What Worked, What Didn’t; Hair Tearing Moments, Decisions, Solutions and Lessons Learned
by Karen Taylor
Now that Vacation Bible School is over, I have some time to reflect on my experience. In this post I’ll share with you my journey: the process, the struggles, the memorable, hair tearing, most touching moments and even the regrets. I’ll also share the lessons I’ve learnt.
Vacation Bible School was a first time experience for me. The three words I would use to describe it are stressful, exhilarating and humbling. Some things worked, and some things did not.
This is my first year as Children Ministries Leader at my church. I have worked in Children Ministries before, but this has been the first year that I had a break from work that allowed me to attend.
There is no handbook for how to make VBS successful, at least not at the little church that I attend in Hellshire, St Catherine, Jamaica. Our Children’s Ministries Department at the church conference office usually provide VBS materials, but this year when our VBS leader checked, there were none available.
In June, my Children’s Ministries Council approved the date for VBS as August 4 to 15. Some churches do one week of VBS; at Hellshire SDA, the tradition is to have a two week programme. What we didn’t have in the way of a VBS curriculum as a source guide, we had in the vast pool of experience of past Children Ministries/VBS leaders. We also had plenty of ideas and the good old Internet for back up. So we called a meeting and put heads together.
Here’s a rough calendar of our VBS activities leading up to the programme start. These are just the weekly activities. What is not mentioned here are the during- the- week activities. I spent a lot of time preparing promotional materials, scouring stores for reasonably-priced craft supplies, texting, making calls, emailing, Facebook posting and putting together activities for the daily programme,
July 5 – Planning Meeting. Key Agenda items we discussed and finalised were: programme goals, the theme, theme song, recommendations for volunteer teachers, day’s schedule of activities, VBS budget, a resources list, the Ending Service/VBS Graduation, criteria for graduation etc.
July 12 – Event details were included in Church announcements, I created a Facebook page for Children Ministries and posted updates to get kids updated and excited about VBS. View page here: https://www.facebook.com/HellshireSDAChildrenMinistries/info . View our VBS flyer here VBS FLYER full size
July 19 – Announcement requesting donations of cash and craft supplies.
July 26 – Special Advertisement of VBS after Divine Worship Church Service, towncrying and flier Distribution in surrounding communities (p.m.); Praise Party for Kids after Vespers to give them a taste of what VBS would be like. Provided refreshments- cookies, fruits, and drink for kids.
Aug. 2 – Resources – collected donation pledges from church members. Discussed lunch menu with catering team leader.
August 3 – Last minute shopping using funds received.
August 4 – VBS First day. 31 children turned up. Catering staff did not turn up because of miscommunication. I shopped for food, then donned aprons and with help from Sis Fowlin, prepared cocktail tuna sandwich, cheese and crackers and cookies.
What Worked, What Didn’t, Hair Tearing Moments, Decisions, Solutions and Lessons Learned
1. Feeding the 30. At the start we worried about how we would feed 30 children daily for two weeks. We had received a tiny budget allocation of $5000 from the church, and another $4000 in donations.All our children were fed daily for the 10 days.
The traditional treat on the final day was also a blessing and a miracle. The kitchen staff under the miraculous resourcefulness of Sis Spaulding concocted a meal of fried chicken, festival (a type of fried dumpling popular in Jamaica) , and fries. A parent had donated a tub of icecream, so we were wiping some strawberry-smudged but happy faces and sticky hands at the end of the day.
Praise the Lord for miracles.
2. Craft classes
As can be seen here, we had adequate craft activities, materials and projects to keep the children occupied in their favourite activity and we managed to finish some beautiful craft pieces which we were able to place on display Sabbath eveninbg after our Ending Service. Special thanks and commendations to the hard-working craft teachers, Cavein, Shahira, Carlene and Sis Shirley.
3. VBS Ending Service and Graduation
Hair tearing moments: At several points we worried that we would not have been able to stage the traditional ending service. Where would we get money to print certificates which would run into about $2500.00 (to print 30 certificates)? We only had $1000.00 in the kitty. The church doesn’t have printing facilities, and our resource person who had kindly printed our promotional fliers now expressed some reservation about the heavy expense for the ink which he purchases in the UK.
We needed card stock as well to print the certificates on. Found it at the book store print centre. The pack of 100 – $1950.00. Single sheets – $30.00. Woolworths had it for $29.00. Just a dollar in savings, but that’s what I needed at that time anyway… to save.
Decision moment: Can I afford to print all certificates on card stock? No. Big Idea – Print the special awards certificates on Cardstock and everything else on regular paper. I purchased six sheets of cardstock.
I googled ‘free VBS certificate templates’ and downloaded these:
Using the Public Library Computer cafe facilities, I downloaded the certificates and had the guy print 15 Attendance certificates and 11 of the other. The latter were used for special awards. He also printed up six on the Card Stock. Cost: $40.00 each. Total bill: 1000.00 Jamaican dollars.
I wish I had had enough money to put all certificates on card stock for each child. This would have ensured durability.
We had to select children who receive certificates giving first preference to those with at least 70 percent attendance, that is, those who had attended seven out of ten days. We wanted to give all children for just attending whether seven days or two days. We were too cash-strapped to do that, so a few children did not receive any certificates.
Some record keeping bloopers caused us to miss one or two of our regulars. They did not receive certificates at the Service, so we had to wipe some tears away and promise these children. Some guardians who didn’t understand the process were a little peeved that their children were disappointed. No worries. We will find certificates for these children, and deliver on our promise.
4. Mr and Ms VBS 2014
Days before, I wasn’t sure we would have been able to pull off this feature event which we used to incentivize attendance, conduct, christian principles, participation and evangelism. I needed at least some incentives for our winners.
Hair-tearing moments: Searching for gifts for the winners. I called our church Pastor and asked him to check at the conference office book store to find some Sabbath School quarterlies and children magazines that would have made fantastic gifts, especially for our community attendees. It would have also been my sales tool to get these kids to come back to Sabbath Schools and stay connected to us. Unfortunate for us, the conference administrators were all in a meeting that day, so we did not get our quarterlies and magazines.
Solution: I found two books on my book shelf that I had bought some time ago, but had not used: a Bible quiz book and a copy of Think Big by Benjamin Carson. These saved the day as gifts for my Mr and Ms VBS winners. The second place winners had received at least two certificates, so they were still mighty proud of themselves.
Here are my four kids who copped the Mr and Ms VBS Awards;
- Start planning VBS from the start of the year.
- Create a resources list and start acquiring your resources from early. If your church is cash-strapped, seek sponsorship from the corporate businesses, find volunteers for a Resources team who donate items, do fundraising like a coin drive, ice-cream sale or Movie nights to raise funds. Include a fundraising proposal in your Children’s Ministry Budget to show how you will return money to the Church Treasury when they allocate the funds you need.This is not a requirement to obtain funds, however, just how some church budget proposals are set up.Of course, every church is different.
- Ask professional people in your church to photocopy material for you.
- Turn in a budget at the start of the year. If you never budget or turn in one, its harder to get money from your Treasurer; I felt a little weird asking for funds as I had not submitted my budget. I still put a proposal to the Church Board and I got some money, just a drop in the bucket, yes, but it helped offset some of the expenses anyway.
- Purchase ink for your church printer from funds you raise. Use it to print your material.
We wanted to offer ministry workshops as a part of VBS this year. The big idea was to harness the singing and acting talents of our children and guide them in using it for ministry. I also felt it would be a great way to keep the kids from the community connected to us if we could get them involved in a Children’s Ministry Community Choir and Ministry groups.
Hair-tearing moments: I painstakingly identified and collated 25 pages of children’s songs into a booklet which I called VBS/Children Ministry Choir Praise Book. I finally got one copy at the library. It cost me $780 in personal funds. The next hurdle to cross was getting copies into the hands of each child. With no money and no printing facilities, this was a hair-tearing moment.
As if that was not enough stress, the young lady who was asked to take on the rehearsals of the children’s choir had a sudden change of heart on the grounds that she was unprepared to handle so many little kids. The newly appointed Children’s Choir leader when contacted for assistance, had work and was unavailable.
The solution. So the responsibility fell in my lap. If you ever have to work with a group of kids where the majority are under ten years old, you know you could go bald after just 30 minutes trying to get them to stay still long enough to learn a song. I have a new respect for kindergarten, primary school teachers and Children’s Choir leaders who deal with this at every rehearsal.
In the end, we only got one song done and a solo by a little boy, and they sang beautifully. Kudos to you boys and girls! Here they are doing the Bible Alphabet after the song.
We didn’t have enough teachers this year to help so our plans for ministry workshops in acting, preaching and so on did not happen, however, I managed to get some of my boys to do this little skit which we called, A Day at the Beach by Peter, James and John. I wrote the script, and the kids rehearsed it just minutes before the programme started.
Here they are miming the net casting movements to the song: Peter, James and John in the same boat
We had our Ending Service last Saturday evening, August 16. Thirty children attended and presented with certificates. The children also presented songs, Memory Verses, and skits based our theme, “Let’s Celebrate! Jesus is my BFF!”
Here are the photos. Forgive the quality of some of our photos.
6. A Handful of Hardworking and Resourceful Teammembers
There were so many things that did not go as planned, but with the small, creative and resourceful team God sent me in the form of Beverly Shirley, VBS leader, Carlene Williams, and a set of hardworking youth volunteers, Shahira Morgan, Cavein, and Shaquiel Williams, Food Prep staff: Sis Spaulding, Merlene Fowlin, and Auntie Angella, we were able to make VBS 2014 a success.
A Seed Planted
I believe that a seed was planted in the hearts of our boys and girls from the Hellshire community, and I look forward to seeing them at Sabbath School, Adventures in Jesus Bible Club, at our Quarterly Birthday Parties, and I’m still going to find those boys and girls who I observed have singing talent, which strangely enough, are all of them, for my Children’s Community choir. It is our intention to stay in their lives and to continue to share Jesus with them. I pray that one day they will accept the Lord.
I took the time to share my experiences as a newbie Children Ministry leader because I want to encourage all who work in children ministry to stay the course in spite of the many setbacks that come our way: failed programes, lack of funding, inadequate resources and reluctant volunteers, untrained children. I see every failure as an opportunity to try again, to try something different, to even listen to God’s voice rather than mine.
One thing that will stay with me from this VBS are the priceless hugs and smiles I got from the children when they saw me daily. Whether it was tying a shoe lace, chasing the little ones and acting silly to keep their attention on the song I was trying to teach them, feeding a child, hugging one who had bitten her tongue, playing Duck, duck, goose or Musical chairs, I would not trade every moment that I got to spend with these dear children.
The burden I have now is to get these children some of who do not even know who Jesus is to come back so we can share the wonderful stories of the Bible with them. I have challenged myself to find their homes and stay in touch with them with their parents consent.
It’s the third day after VBS and I am downright exhausted and a little dissatisfied with some things, but all in all, Vacation Bible School was a blast. Would I do it again? Yes. Now that I know what I know, I would also plan better and do everything earlier.
You don’t have to wait until next year. If you are a Children Ministries Leader. For the rest of the year, you can integrate some of the activities of VBS into your regular programming. Here’s how:
- Plan and invite children to a weekly Bible Club either at church or in the community park
- Launch a Children’s Ministry Hour for one night per week. Do crafts, games, and Bible study.
- Form a Community Choir by recruiting children from the community who do not presently come to your church. Use this as the open door to get them to come to Children’s Church or Sabbath School class
- Use a parenting or children’s newsletter to provide news updates on invitable activities in your children ministry.
- Enlist the kids from VBS into your Birthday Club and invite them to your monthly or quarterly birthday parties
Don’t be afraid to jump right in. Newbie Children Ministry leaders can be great leaders. All you need are a good dose of energy, determination, creative ideas, and the ability to bounce back after your mistakes. And don’t forget prayer, the best tool you could have in your tool kit as you finish the year. You’re twice blessed if you have a supportive team who burn with the same enthusiasm and passion to serve Christ and minister to children as you do.
Did you survive VBS this year? Or are you a veteran Children’s ministry leader? What additional tips and advice can you offer to children ministry leaders who are new to the VBS experience? I would love to hear from you. Share your comments in the box below.