A few years ago Diana Butler Bass wrote a beautiful post entitled Sock Puppet Church. She reflects on what is lost when programs like VBS become completely prepackaged. Often they come in a can, and they wear entertaining titles like Big Jungle Adventure. No doubt these can be time-savers, offering reassurance to teachers. Yet something is lost when we don’t take on the challenge of reflecting deeply on the stories and creating teaching aids and crafts out of what we already have. Moreover, Bible School in a can is very expensive, and it’s difficult to know how many student kits and other accessories to buy.
Our congregation does VBS on a shoestring. We can’t afford prepackaged materials that promise to deliver everything except the children. We use curricula that come in the form of leader’s guides that include reproducible materials. We make what we think we’ll need, and we have the peace of mind of knowing we can make more if needed. Our themes have titles like Sailing into Mission and Sowing Seeds of Faith. One of our youth who is an artist creates a logo that can be used for everything from bulletin inserts and invitations to attendance certificates. A team reflects on the theme and then decorates the church fellowship hall accordingly. Another team creates an outdoor sign and display. For example, an old plow horse-drawn plow drew attention to Sowing Seeds of Faith. For Living in the Light we used a model lighthouse outside. Often men and women work together on the outdoor display.
Bible School usually takes place on four consecutive evenings. There are two or three classes for children and youth, and an adult class. The whole group meets together at the beginning of the evening for singing, prayer, a skit on the evening’s Bible story, and information about the Bible School mission project. When the children go to their classrooms, the adult class remains in the fellowship hall and does Bible study on the same scripture lessons and themes.
A curriculum series that has worked well for us is Walk With Me Summer Units from Faith Alive Christian Resources, of the Christian Reformed Church. Many themes are available, and each unit contains five sessions. Each leader’s guide contains Bible studies for younger children and older children, a reader’s theater script for each session, music and an accompanying CD, suggestions for crafts and for an end-of-VBS celebration. They are reasonably priced at $27.95, and we usually purchase two. You can take the books apart and give leaders the portions that they need. Samples in pdf format are available on the site. We have used Shareable Parables from this series, adding the phrase “Sowing Seeds of Faith. Living in the Light and Rough Waves? Jesus Saves! also came from the Walk With Me series. Among many other titles are Creation Celebration and God’s Family in ACTion, a study of Acts that we hope to use in the future. Short units suitable for Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter are also available, and I’ve even toyed with the idea of celebrating Christmas in the summertime for Bible School.
In a similar fashion we have also used a VBS series published several years ago by the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the We Believe line. The overall title was Around the World in Five Days: Vacation Bible School Looks at the Wonderful World of Mission. Three volumes were published as Director’s Notebooks (looseleaf), and congregations adapted the materials as needed. While this line is no longer in print, presbytery resource centers may have them available. Contact me if you would like to know more about any of the materials mentioned here.
We do our best to employ the gifts of people across the congregation, and this has made for some vivid memories. For example, a master vegetable gardener was the farmer in a skit about the parable of the sower, and he brought a hand-crank seed sower that greatly enriched the telling of the story. For us, Bible School is a project of the whole church, and much of the blessing comes out of what happens in the preparation.