“What are you doing this summer for children’s ministry?” “Have you seen the options for VBS curriculum this year?” “Is there anything new we can do?”
Do any of those questions sound familiar to you? Summer ministry can be both exciting and challenging, and it’s an opportunity to invest in the lives of children in fun and creative ways, But it also comes with challenges like volunteer recruitment, scheduling, and budget.
For many years, churches have engaged in the traditional vacation Bible school, a weeklong summer ministry outreach program that teaches children about God and is centered on a creative theme. VBS is a wonderful opportunity for kids to learn about God in a fun and relaxed setting.
But maybe you are finding that a traditional VBS doesn’t quite fit with your church and its vision. Maybe the curriculum that’s available doesn’t match your theology. Or the needs of the surrounding community are changing and you want to do something different. Maybe you’re looking for creative ways to engage kids, their families, and the entire church throughout the summer.
Here are some resources to help you ask important questions about your summer ministry goals and consider options that fit your context.
Five Questions to Ask
In the post Rebooting VBS, Erica Schemper urges churches to move beyond nostalgic thinking about VBS and move toward fresh conversations with the larger community about their needs. “Finding a way to address those needs, rather than the wants of our congregations, would be radical hospitality,” says Schemper. “This hospitality would be experienced by children, who would discover that God’s people love and care for them, and by their parents, who would feel supported in their efforts to care for their families and fulfill their vocation.”
Whether you’re looking at traditional VBS or are seeking new ideas, here are some questions to ask as you think through how summer ministry with children might provide “radical hospitality” in your context:
What is the main purpose of your summer ministry with children? Is it to nurture the faith of the children and families who attend your church, and/or is it to engage with the larger community of which your church is a part? If your main purpose is the former, how does summer ministry fit into the larger faith formation goals of your church? If your goal is the latter, don’t assume that you already know what the people in your neighborhood need. Get out into the broader community and ask the questions Schemper suggests: “If we could do something for children in the summer, what would that look like? What would be helpful to you?”
What is your ministry context? What resources do you have (budget, time, volunteers, materials)? Based on your conversations with neighbors, what is needed? Might you form partnerships with others who are already at work within your community? Are there any special gifts and abilities with which God has equipped the people in your congregation? Take some time and look carefully at the characteristics and strengths of your church.
What would you like to nurture in children? What are the outcomes you would like to see happen through this experience? Are there certain spiritual disciplines you would like to cultivate? Do you want to focus on biblical literacy? How could your summer ministry program nurture these aspects of faith formation?
What are the best methods for providing radical hospitality to the children with whom you are engaged in ministry? Is it a weeklong camp? Could you do something intergenerational? Is it better to host something in the daytime, or in the evening? Would it be better to meet once a week rather than five days in a row?
Now, how do you start accomplishing this goal? How can you formulate a plan to execute your vision well?
If you would like a partner to help you think through the questions above or want to brainstorm a new ministry idea, contact Mimi Larson, Children’s Ministry Catalyzer, at [email protected].
Ensuring All Are Welcome
Summer ministries provide great opportunities for outreach. As you plan, here are some things to keep in mind:
Welcoming neighbors. People are the key components of any ministry, so provide a warm welcome at each activity or event. Treat everyone who arrives at your church as an honored guest. Station church members at entrances to welcome and direct people. Provide good signage for those who don’t know their way around your facilities.
Providing a safe environment. The safety of children must be a priority for your summer ministry. Ensure that all staff and volunteers have been trained in important child safety policies, and perform a background-check on each one well in advance. Let families know (on promotional materials and registration forms) what steps you are taking to keep children safe. If you’re a Christian Reformed church and you would like help with strengthening your child safety policies, you’ll find great resources at crcna.org/SafeChurch.
Creating a sense of belonging. Children’s ministry is about welcoming children, loving them, and showing them that they belong. “Belong, believe, become” is a discipleship model that many churches are adopting in place of the older “believe, become, belong” models. Make sure to include in your team training a description of what it means to “other” a person. By “othering” we mean our conscious or unconscious mental classification of a person as “not one of us.” Every person who walks through the doors of the church is equally loved by God and should feel a sense of belonging just as they are.
Being inclusive. Each person is made in God’s image, and we want all children to know that they are welcome no matter what their cultural or ethnic background is, what their economic circumstances are, what their abilities are, or what difficulties they may be working through in their lives. Take a look at Helping Children Embrace Diversity—a resource from the Dwell curriculum. Also check out the article Inclusive Children’s Ministry and the book Helping Kids Include Kids with Disabilities for information on including children with disabilities.
Leading kids to Christ. For those of us who work with children, leading a child to Christ is a great honor and privilege. It also can be scary, and we might have questions on how to do this. Remember that not every child comes with a lot of Bible background. Keep this in mind as you choose curriculum, plan and prepare, and assign costs to these activities.
Being able to talk with kids about God’s salvation plan in a way that nurtures their faith is important, but it’s not always easy. Check out this simple Gospel Summary for Children. It’s great for using with kids, and for solidifying the gospel message in the minds of volunteers.
Having some challenges scheduling volunteers around family vacations? You’re not alone. CrossPoint CRC in Brampton, Ontario, asks members of the congregation to sign up to take a turn teaching Sunday school in the summer to give the regular teachers a break. This smaller time commitment may help you get those summer Sundays covered. Remember to train even short-term volunteers in your child safety policies.
Think about doing things differently in the summer. Summer offers a great space for your congregation to try something new. Maybe try intergenerational worship in a park? Or bring kids and adults together to share faith stories. Check out how First CRC in Denver, Colorado, designed a program to reach across the generations here. And visit our Faith Storytelling toolkit for more storytelling ideas.
Recruiting volunteers is never easy for any ministry, especially in the summer. Staffing Your VBS: How To Find Volunteers provides ideas on how to expand the number of adults connected in your ministry with children.
We have compiled some great ideas for a variety of ways to engage children and their families during the summer months. While not all these ideas will work in every church context, it’s our hope that one or more of these ideas will spark your imagination as you consider how to invest in the lives of children in fun and creative ways.
Vacation Bible School: here are some ideas for making the best use of the traditional summer-program-in-a-box.
Backyard Bible Clubs These neighborhood summer clubs are designed to help kids learn about God’s Story.
Summer Camps and Day Camps: theme-based camps are great ways to do summer ministry and involve church members with specific interests.
Create Your Own VBS or Camp: this is the ultimate way to match your ministry to your unique context! Here are some pointers for creating your own content.
Prayer Focus. Another option is to take the summer to focus on praying for cultures around the world. Invite people from other cultures to share their experiences with the kids. Serve food that has special meaning in that culture. Put maps and pictures up on the walls and take time to learn together. Lead children in praying for the people of that culture. If you’re part of a CRC church, Resonate Global Mission offers helpful resources and often has missionaries home during the summer.
Service Projects: here are some ideas for community-based service opportunities.
If you’re part of the Christian Reformed Church, connect with Mimi Larson, FFM’s Children’s Ministry Catalyzer, who can help you brainstorm solutions for your ministry challenges. Contact Mimi at [email protected].