Backyard VBS fun and ideas

Kids’ ministry leaders everywhere have been re-inventing what it looks like to influence the next generation all year long. It’s time we share some of the nontraditional ideas from real leaders like you! We will be highlighting some VBS ideas from leaders at Kids’ Ministry Exchange. Today, it’s all about Backyard VBS!

Meet Jason

What is your name and job title?
Jason Brown, children’s pastor at Trinity Baptist Church

Where is your church or ministry program located (city, state)?
Jacksonville, Florida 

What was the name of your VBS program?
VBS Under the Stars

Backyard VBS Concept

What was the general concept of your program?
Our kids’ ministry condensed VBS into a single night—a virtual presentation—and took it to our neighborhoods. We asked our church families to sign up to host VBS Under the Stars at their homes, a neighborhood VBS. We had 11 families host an event in their front yard or driveway!

Our team put together a virtual presentation using the VBS curriculum we purchased. We recorded our own opener video, closer video, and games videos and then we used the provided virtual videos from our curriculum for the Bible story, skits, and music.

We brought a screen, projector, and sound system to each location. Since the events were outdoors, families were able to spread out and remain socially distanced. Each host family provided a pre-packaged snack to all of their guests.

Backyard VBS Logistics

How did you staff your program? What roles were involved in planning and execution?

Video Production

Our kids’ ministry’s large group team took the VBS curriculum materials we purchased and made a video script that included our own leaders, perfect for a community VBS! Our church’s tech team recorded the videos for us, and then one of my main leaders edited everything together. 

Host Families

We directed families to a sign-up form on SignUpGenius where they could choose a night to host an event. Each host family received a kit that included invitations, a host family FAQ sheet, and a family devotional book. We had 11 different families host over the course of eight different nights.

Host families for our Backyard VBS were asked to invite their own friends and neighbors. The majority of our host families had around 10-15 kids attend, but we had a couple with over 30 kids! We recommended that parents attend with their kids.

In addition, host families were asked to provide a simple snack for their guests. We took precautions because of COVID-19 to make sure that anything that was served was pre-packaged and served by someone wearing gloves and a face mask.

On-Site Crew

There was a crew of 3-5 neighborhood VBS volunteers go to each host site. The on-site crew assisted with setting up the screen, projector, and audio system. They also helped welcome families, check them in, and handed out a gift bag to each kid who attended.

Did you charge a fee per child or per family?
No. The event was free.

Did you provide any resources to parents, families, or kids for your program?
To give the event a special touch, we gave each kid who attended a gift bag that included some fun backyard VBS swag items (glasses, stick-on tattoos), a glow stick, and a flyer about our kids’ ministry. We also put in a parent resource sheet so that the parents could reinforce what they learned at VBS at home. 

Marketing Backyard VBS

How did you promote or market your program?
Our church had just started meeting again in person on Sunday mornings when we began promoting VBS Under the Stars. So, we were able to promote it in services, but since only a small percentage of our families were back at that time, we really relied on emails and social media.

For ease in sign-up, we sent out emails to all of our kids’ ministry families with details about the program and a link to sign up to host a night. Also, we made a video that we shared on our kids’ ministry Facebook page and parent groups. All of our sign-ups came from email or social media.

After the families signed up to host, it was up to them to invite their friends and neighbors. All families were given invitations to hand out personally. Several families used the invitations or just invited their friends by word-of-mouth. A few families promoted their event on Facebook through a neighborhood group page. We had one family who passed out over 300 flyers to each house in their neighborhood! 

What kind of follow-up did you do with the people who participated in your program?
For follow-up, we had each family who attended check in using a QR code that they could scan on their phone. There, we asked for their names and email addresses so we could get them on our email list to invite them to future events. We’ve already had two kids who had never been to our church prior to VBS come to our kids’ ministry since we reopened in person in September!

Tips for Backyard VBS

Is there anything that you plan to change if you repeat this VBS program in the future?
To be sure, we would definitely spend more time preparing and planning! Because of COVID-19, our prep time was very rushed. I would have liked more time to promote and ask families to sign up. If we had more time, I believe we could have hosted up to 20 sites with two crews if we would have had more time.

If we do this again next summer, I’d like to make the program more interactive. We really didn’t know how comfortable our families were going to be because of COVID-19, so we designed everything to be hands-off and touch-free. I would also like to add in some games and more on-site crowd interaction.

If you have any other information or details about your program that would be helpful for other leaders, please feel free to share them!
The idea was started from a post I saw on a kidmin-related Facebook page. The church that posted was allowing families to borrow a projector and screen and giving them a video lesson they could show to their neighbors. At the time, we were discussing the possibility of doing a virtual VBS, but as soon as I saw that, I sent a text to our NextGen Pastor and from there, the idea just took off.

We really wanted a creative way we could engage families and reach out during COVID-19. This allowed us to pull off a quality program, follow social distancing guidelines, and get families reaching out to their neighbors and friends! Our pastoral staff really got behind this idea and provided lots of encouragement and support.

Next Steps

Looking forward, we’d really like to do something like this again next summer. It was a great way to engage families and connect with our community. One of our host families had a neighbor who doesn’t even have children tell them how impressed they were that our church would care about the families in their neighborhood enough to bring VBS to them!

In a summer when most people couldn’t come to the church, we were able to take the church to them! It was a lot of work, and I couldn’t have done it without my team. There were lots of late nights, and a lot of sweating (it is Florida, after all) but it was totally worth it to see the difference it has made and continues to make in our community!

To read more non-traditional VBS ideas from leaders who have creatively continued to reach the families in their communities, check out this free ebook, “Rethinking VBS: 9 Non-Traditional Ideas to have the Very Best Summer.”