providing a Vacation Bible School curriculum that can meet the needs of thousands of churches. While blending the needs and requests of so many varied churches and providing those things that surface as common to all, this one-size-fits-all approach can be one of the most versatile tools in our churches' Bible teaching and reaching efforts.
Whether you are building a house or putting on makeup, the one unchanging constant is the foundation. The foundation of each day's Vacation Bible School is the Bible study focus and the application it has for life today. Everything else becomes an adjustment or "accessory" to make the foundation something that works in your setting or situation. Assuming the foundation will not change, let's look at some possibilities for accessorizing to fit various needs.
GATHER THE WORKERS
No matter the part of the country or the size of your church, complications arise from the moment you try to establish a date for your VBS. The multiple staff positions to fill are complicated by people who work full-time, who hold down multiple jobs, who have pre-assigned vacation dates, who don't have time to prepare three hours of instruction a day, or who are so new to Christianity they feel inadequate to take on teaching positions.
Consider these options or features of the curriculum:
The preschool and children's material is written so that even the teacher with the heaviest load (the Bible study teacher) is responsible for planning a much smaller portion of the day than in years past. While these teachers are the relationship-building adults for each group, they serve as assistants during the remaining VBS time and enjoy and experience the activities and events right along with the children.
Consider rescheduling your "traditional" school to a time frame that will more closely meet the needs of your workers. More and more churches are going to night schools. Other options include everything from a weekend school to an expanded schedule of all day for five days to accommodate parents who work and must make all-day arrangements for their children. Suggested times and schedules can be found in the Administrative Guide for Directors.
Don't stereotype or type-cast teachers. Vacation Bible School is a great chance for a short-term assignment out of a person's usual habitat. People who "do music" all year may enjoy a chance to coordinate crafts or develop a relationship with a group of children as their Bible study teacher. The people who "always do rec" may enjoy the rhythm and active involvement in the music rotation. Do you have people who aren't able to take a year-long position as a children's or preschool teacher but would really enjoy the opportunity for just one week? A long-term solution to the staffing problem is to mentor inexperienced teachers with experienced ones. Purposefully pair teachers with a plan aimed at developing lead teachers. A side benefit is that the new person will often bring a dose of enthusiasm and encouragement to the more experienced member of the team.
A secret ingredient to make your VBS teachers smile is to offer praise and appreciation. Teachers who have good experiences will work in Vacation Bible School the next year.
While guilt is an effective tool, it leaves a bad taste in a person's mouth. Genuine appreciation is like an appetizer; it leaves one wanting more.
Love your workers into training and preparation. And don't forget that tough week of Bible School. Ask a hospitality or food committee to provide sack lunches for workers who must dash in from jobs to work in a night school or who must race to work at the close of a morning school. Prepare thank-you notes ahead of time for youth helpers to deliver to each worker at the close of each day. (For example, a stick of gum taped to a note that says: "Thanks for sticking with it. You're doing a great job!")
EXTEND THE SPACE
Once Paul preached in a house so full of people one man fell out of a window and was killed! We can't have that happening at VBS! But space is often a problem. Many churches double or triple a typical Sunday School attendance during the week of Bible school. What can a church do?
Think "time share." - Schedule Youth and Adult Vacation Bible Schools on a different date, and use the entire facility for children and preschoolers.
Think relocation. - Rent a local civic center or Christian gym to use for the youth and/or adult VBS, once again freeing the church facility for the children and preschoolers.
Think rotation. - An advantage of the rotation system used especially in the children's curriculum is the "change of scenery." This often keeps even the most active children interested and involved.
Even if all of your rooms are used, think of the "homeroom" approach used in schools. The first-grade homeroom may be used as the craft room during the rotation of classes. Though each class will end up in their own room for one of the rotations, coming back after being gone for several minutes and having a different teacher in charge will usually have the same effect.
Think "circuit-riding teachers." - If moving entire classrooms of children or preschoolers from room to room is not feasible for your children, consider creative ways to bring supporting teachers into the rooms for crafts, music, or missions.
ADJUST THE SCHEDULE
Realistically, how do you fit a three-hour Vacation Bible School plan into two- and one-half hours or less? Basically there are only three answers to this question - delete, reduce, or combine.
Delete. - While this seems to be the easiest solution, it is often the least desirable. No matter what you choose to delete, there will be someone (or often many someones) with dozens of reasons that part of Bible School is important to the kids. The one caution when considering this option is this: The Bible study is not one of the options to shorten or compromise. As the foundation and application focus of each day's study, it is crucial to the daily schedule. Beyond that, deleting may be based on what you have the space and resources to do.
Reduce. - Look at the overall schedule and see if any of the rotation options could be reduced in time. Abbreviated versions of snack without rec time or shortened music and mission events may help. Once again, this may not be the best option but may be a necessary one.
Combine. - Combination may result in a better reduction of overall time needs. Many music activities involve moment. Use the music rotation as a type of rec time or combine it with some of the recreation ideas. Sneak in snack time by giving out premeasured and prepackaged snacks during the mission rotation video or during closing Bible study time when children are doing pencil-and-paper activities. Music can also become part of either opening or closing Bible study. Modify the day's music activity or simply learn the song and add 5- or 10-minutes to the Bible study time (a total time saved of 15 to 20 minutes).
Preschool schedules can be combined in many of the same ways. Look for alternative times for music or to distribute snacks. Allow for one of the active rotations to substitute for recreation time, especially in a schedule shorter than two and one-half hours.
Do whatever it takes to look at your situation from a prospective you have never used or considered before. Paul said, "I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor. 9:22, NASB). The options available with Vacation Bible School provide churches a way to become whatever they need to be, in whatever situation they exist, to reach some in their communities. With a solid biblical foundation and divine guidance by the Holy Spirit through prayer, Vacation Bible School can truly be the event that has something for everyone.
At the time this article was originally published in The Sunday School Leader (1998) Rhonda VanCleave was a free-lance writer and a member of Lynwood Baptist Church, Oswego, Illinois. She is now VBS Publishing Team Leader for LifeWay Christian Resources, Nashville, Tennessee.