Even in our so-called sophisticated world, Vacation Bible School is still a beloved rite of childhood. Churches know that it’s a way of getting their community into their church, or (like Backyard Bible Clubs) a way of getting their church into their community. Regardless of the method, however, VBS doesn’t come cheap . . . but there are ways to soften the budget blow. And thanks to some of our budget-conscious, VBS-enthusiast friends, they’ve let us publish a few of their secrets here!
Inside the Box, Outside the Box
Amy Harrison of Connell United Methodist Church (Goodlettsville, Tennessee) is into boxes. For example, she recycles cereal boxes to craft picture frames, and larger food boxes to make robots. She’s even made surfboards from furniture boxes. First Baptist Church (McMinnville, Tennessee Childhood Ministries Director Tammy Trembley thinks along those same lines, always on the look out for old appliance boxes that can be used for VBS sets and re-used for other productions. Tammy also thinks outside the box: For promotion, she uses the power of social media and the power of incentive. “I ask our congregation to share a status when events like VBS are happening,” she explains. “Everyone who shares and notifies me is in a drawing for a twenty-five dollar gift card. I had at least fifty shares the first day!”
A Little Give and a Little Take
VBS without a ton of volunteers? That won’t work. Many churches express appreciation to their leaders with a dedicated break room, and ask senior adults to serve as hosts and provide breakfast or snack items each day. It brings two or more generations together and reminds leaders how much they’re appreciated without touching VBS monies.
And although Children’s Minister Stacy Goebel certainly appreciates her volunteers, her VBS leaders at Mountain Ridge Church (Phoenix, Arizona) take it easy on the budget by buying a color-designated shirt on their own; the church simply purchases an iron-on transfer for each leader, and all are ensured their shirts will fit to their liking.
Here are some of the other suggestions we culled:
- Serve water instead of juice or drink mixes. You may get pushback from leaders (not children), until they see the cost savings. Not to mention the health benefits!
- Rent an upright popcorn popper and keep it going throughout the week. Popcorn is inexpensive, and kids will get a kick out of the novelty.
- Ask members for their plastic Easter eggs, even if you don’t have an immediate use for them—you’ll find one.
- Schedule a different game for each grade during rec time, so equipment is rotated and no one is left out.
- Rotate crafts for the same reason—you’ll only need enough glue sticks, for example, for one grade each day instead of buying glue sticks for 800 children.
- Print name tags from your computer; even though kids get a new nametag each day, it’s still more cost-effective.
- Scour yard sales, local stores, flea markets, and thrift stores. Spring is the season to do this, so make sure your church decides on VBS theme, pronto! Then take advantage of these resources to find items that you could use for decorations, crafts, set designs, etc.
- Consider partnering with another church and split the costs, with each church taking responsibility for a specific grade level. If one church cannot accommodate everyone, consider churches in close proximity so everyone can gather for assembly and parents do not drive far between locations.
- Combine crafts with missions: Cut shoes from old jeans for organizations like Sole Hope, make pillowcase dresses for children (local or abroad). Enlist your volunteers for ideas and select a few.
- Utilize social networking to generate supplies, curriculum, feedback, and ideas. Whether it is a blog, a Facebook account, Twitter, or a simple email, don’t be afraid to ask people for donations or resources. (More info on social-media basics here)
- Does your city have a recycle/reuse store? These non-profits accept donations from businesses and individuals and some offer the items free to the public with a small donation. You could find loads of craft stuff for like . . . free!
- Shorten the length of your VBS: a three-day VBS or a one-night kids’ crusade can save you money.
- Consider rescheduling your event to a different time of year (fall break, maybe?) to find better deals (and cooler temps)
- Learn how to improvise, and get creative with it. For example: Red plastic cups work as well as pricey orange cones when you need to ‘mark’ the spot.
These ideas are from VBS programs that pinch pennies, squeeze nickels, and probably give their dimes and quarters a run for the money, too. What cheap tricks do you have up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments below!
Debbie Whisenant is a freelance writer living in Nashville, Tennessee.