Bringing VBS to your Neighborhood

VBS Reachout

We asked one of our Reachout Churches to share how they brought VBS to their neighborhood in NYC, in order to help others interested in doing the same. Here’s their story:

“We are a small urban church in New York City in a neighborhood of Queens. Ours is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the world, with many different nationalities, cultures and religions represented in a dense urban area. Our church has never owned its own building, but has rented another church’s building for many years for our worship services, as well as a church office in another location. When we wanted to start doing Vacation Bible School, we had to make some significant changes to the full-day VBS model, but we have found that these variations have worked quite well with the Reachout Adventures VBS materials. We have used Reachout Adventures for the last three years in a row to do an evening week-long Vacation Bible Club in a local playground during the summer months.

“Because we don’t own our own building, and because the local playgrounds are already quite busy during the summer season, we have gotten permits to do Vacation Bible Club in a section of a local playground. We bring a small tent and some signs, primarily to serve as a visual cue, as what we are doing is outside, not under tent cover. We also use a large tarp to lay out a seating area for the children, and we have several tables set up for crafts and other stations. Our length is 1 1/2 hours and during that time we sing, tell the Bible story, do crafts and games, and serve a snack.

“We advertise in the neighborhood with our VBS sign, which we put out at the playground week ahead of it starting, by passing out flyers in the neighborhood, and by announcing it at our weekly Bible Club at the local Boys and Girls Club. But we also expect to get a number of kids who are just playing in the playground and hopefully will be interested to return on following nights (this has turned out to be quite successful). We also promote it to our own church families and emphasize the value of it for the children in church as well as those outside the church. Most of the children who attend are drawn from the playground or are from our church.

“This past summer we began VBC by doing a drum circle each night to help draw in children to participate. We gathered all the drums, wood sticks, bells, and other percussions instruments we could find and passed them out to all the children. Then the music leader conducted a drum circle. This was a fun way to get everyone gathered and helped draw attention to VBC starting each night.

“While children are arriving, we have sign-in to gather children’s names, some contact info and parent consent. At sign in, the children were given one of three colored wrist bands (from the VBS materials) to distinguish which age group they were in. All ages begin together with the singing time and story time and then break into age groups for the craft station, game station and music station (which they go to in rotations of 20 minutes).

“Because we are outside and don’t have a way to plug in instruments or a larger speaker system, we have to adapt to using different music from most of the music recommended with the VBS material. We have several singers, acoustic guitar, ukulele, cajon and djembe to lead the singing (we’ve used some of our teens and youth group kids to play instruments and help lead singing, which the younger kids always respond well to). We have chosen songs that fit the themes of the week, but can be taught easily, along with a few with more complex lyrics that we have learned over the process of several days, with the help of lyrics written on poster board. For example, this past summer, we sang “What’s gonna make me long for you,” and “Oh, the deep, deep love of Jesus,” along with several others. We have found it helpful to choose 4-6 songs to learn over the week and continue to sing them so that the children really learn them by the end of the week and can sing heartily. We choose songs which fit with the VBS themes and talk about these themes while we are teaching the songs.

“The singing time is followed by the story time. For this, we use the characters and stories from the VBS material. While we’re not always able to do as elaborate costumes in the outside setting, the children still respond with excitement to these characters and the stories they tell.

“After this, we break into three age groups which go to different stations–the craft station, where we have successfully used the recommended crafts from the VBS material; the music station, where we have more time to work on the songs we’re learning together for the week, and the game station, where we play a variety of group games with simple props. After the three age groups have rotated through the stations, we come back together for a snack that is passed out to all the kids (usually single bags of chips and a drink or something similar). The snacks are big hits and help bring kids back for more! We have also done a Bible memory station in some past years, but this year we were memorizing music that had Scripture in it.

“We have used the VBS lesson books to send home with the children for further study and discussion at home. We always have a good number of church volunteers to help us run everything and get to know the children and their families (as many of them have at least one parent with them). Because we have many Muslim families in our neighborhood, we’ve asked all our volunteers to either wear pants or longer skirts, and not to wear sleeveless shirts, so as not to offend these other cultures. We’ve had many interesting conversations with these families, some of whom recognize some of the Biblical figures we are discussing from their place in the Koran. This has been a good jumping off point for some conversations.

“Because we meet in a playground, we have to contend with various noise and distractions, but we’ve found that keeping each section short and to the point, and moving the kids between stations, with lots of volunteers interacting with them, has helped keep them focused and interested. Many come back for the following nights. In addition to giving the children the VBS lesson books to take home, we also have cards and flyers for our church and ESL ministry.

“Even though we aren’t able to use the full Reachout Adventures materials and plans, we have found the rich lesson plans and the overall themes and spiritual applications to be a very helpful basis for our adaption to this evening urban outdoor Vacation Bible Club.”