Did you catch the earlier blog post from other leaders who have been WINNING at creative programming during a pandemic? Check them out here and enjoy today’s new idea below!

What is your name and job title?
Ashley Purcell, children’s minister

Where is your church or ministry program located (city, state)?
Grace Heartland Church in Elizabethtown, Kentucky

What was the name of your VBS program?
Focus Virtual VBS

What was the general concept of your program?
As with most things during the year of 2020, we had to get creative in how we’d continue to minister to the families of our community during COVID-19. Instead of canceling VBS, we went 100% virtual. We handed out supply kits, recorded all of our worship songs, craft moments, small group sessions, and Bible teaching moments. We created a Facebook group just for families of our Virtual VBS, and engaged with everyone throughout the week. While so many things around us were being shut down or canceled, it was important to us to keep VBS alive and exciting!

How did you staff your program? What roles were involved in planning and execution?
While a typical VBS week for us requires 200+ volunteers, our virtual experience required a very scaled down team. We used a family to create a cooking segment each day (“Cooking with the Castenirs”), a family to create a sports segment each day (“Sports with the Stiths”), and our associate minister recorded a mission moment each day (“Missions with Michelle”). We had our worship team submit videos from home of them doing their motions to the songs and our A/V minister put them together. All in all, we utilized the skills of less than 25 people.

Did you charge a fee per child or per family?
We did not charge a fee for families. The only cost for a family was their groceries to participate in “Cooking with the Castenirs.”

Did you provide any resources to parents, families, or kids for your program?
Leading up to the kick-off, we provided “Family Activity Kits.” The kits included any supplies needed for the small group activities, the STEM activities, the craft projects, and then a grocery list with supplies needed for the cooking time. Our sports time required limited supplies, and we chose items that could easily be found in a home.

During the week, we posted announcement videos, instruction videos for making the crafts, walk-through videos for the STEM activities, and daily devotionals for the parents (we used the leader devotionals provided with the curriculum we purchased).

How did you promote or market your program?
We utilized social media and our website to promote our program. We were also featured on our local radio stations and in the newspaper.

What kind of follow-up did you do with the people who participated in your program?
When you host a VBS or event like it—whether in-person or virtual—it’s so important to have a follow-up plan! You always want to give your families a next step. Families need to know:

  • What’s their next step for getting connected to your church?
  • What’s their next step for creating a discipleship program in their home?
  • How can they continue to lead their child in a relationship with Jesus?

Having a plan in place prior to the start of your event is helpful so you don’t find yourself scrambling at the end—when you’re exhausted!

For us, we executed this plan through constant contact via email and messages to the families—giving them follow-up questions to ask their child about what they learned that day. We utilized the parent resources in the curriculum we purchased each day. At the end of the week we sent every family a survey to get their feedback—and we made sure to thank them for participating. If a family wasn’t already plugged in to our church, we emailed them with all sorts of information about us and a plan to get connected if they so desired.

Due to COVID-19, we weren’t meeting in-person at all around VBS time. We made sure to send every family involved in our VBS the links to watch our worship services and Children’s Ministry videos each Sunday, so they could stay plugged in that way.

Is there anything that you plan to change if you repeat this VBS program in the future?
Honestly, not really. We had so much great feedback from families during and after the event. One thing we thought we would do but scrapped last minute was online small groups. We just couldn’t make them work for us. If we were to change anything, it may be trying to offer those again for families to have the opportunity to connect with one another.

If you have any other information or details about your program that would be helpful for other leaders, please feel free to share them!
One of my favorite parts of VBS was the final day. We have a local DJ who did a virtual glow party for us on our church’s main Facebook page. We made sure all families had glow sticks to dance with (those were in their “Family Activity Kits”) and had the link to the party. He played all of our worship songs as well as favorites like Church Clap, Electric Slide, Cupid Shuffle, etc. It was so much fun to see videos of families dancing together and celebrating an incredible week of VBS—virtually!

Here’s what some of our parents had to say about their experience:

Chanty H. writes: “The win for families as a whole was that a parent who may not normally volunteer for VBS could participate this year. The at-home experience allowed for those (individual parents or a family unit) who do not normally attend church, for whatever reason, to hear the Gospel without reservation. Virtual VBS likely planted seeds that have now taken root and are growing.”

Sarah J. writes: “We really liked how everything was packaged together and easy to prepare for each night. I was able to give families a preview of what to expect each evening and they were excited about it all day. Looking back, I wish I had made my preview just about the lesson because mine became fixated on the snacks, but that’s a learning curve for me.

“Families also enjoyed all the posts from other families, and the video at the end so they could see how other kids completed the lessons and activities.”

Jaime D. writes: “A win for our family was the fact that we were still able to participate in an experience that our children so look forward to, even if it did look differently this year. It also allowed us a fun experience to come together and participate in as a family.

“What worked well was having a set time to come together and focus on the day’s lessons and activities. It also helped that materials were prepared for us in advance, and an easy-to-follow plan was in place.

“Advice I would have for a family participating in an online VBS experience would be to make the time spent each day intentional and include the whole family. The fun is not just for the kids!”

Here’s what our lead Pastor had to say about the experience this year:

Jeff N. writes: “For me, it was the creative thought behind the particular activities that legitimately got families up from behind the screen and into the kitchen for snack time, into the yard for moving time, and then in a mode of real listening when the lesson was shared. It moved quickly and it all focused on a genuine spiritual lesson. Frankly, I was blown away. Oh, and it also challenged the families to go and serve in the community, not just learn about a mission on the other side of the world!”

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.”