Evening VBS: A Convenient Alternative for Volunteers and Families

Date Posted: 5/25/2017

FUMC Huntsville offers local families the opportunity to drop kids to VBS after work, a strategy that attracts many participants from the community.
After moving to Huntsville about a year ago, Krisha Goodney began looking for a new church to join. “Last summer, we tried the VBS and just fell in love with the people at First United Methodist Church,” she says. “I went to VBS with my children each evening and participated by volunteering with a specific age group. For parents that work during the summer I can see how an evening VBS would be great for them.”
FUMC Huntsville has successfully hosted an evening VBS for a number of years, and will do so again July 31st thru August 3rd 6pm to 8pm. “Since the majority of our church families, our volunteer base, work during the day, the evening VBS works better for them to be able to join us,” shares Briana McCord, children’s ministries director.
Since August can be a tight month for families getting their kids ready for school, FUMC Huntsville has also used the evening slot as a chance to serve dinner for the community during that week. “A free warm meal for the entire family is a wonderful reason to stop by,” she adds. “We have served over 200 meals every night for VBS, and only 65 of them were VBS children. “ She looks forward to the completion of the new Community Life Center to be able to resume the 5:30 pre-VBS meals again.
VBS committee member Sabrina Hendricks says, “We have had a great response to evening VBS, and we’ve started a trend within our community. Originally we were the only church that offered an evening program, however over the past few years many other local churches have begun an evening program as well. I think  they have seen the same benefits that we have. And when we served dinner, many adult volunteers were able to speak with our guest families, pray with and for them. It was a wonderful feeling knowing that we were loving God's people in such a simple way.” 
The church has chosen August for VBS to try to avoid overlap with other churches in the community, which also boosts participation. “This year our VBS theme is Passport to Peru: Discovering God’s Good Gifts. This is our first year to use cross culture VBS and I am so excited to introduce our kids to a new culture. Many of our kids may never travel out of the United States, so I think it is important to show them the world outside of our community. It has been my personal experience that participating in different cultures broadens our worldview and reminds us how great and big our God is and how important it is for us to share his love to others.”
“I think each year our church has done a great job at making the theme's come to life with the decorations, music, and our enthusiastic volunteers,” adds Sabrina. “The children really love it when you go over-the-top with decorations, and when the music is up-beat and fun.” Area churches often share and recycle decorations and materials when possible.
Briana recruits about 50 volunteers for VBS every year, in two rotations, a group for 1st – 3rd and a group for 4-6th  grades. They offer a self-contained Pre-K class and Kindergarten group that goes through the rotation within one classroom instead of traveling. Each age group has shepherds that are responsible for leading their age group through their rotations and getting them signed out by parents. Out of all the various volunteer jobs she’s done, Jackalyn Cauthen enjoys being a shepherd most of all, she says, “because you get to go along with the children to every lesson and watch them learn throughout the week.”
“All of our volunteers are crucial to a great VBS experience because it is their enthusiasm that gets the kids excited to be there and to learn! I find volunteers through personal contact and publicize via an announcement slide in worship saying we need VBS volunteers,” she adds. “I will also take flyers to Sunday School classes, but it is in my experience that volunteers respond best to personal contact.”
On the last evening, the parents/guardians are always invited to attend the closing ceremony where each grade level performs a song and watch a slideshow of pictures that have been taken to showcase the week's events.  Also, adds Sabrina, “each year we send invitations home to the families that list our Sunday Service times inviting each family to join us. The first Sunday after VBS is always a showcase during the worship services where all children at the service that attended VBS perform one of the songs from the week.”  
VBS Plus: Engaging the Older Students
FUMC Huntsville youth always volunteer as classroom helpers and they assist in set-up/take-down. “And, the children love it when our youth get up to dance to the music,” adds Sabrina. Youth director Derek Blackmon strategically plans events after each night of VBS for the youth -- to encourage their participation. “After VBS, the youth that volunteer have special events that last normally until 10pm.  It’s a good incentive to have them sign up and help,” he says. “In past years that has included activities such as a movie night, bowling, blacklight dodgeball, board games, a scavenger hunt in Walmart, Wii tournament, and silly string fights. At the end of the week we wrap it up with a pool party and pizza.”
Word of mouth works well for getting VBS registration underway. Additionally, the event’s publicity plan includes promoting VBS on Facebook, the local radio station, the local newspaper, signs around the community, and email. “I would say between 1/3 and half of our attendees are non-church members,” adds Briana.