6 Ways to Make Transitions Meaningful

maryVBS is full of transitions. Kids are constantly moving from activity to activity. Don’t lose that time! Train your volunteers now to make sure no moment of the day goes without intentionality!
Guide leaders to use every moment that they have with kids to develop relationships and provide teachable moments, even when they are traveling from place to place. Remind teachers that this may be the only time we get to pour into a certain child, and we want to make the very best of the opportunity.
Here are 6 ways to make every transition meaningful:
  1. Ask a get-to-now-you question that every child gets to answer to help you understand them a little more.
  2. Repeat the key verse in different voices as you transition to rotation sites. Guide kids to say it in a high, squeaky voice, a low voice, in slow motion, in hyper speed, or with country twang.
  3. Sing one of the VBS songs that reinforces the concepts that have been covered during the day.
  4. Ask a question about the day for each child to answer. This can be as simple as, “Tell me something you learned today” or as complicated as a different review question for each child.
  5. Guide kids to tell you one thing they can thank God for – this might be a person, a thing, or for a characteristic that God has.
  6. Ask kids to tell you their favorite part of VBS so far as they walk to a rotation site. Use their favorite moments to reinforce what they have been learning during the day.

6 Things You Need to Know About Teaching Preschoolers

thomasTeaching preschoolers is THE BEST! No, seriously. It really is! There’s something incredibly rewarding about rooting spiritual truths in the minds and hearts of young children and then watching the ways they so naturally apply them to their every day lives. If you’re gearing up to teach babies, 1s, 2s, 3s, Pre-K, or kindergartners this summer in VBS, here are 6 things you need to know about teaching preschoolers.

 

  1. If you don’t have a plan, THEY will! Preschoolers are hands-on, experiential learners. In other words, they LEARN as they DO. Every preschool (Babies–Kindergarten) leader guide is filled with ideas and activities you can use to teach preschoolers in the ways God made them to learn. Get together with the other teachers in your room before VBS, go through the leader guide, and divvy up responsibilities. This will keep any one teacher from bearing the full weight AND will help create an environment where both learning and fun can take place!

  2. Teaching begins when the first child arrives. Preschoolers need routine, boundaries, and clearly defined expectations. If they walk into a room where teachers are waiting with fun things planned for them to do the moment they walk into the room, they will be less inclined to run wild. You’ll be able to head off a lot of behavioral challenges simply by being ready to go as soon as kids are in the room.

  3. Attention spans are SHORT! A child’s attention span is roughly equal to one minute for every year of age. Be prepared for kids to tire quickly and be ready to move on to something else. The good news is that preschoolers also love repetition… so even if they move to another activity before you feel like they’re done, they’ll likely be back before too long to finish up or take another turn.  This is the reason many preschool teachers like to set up activities in “learning spots” around the room and let kids move freely from activity to activity.

  4. The teacher is “the lesson.”  As a teacher, you use a variety of tools (music, games, play, activities, even Bible stories) to teach preschoolers Bible truths. Children are ALWAYS watching and listening… even when you think they are not. They will learn more from your actions than your words. Remember that everything you do (or don’t do) and everything you say (or don’t say) is teaching something.

  5. The process is often more important than the end result. Preschoolers are still developing their motor skills and are still in the discovery phase for many things. It may be more important to them to simply enjoying the experience of cutting or coloring or painting or stacking blocks than actually “making” something. Don’t stress if a craft project ends up less than Pinterest worthy. If kids enjoyed doing it, then it was a success!

  6. YOU are their example of what God is like. As you talk with and listen to them, play alongside them, hug them, protect them, help them work through challenges, and meet their basic needs, you are demonstrating God’s love in practical, tangible ways. So pour everything you’ve got into your kids during VBS!

6 Ways to Build Relationships

maryVBS is an unbelievable opportunity for adult leaders to build discipleship relationships. There may be kids who come to VBS that you have never had in your church group before, and building relationships with those kids is of utmost importance so that they feel comfortable and want to come back and continue learning about God long after VBS.

As you train your teachers and helpers, communicate the importance of connecting with kids by giving them these 6 ways to begin building relationships:

  1. Find common interests. Ask kids what they are interested in and build a relationship around the things you have in common. Ask kids what they love about those interests, what is hardest, or what has been their biggest success.
  2. Ask kids about their family and their home life. You will be amazed how much you can learn simply by asking kids what they like to do when they are at home or what their families are like. Use these as jumping off points to develop relationships that will point kids to Jesus.
  3. Talk with them as you walk to and from rotation sites. Every moment is a teachable moment and a moment that can be used to point kids to Jesus.
  4. Make connections to the Bible content and applications to life with each activity, game, snack, and craft. Discuss with kids how the content applies to their lives specifically. Ask questions and be flexible and discerning as kids may lead the conversation somewhere you hadn’t planned to go, but that they need to hear. Asking questions instead of simply stating the connection helps kids process the application and helps you begin a discipleship relationship with them as they realize that you really care and want to help them understand.
  5. Be available. Tell kids frequently that they can talk to you and ask questions. Explain that you can answer questions to and from rotations or another time during the week. Make sure that you train helpers and teachers to always be in sight of another helper or teacher when talking one-on-one with a child. Invest in kids by going out of your way to answer questions and get to know them.
  6. Connect with their parents. Learn more about each child that you are coming in contact with during VBS by touching base with their parent. It’s always a good idea to ask what the child gets most excited about so that you have a great jumping off point the next day!

Random Tip 1414: Don’t Forget to Pray

20140114-075705.jpgThe title is a little misleading since I know you will not forget to pray – especially when that worker calls the night before to tell you she will be unable to teach after all. Talk about a fall-to-your-knees experience!

Seriously, I know you are personally giving prayer top priority, but have you thought about enlisting a prayer team?

In a former life I served at a wonderful church in Houston that had a thriving homebound ministry. We had an abundance of saints who had spent their lives working in VBS and would like nothing better than to keep doing so. However, while their hearts and minds were willing, they were unable to actively participate in church activities.

For years we had utilized the skills of several of our homebound members to assist the craft team with prep work. This was a great way to keep them connected. But to be honest it was not much more than free labor and didn’t allow individuals with physical limitations to contribute.

As a result of a church-wide study of Henry Blackaby’s Experiencing God, a conversation started on ways God invites people to join Him in the work He is already doing. The conversation turned to ways homebound Believers could remain active in not only sharing their faith but actively participating in the ministry of the church. Obviously prayer was one of the first ways mentioned.

From that conversation the idea was born to create a VBS Prayer Team. The team was led by Elsie, who although not completely homebound, had limited vision and had to visit a dialysis clinic three times a week. Elsie got busy enlisting her team, telling them they would each be expected to give the same number of hours each day as any other VBS worker.  She let the team know their assignment would require marathon prayer warriors who would commit to pray during the weeks leading up to VBS, and then each day for the entire three hours of VBS.

Each afternoon the VBS Director would call Elsie with an update of the day and a list of specific prayer needs. Elsie would in turn pass the word on to each member of the team.

For me – the guy running around trying to cover all the bases – it was great comfort knowing a dedicated group of people were at that very moment praying. For the workers the VBS Prayer Team was an inspiration. For the Prayer Team their participation was not only meaningful but vital.

Jerry Wooley, @vbsguy, has served as LifeWay’s VBS Ministry Specialist since 2006.

Random Tip 1412: Make Relationships a Priority

20140114-075705.jpgA few weeks ago I shared that years ago Vacation Bible Schools were conducted for four weeks, then shortened to two, then one, and now we are beginning to hear of more churches scheduling three day schools.  In the previous post I wrote that as we shorten the number of days and hours it becomes even more important to connect everything – including snacks – to the daily Scripture and Biblical theme. As we decrease time we must increase the intentionality of everything we do from promotion to continuing the connections after VBS. This goes for being intentional about relationships as well.

One of the reasons VBS has continued to result in a high number of professions of faith is the concentrated time spent over multiple days getting to know the kids and the kids getting to know the leaders. As relationships grow so does the trust factor that allows kids to embrace the Gospel.

This is why we traditionally reserve the Gospel presentation and opportunity for response to the third or fourth sessions.  Although we may clearly present the Gospel during the first session (as we do in the Agency D3 resources) we typically wait until relationships have been established before presenting the opportunity to respond. We want to give time for the trust factor – both in the Gospel message and with the leaders presenting it – to develop.

As we decrease the days of VBS we also decrease the opportunity for relationships to grow. When you add this to a rotation process that often places kids with a different leader ever 30 minutes relationships become even more difficult. There is already some (inconclusive) evidence that Bible schools of three days or less result in fewer professions of faith then schools of five days or more.

So how do we meet this challenge? By making relationships a priority! From the moment families arrive at the registration table until they are back in their cars for the ride home we must concentrate on getting beyond the basic acknowledgement of their existence to truly establishing a relationship. Actually we must make relationships a priority far beyond the VBS experience but that is a topic for another blog.

This means the registration lady’s job is to do more then get ink on paper and fill in every blank. Her first priority is to try (as best as time allows) to get the know both the kids and their parents. The snack team has to do more than pour lemonade and pass out cookies. They must also interact with the kids and try to get to know them.

This also means your church may need to enlist more volunteers with the primary assignment of getting to know the kids and their parents. The fewer days you conduct Bible school the lower the kids to worker ratio needs to be. This may mean creating smaller classes or it may mean enlisting more adults to travel with kids to each rotation and actually interacting with them during the rotation.

If VBS is the biggest evangelistic outreach of your church year you can’t afford to sabotage the possibilities by decreasing the opportunities to build and grow relationships.

Random Tip 1411 – Create a Recycling Center

20140114-075705.jpg Now that VBS is over, (possibly in your dreams if not in reality) what do we do with all the stuff?

The first temptation and the quickest answer is, “throw it away!” The second answer is, “pile it in the resource room and someone else can take care of it.”

Instead of letting VBS leaders trash everything (curriculum, decorations, extras supplies) or pile it haphazardly in the resource room, a simple solution is to create a recycling center.  This makes clean up a breeze and takes the guess work out of what is trash and what is good stuff.

The best place is a hall or spare room near the resource room or storage area. You want to leave the resource room as free of clutter as possible plus you want space to be able to sort and group supplies before storing.  Much like you separate paper, glass, and plastic for home recycling, create four areas (piles, boxes, tables, etc.) with the following clearly marked labels: Supplies, Share, Questionable, and Trash.

If needed add a description such as the following to each label:

Supplies – Unused and reusable resources such as markers and paper.

Share – Decorations and curriculum to share with other churches.

Questionable – Anything you are not sure about.

Trash – Hopefully no definition needed here.

Make sure to include recycling instructions as part of worker training. If workers know what is expected ahead of time cleanup becomes easier for both you and them.

 

Random Tip 1409 – Use Grades 3 & 4 for Broadly Graded

wooley1 2013One of the most exciting characteristics of VBS is that it is a ministry that every church can make uniquely their own. LifeWay provides a wide variety of resources tailored for specific age groups from babies to adults, but we know that every church has unique needs and limitations that often requires adapting the resources to fit.

Broadly graded (either having all 1st through 6th graders in one class or having the same teacher rotate to different age groups) is a great example of a church needing to adapt the resources to fit the need.

When faced with the need to adapt LifeWay’s VBS Bible study resources, consider using the resources designed for Grades 3 & 4. Since the age-appropriate learning activities are designed for the middle group, they will be easier to adapt up or down to fit all kids in grades 1- 6.

Apologetics 101

thomasThe day we announced our VBS 2014 theme, one well-known apologist tweeted: “FANTASTIC! 2014 VBS curriculum from @Lifeway focuses on apologetics for kids. Excellent!” Since then we’ve heard many of you express the same kind of excitement about this Bible content designed to help kids discover the truth about who Jesus is and defend their faith in a culture that is often hostile toward Christianity. But we also know that “apologetics” is an unfamiliar word to some. Consider this your crash course. Are you ready?

 

What is apologetics?
Simply put, apologetics is the defense of the faith. It comes from the Greek word apologia, which means “a reasoned defense.” Just like attorneys use evidence and reasoning to defend their clients in court, Christian apologists point to concrete evidence and give well-reasoned answers to defend the truth of Christianity.

The purpose of apologetics is not winning an argument. The purpose is to draw people into a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, the cornerstone and foundation of our faith.

What about evangelism?
Apologetics goes hand-in-hand with evangelism. In fact, apologetics could even be described as pre–evangelism. For those who question the Christian faith, apologetics uses logical answers as springboards for sharing the gospel. Ours is not a blind faith; it is a faith firmly rooted in history and evidence.

Apologetics can also be described as post–evangelism. At some point, everyone will have his beliefs directly challenged, whether by a friend, teacher, family member, or the ever-pervasive media. When those “points of crisis” come along, we must be able to fall back on those foundational pillars of our faith and be assured not only of what we believe, but also why we believe it. Matthew 22:37 commands us to love God not only with our hearts and souls, but also with our minds.

Why are so many young people growing up and leaving their faith behind? It’s because the Christian community is failing to engage their minds as well as their hearts. As kids ministry leaders, we can give children a priceless gift by helping them to think biblically and to defend their faith before they leave our sphere of influence.

Can’t we hold off until they get to the youth group?
Let me answer this question with another question. Can we really afford to wait?

While teaching in VBS two summers ago, a kindergartner said to me, “My daddy says God isn’t real, so His Son isn’t real either.” What this 6-year-old was really saying was: “Tell me why what you’re saying is true.”

We must give kids reasons why Christianity is objectively true, why the Bible is God’s inspired and infallible Word, why we can know that Jesus was more than just a good man and that His resurrection is not a myth or elaborate hoax. If not, we risk losing our children and generations to follow.

As kids ministry leaders, we don’t have to have all the answers… and we don’t even have to pretend to. But we do need to be available to kids and help them work through their questions, doubts, and uncertainties honestly. This will become very important as they enter the teenage years and young adulthood… but it begins now. It begins in VBS. It begins with leaders who will not only help kids discover the truth, and introduce them to a Savior who died for them, and build a foundation for life-long faith in them, but who will show them by example how to live it out.

 

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VBS 2014 Tour Stop 5: 6 Step VBS Continued

wooley1 2013Last Tuesday I introduced you to the simplification and reorganization of the VBS 2014 Administrative Guide for Directors based on LifeWay’s 6 Step VBS. Age-group leader guides have also been simplified as well – you are going to love the cleaner look – beginning with Page 1 which includes a version of the 6 Step VBS designed specifically for teachers.

1. Prepare Your Heart

2. Get the Basic Facts from Your VBS Director

3. Plan

4. Gather and Prepare

5. Teach

6. Continue the Connection

Following is a brief explanation – at least in my words – of what each step means.

Prepare Your Heart: Great teachers are first great learners. Preparing our hearts to teach VBS means first allowing the message of each Bible story to speak to and transform us personally. The Bible content of Colossal Coaster World is a great example. Before I could teach others to face fear by trusting God, I had to first trust God with some of my own fears.

Get the Basic Facts from Your Director: Simple facts such as session time, room assignment, and a list of other activities and rotations planned for the day, are essential to the planning process. This may seem like a no-brainer, but regrettably I have been the teacher who was told, “Just show up a few minutes early and we’ll tell you what you need to know.” Can you say, “Mistake!”?

Plan: Take time to look over all five sessions to learn how each connects to the others. Once you have the big picture you can begin planning one session at a time, making lists of items to gather and prepare for each day.

Gather and Prepare: My favorite way to prepare for VBS is to create a master list of all the resources I need to gather, purchase, or prepare. With list in hand I like to make one raid on the church resource room, one shopping trip, and take one evening to put everything together. Then, using six boxes or bags, I separate everything by the day it will be used. The sixth box is for the resources that will be used every day. By taking time in advance to gather and organize I save tremendous time and anxiety the day of the session. Each morning I simply review the lesson, pick up the appropriate box, and head to church.

Teach: There is a little more involved here than just reading or telling a passage from the Bible. But with a little preparation and a little knowledge of why a variety of learning activities are important, transformational teaching will be much easier than you might imagine.

Continue the Connection: We spend all week getting to know and influence kids, and then on the last day of VBS we tear down the decorations, throw the resources in a closet, run to our cars, and consider the job done. VBS is one of the best opportunities the church has to connect with unchurched kids and their families, yet we so often cut the relationship off just as it is gaining momentum. Think of it as starting to build a bridge but then halting construction half way across the river. Continue the Connection (follow-up) is not the responsibility of the pastor, the VBS director, nor any one person or team. Continuing the connections started during VBS is the responsibility of every VBS worker and church member.

To learn more about these six simple steps check out Page 1 of a LifeWay’s VBS leader guide which will be available in December.

Next week, Tour Stop 6: Takin’ It Home

VBS 2014 Tour Stop 3: Kids Evidence Kit

wooley1 2013Hands down, the coolest Agency D3 resource you will discover is the all new VBS 2014 Kids Evidence Kit which replaces the age-specific learner guides and activity paks for Grades 1 – 6.

With the Kids Evidence Kit (005545856) you will have a one-size-fits-all ordering experience! You read it correctly! The same Kids Evidence Kit is designed to be used by all kids in Grades 1 – 6. So instead of trying to figure out how many kids you will have in each age group, just estimate the total number of elementary-aged kids and you are ready to go.

The super fun Kids Evidence Kit contains all the gadgets necessary for the special agents attending your VBS. Each kit contains five (baseball card size) evidence cards complete with a summary of daily evidence on one side, plus additional clues on the other side that can only be uncovered using the exclusive D3 Decoder. Each evidence kit also contains a Special Agent ID Card, an Evidence Log, and the essential of all essentials – an Invisible Ink Pen and flashlight.

Kids of all ages have enjoyed writing secret messages with the Invisible Ink Pen. In fact, the big kids (adults) who have experimented with it so far have not wanted to give it up.

Kids will also have fun revealing their Special Agent ID each day as they enter the lab. It is the perfect size to conceal in a wallet or in a plastic name badge holder.

Possibly the best thing about the new Kids Evidence Kit is there was no price increase ($2.29) from the Daily Park Guides used this year for Colossal Coaster World.

So you are probably wondering how this one resource is age appropriate for all kids in Grades 1-6. The answer is the way the various items are used during Bible study sessions. Instructions for use are found in Leader Guides and each age group has assignments specific to that age.

Agency D3 is going to be one of the most fun Bible schools ever, but even more important is the terrific content that challenges kids, teens, and adults to not only discover who Jesus is but gives them the tools to defend their faith.

Next week, VBS 2014 Tour Stop 4: 6 Step VBS