5 Vacation Bible School Ideas to get your Kids Involved in Missions
It can be a challenge finding vacation bible school (VBS) ideas that are sure to inspire, encourage, and grow children into mission-minded people.
At Lifewater International, we’ve partnered with churches for over 40 years to give feet to faith, bringing safe water and new hope to children across the globe. We’ve helped churches, big and small, inspire children to action with unique, impact-oriented vacation bible school ideas.
These five tips will help you create a successful, mission-focused VBS for your church and make a lasting difference in the lives of children at home and across the world.
VBS Idea #1: Choose a Mission-Focused Theme
The theme sets the tone for your VBS. It inspires your decorations, your games, and it helps children understand the central message of the week. While there are excellent themes built into curriculum from Group and Orange, they may not align with your vision for the year.
These mission theme ideas will help create focus for your vacation bible school.
“Passport to [Country]” or “Globetrotters”
Choose the country where your donations are making an impact and decorate your VBS with airplanes, passports, maps, and globes! You can also draw inspiration from your country of choice. This is a great way to connection children to international missions.
Come to the Clubhouse
Growing up, most of us spent our weekends playing with neighborhood friends, riding bikes, and playing in backyard clubhouses. This throwback vacation bible school idea encourages children to befriend one another and join together as followers of Jesus. Use Modge-Podge crafts, create a photo backdrop with a kids playhouse or treehouse, and send children home with a handmade frame for their photo! Share stories about kindness and teach children that when you invite others into friendship and and help those in need, we are living out God’s purpose for our lives.
VBS Idea #2: Encourage Fundraising Opportunities
After you’ve established a mission-oriented theme, start planning for unique ways to get children excited about giving. Here are two tried and true vacation bible school ideas to rally children to take action.
Lemonade stands are an accessible way for children to raise money for your charity of choice. All children need is some plastic cups, lemonade, and a place to sell.
Raechel of Bethel Lutheran Church, IL, had an especially well-planned system with thank you notes for customers and pre-made lemonade stand kits.
They began by sharing about their sponsored charity, Lifewater, with families on day one of VBS and through email the week prior.
“We led the kids in making lemonade stand kits for their craft on Wednesday,” she said. “People from our congregation donated all the different supplies needed: over 1,000 cups and 200 packets of lemonade.”
The children even colored their own Lifewater Lemonade Stand fliers.
The 2017 vacation bible school of Chapelstreet church, IL, raised over $4,000 for safe water, and most of it came from community-wide lemonade stands.
“We inspired everybody to choose the same Saturday and flood the community with Lifewater lemonade stands,” Bruce McEvoy, Local and Global Impact Pastor at Chapelstreet, said. “Our concept was, on this day, for these two hours, let’s all do it together.”
That Saturday, there were lemonade stands on just about every corner.
“The lemonade stands created an opportunity where [the kids’] time and talents were put into action,” he said.
This pride of ownership and accomplishment created genuine joy in the VBS.
“It was their entrepreneurship that made an impact on the worldwide water crisis,” Bruce said.
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Visuals are vital, particularly when looking to engage children from ages three to twelve. Help children visualize their goal and the impact they can make together.
“Everyday we gave a visual of where we were at,” Gail Onodera of Laguna Presbyterian Church, CA said. “We used this big inflatable bucket and we filled it with blue balloons as we got more donations.”
Lifewater VBS groups typically use small jerry cans (yellow containers similar to those used to collect water in developing countries) to encourage each child to collect coins. But, this fundraising tool can be accomplished with any water bottle.
Distribute plastic water bottles to each child and encourage them to fill up their containers with coins to contribute to the general fund—a large bucket or container.
“The kids would empty their coin banks and come back the next day and empty them again!” Mindy Reed of Community Church of Cambria, CA said. “They liked to see the bucket fill up.”
At Lifewater, $50 amounts to safe water for one person for life. By dividing your dollar amount by $50, you can calculate just how many people your group is serving. Gail recalled counting the coins and using the children in the room to represent the number of lives impacted by their gifts.
It’s important to emphasize that every cent counts when giving to those in need. The story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12:41-44) represents this truth.
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VBS Idea #3: Loving Your Neighbor Games
A vacation bible school wouldn’t be complete without fun games! Here are vacation bible school ideas, recommended by our experts, for connecting games to a greater purpose.
Sponge Bucket Relay
This sponge bucket relay requires simple materials and results in a lot of laughter. Make equal teams and put one empty bucket yards away from a second bucket full of water. Use large sponges and challenge the groups to be the first to fill their empty bucket using only the sponge to transfer water. This water game creates a natural transition to talking about the water crisis and the many miles children must travel to fill their buckets with water to drink.
For a more generalized connection, talk about running the race for Jesus and cite Hebrews 12:1-2.
“Dare like Daniel” Trusting Game
This activity builds trust and friendship. Create a maze with obstacles, make teams, and blindfold one child at a time, assigning a team member to verbally lead them through the maze. Children learn not only to trust one another, but there’s also opportunity to share how we should trust God’s hand in our lives even when we can’t see the outcome.
According to our experts, children love all things obstacle-course related.
Good Deed Awards
Good deed recognitions help to instill the missional theme no matter which charity you choose to support with your vacation bible school. Create a certificate to recognize children who do “good deeds,” and at the end of each day, award a few of these certificates to the children. This encourages them to seek out opportunities to help others, and public recognition inspires other children to join in.
VBS Idea #4: Inspire with Mission-Focused Visuals
Help connect children to the people they are serving by using powerful photos and videos. Start by simply reaching to our your charity of choice and requesting items.
Materials like brochures, video, stories and photographs are on-hand at many organizations, and they can often readily share them with you.
Lifewater provides photos, videos, and stories from the field with VBS partners along with VBS-specific materials. Jenn, Director of Children and Family Ministries at Orcutt Presbyterian, CA, said when her group of children saw the faces of the people they were serving through Lifewater, they became motivated.
Together, the Orcutt Presbyterian VBS raised $1,500 for clean water.
Gail, whose VBS is partnering with Lifewater for the second time this summer, said, “Lifewater let us borrow jerry cans and provided before and after pictures.”
With a matching gift from her congregation, Gail’s VBS raised $4,000 for safe water.
Over and over again, our experts emphasized the impact of seeing the faces of those they are serving. When children see a child walking for water or receiving clean water at a new well, they are compelled to join in and make a difference.
“It was really easy to work with the Lifewater team; they helped with videos and pamphlets so we could get the word out,” Raechel of Bethel Lutheran Church said. “Lifewater was one of the best global mission projects for our kids.”
Brochures are helpful for children to take home to their parents. They can share what they’re giving towards, and it’s a great way to get your church community on board.
Our children’s ministry directors also recommended getting photos from your charity printed on canvases from Costco and tracking your goal each day so the group can see where they’re at and how far they have to go.
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VBS Idea #5: Thank Your Volunteers
A missions mindset begins close to home. You can teach generosity and sacrifice to children at your vacation bible school by thanking volunteers thoughtfully and publicly. Below are some examples of volunteer thank-yous.
- Have children sign thank-you cards and write a kind note of your own inside. If your budget allows, insert a gift card for a local coffee shop or restaurant. Present these to them at the end of the VBS with all the children watching.
- Provide snacks and drinks for your volunteers each day, ideally something more than goldfish and juice boxes.
- Have at least one day out of the week where you purchase a nicer meal for your team, like breakfast burritos or pizza.
- Put up a slide the Sunday following VBS with photos and a thank you to all of your volunteers.
To help with cost, Mindy set up a sign-up sheet for church members to commit to bringing food for the volunteers each day.
“I created a spreadsheet and different people signed up for different things,” she said. “I was able to separate it into protein, drinks, food, snacks and that helped with managing it.”
Thanking your volunteers helps children grow a spirit of thankfulness and appreciation for others. It also encourages your volunteers to return the following year.
Make a Lasting Impact with Your VBS
When you partner with Lifewater, we’ll share mission-focused materials and vacation bible school ideas proven to inspire children to give, grow, and seek Jesus with all their heart.
But the support doesn’t stop when your vacation bible school ends. Your donation to Lifewater comes with a story and photos from the village your group sponsored and real-time data tracking on the status of that village.
Jenn of Orcutt Presbyterian has committed her VBS to supporting Lifewater for every year going forth.
“For a mission-focused VBS, it’s really important that the children are helping other children, and Lifewater puts children at the forefront,” she said. “Something as simple as water is so necessary and I’d rather the kids be pouring that kind of love and energy and prayer into something like that.”
Sarah of Presbyterian Church of the Bigwood encouraged other VBS groups to use the materials that Lifewater provides.
“It’s the best way to present exactly what you’re doing,” she said. “It’s well explained, well thought-out, and it’s entertaining.”
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A special thank you to Raechel Pfotenhauer of Bethel Lutheran Church, Gail Onodera of Laguna Presbyterian Church, Sarah Jones of Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, Jenn Malone of Orcutt Presbyterian, Bruce McEvoy of Chapelstreet Church, and Mindy Reed of Community Church of Cambria for your contributions to this article.
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