Create a summer outreach event that's a perfect fit.

VBS kits are awesome and convenient, but they’re not always ideal. For times where you can’t get your hands on one or just want to do something really special, you’ll need a good VBS alternative. These ideas are more ambitious than the out-of-the-box options, but in the end, you’ll end up with something fun and completely unique.

Before you get started

Creating a good VBS requires that you start with a clear understanding of your resources. If you don’t take these questions into consideration at the very beginning, you’ll regret it later.

What’s your budget?

It’s essential that you at least have a rough understanding of your budget. It’s easy to come up with a theme and start working through the details, but if you’re not budget-minded at the beginning, you’ll be surprised at how fast expenses spiral out of control.

How much time do you have to prepare?

When putting together your own VBS, this is probably your chief consideration. It’s much more likely that you’ll be overconfident with your capacity than with your budget, and end up burned out or cutting corners at the last minute. So your ambition needs to fit within your time constraints.

How many helpers do you have?

You don’t have to decide what volunteers are going to help with the actual VBS before you start, but you do need to know what kind of help to expect with preparation. There are a lot of people who might enjoy putting the VBS together more than helping run it. Take advantage of them!

It’s also good to know what kind of skills are at your disposal. If you have someone available who’s handy with a sewing machine, it opens up your options with costumes or puppets. A good woodworker might be able to contribute sets or props. Once you pull together your prep team, you can take a skills assessment to help you delegate areas. Here are some talent/skill areas you’ll want to explore:

  • Sewing
  • Woodwork
  • Set design
  • Meal planning
  • Crafts
  • Lesson creation
  • Music
  • Acting

Lastly, keep helpers in mind as you put together your plan. If you decide that your VBS is going to serve lunch, consider how many helpers will be required to prepare, serve, and clean up. Like your budget, this area can become unmanageable if you’re not planning ahead.

How will the VBS be scheduled?

This doesn’t need to be set in stone at the outset, but it’s good to have some parameters.

  • Will it be during the day or in the evenings?
  • How long will a session last?
  • Will it run for a week Monday through Friday, or will it be a month-long program that happens once a week?

Answering these questions will empower you to plan a streamlined VBS.

As you begin planning your own VBS, here are five alternatives to the traditional VBS kit:

1. Build your own VBS

Building your own VBS is an awesome way to go if you have the time. The freedom to create your dream VBS is offset by the work required to pull it together. It’s the ideal choice for the most ambitious children’s directors.

As you put it together you’ll need to:

Identify your VBS theme

Choosing a theme is one of the best parts of creating your own VBS—it’s also one of the most important. This theme, and the visuals and characters that accompany it, will help give your entire VBS its structure. It’s a decision that will have an enormous impact on almost every other element in your VBS.

When brainstorming ideas, focus on the themes that are:

  1. Easy to pull off—You don’t want to get stuck with an idea that’s too conceptual, ambitious, or difficult to communicate. It also can’t be too limiting. You want a theme that gives you a lot of options and ideas. Something like “the Reformation” might seem like a good idea at first, but it might be hard to communicate well and really limited in its expression.
  2. Accessible to kids—Ultimately, kids need to be able to understand it. You might be able to think of a lot of great ideas for a “Wall Street” theme, but the kids probably won’t enjoy it much.
  3. Right for your church—Since it’s an extension of your church, your VBS needs to hit the right note. You need to be willing to throw out ideas that sound good, but will reflect poorly on the church’s mission. If someone suggests a “Hunger Games” theme, you should probably pass.

Create a lesson plan

Now that you have a theme in mind, you can start mapping out a lesson plan. Ideally, this plan will make sense with your VBS theme and be broad enough to stretch across multiple lessons.

Not sure where to get lessons? Here are some ideas:

  1. Create them yourself—This is a great choice if you have the ambition, confidence, and time. You can also solicit the help of someone more experienced in lesson creation. If time’s limited, feel free to adapt lessons from one of the other choices.
  2. Existing Sunday school curriculum—If your church has a robust Sunday school program, why reinvent the wheel? Pull together some appropriate lessons you’ve used in the past.
  3. Children’s devotionals—The nice thing about adapting lessons from kids devotionals is that they’re usually written around a core theme. This will help keep your lessons focused. Bear in mind that this choice might require some heavy modification to make it useful in a class setting.
  4. Get them from Disciplr—If your church is not already using Disciplr, you’re missing out. It gives you unlimited access to a whole library of age-appropriate resources from sources like Gospel Light, Standard, and David C. Cook. If you are using Disciplr, it’s going to be incredibly easy to create a lesson plan.

As you put together your lesson plan, keep crafts in mind. You’ll need a couple really strong craft ideas that accompany each lesson. Again, if you’re using Disciplr, most of the curriculum already includes craft and class ideas.

Decide on a music direction

Music and children’s ministry go together like peanut butter and jelly. So don’t focus on lessons at the expense of fun and engaging music.

When it comes to choosing music, there are a number of places places you can draw from:

  1. Write your own: If you have some team members who are particularly talented in this area, they can help you write some music that will work perfectly with your theme. You really one need one main VBS theme song. (You can also write new lyrics to familiar kids’ songs!)
  2. Use worship songs: Your music doesn’t need to be specific to your VBS theme. Some worship songs that fit nicely with your lessons will suffice. But only pick a handful for the entire VBS—you don’t want to overwhelm the kids and you want them to remember the songs when it’s all over.

If your church has a lot of musicians available, great! If not, you may need to pull in friends or musicians from other churches. You can also use a split-track CD, or even sing acapella if you need to.

2. Hobby camp VBS

As an alternative to a themed VBS, you can build your VBS around a hobby. This can be a great opportunity to engage your community because you can build it around some local interests. An easy way to suss those interests out is to visit the local elementary school and talk to some of the faculty about particular activities that kids might be drawn to.

When it comes to the kinds of hobbies you build your VBS around, the sky’s the limit. Some great ideas include:

  • Track and field (The Runner’s Camp is a great example)
  • Board games
  • Art
  • Music
  • Acting and improv.
  • Bird watching
  • Astronomy

Instead of using hyper-focused lessons, this works best when appropriately themed devotions are interwoven throughout your day. Finding ways to introduce Scripture in less heavy-handed ways will make this a powerful VBS to use as an outreach to the kids in your community.

3. Around the world with a missionary VBS

If you’re a missions-oriented church (or want to be), this VBS can give kids a passion for mission work—and might even help them discover their own calling.

If you have missionaries that your church supports, plan far enough in advance that they’ll be home to assist in leading. If your church doesn’t have specific missionaries, reach out to other churches or mission agencies. You can also enlist multicultural members of your own congregation and college-aged youth that have been abroad.

Some ideas for this VBS include:

  • Decorating rooms and work areas to reflect the culture you’re focused on
  • Sharing traditional clothing
  • Discussing what a day in the life of the average kid is like in that country
  • Playing games that kids from that part of the world enjoy
  • Talking about that country’s prominent figures
  • Trying various dishes from that country
  • Praying for the needs of this targeted group

It’s powerful if you can plan a fundraising idea that the kids can take part in. Over the course of the VBS, you can raise funds to donate to missionaries from the culture you study.

Note: If you’re talking about third-world countries, it’s really easy to share information in a way that makes kids feel guilty. While it’s good for them to have a heart of compassion, be very careful not to play upon their shame.

4. Skill camp VBS

Similar to the hobby camp, this VBS is built around activities. But in this camp, kids are learning specialized skills. Those skills could include:

  • Woodworking
  • Computer skills
  • Cooking
  • Gardening
  • Photography (This could incorporate cell phones or point and shoot cameras in lieu of DSLR cameras.)
  • Songwriting
  • Painting

If you have someone in your church or community who’s gifted with a particular skill set, loves kids, and can help you come up with a curriculum for the entire time, the whole VBS can center around one skill. If that doesn’t work, you can also invite various people on different days to teach the kids about various skills.

As is the case in the hobby camp, you’ll need devotions that integrate well with what the kids are learning each day.

5. Local heroes VBS

There’s no question that kids are enamored with firefighters. Why not take advantage of that fascination and put together VBS focused on your community’s heroes? In this VBS, kids can learn more about professions like:

  • Police officers: An officer can come and talk about her job and let the kids see different tools they use. They can also bring a squad car for the kids to check out.
  • Teachers: Teachers can share specifics about their work, what they do with summers off, and what made them want to teach in the first place.
  • Firefighters: Obviously you’ll want them to show up with their truck—how else can the kids run the siren? Like police officers, firefighters can show some of the tools that they use and talk about what a typical day looks like.
  • Paramedics: Kids will love learning about what these local heroes do. Don’t forget to encourage them to ask questions!
  • Veterinarian: You might have some difficulty securing a vet during a weekday, but you can probably get a vet tech. This can be a day where you set up a petting zoo in the parking lot and the kids learn about animals and how to keep them healthy.

For lessons, each profession can be tied to a biblical story, character, or idea. For instance, on firefighter day, you can discuss Jude 1:23. Children can learn how God has equipped Christians to help save others.

One strength of this VBS is the relationships your church can forge with various departments and individuals in your community!

VBS have a lasting impact

Vacation Bible school isn’t just an alternative to summer days spent playing video games and watching TV. It’s a fun time for kids grow in their understanding of God while building relationships with their peers and adult volunteers. The lessons they learn and memories they create will last a lifetime and impact how they serve Jesus as adults.

Constructing a ministry that will shape their future is an incredible joy and privilege. So start working on one of these ideas today, and build a VBS memory that will changes lives in your community.

For more tips, tools, and resources for building an epic children’s ministry, download a free copy of the 2017 KidMin Almanac. It’s chock full of advice to help you:

  • Write a comprehensive safety policy
  • Secure awesome worship and teaching resources
  • Renovate and update your KidMin space
  • Find allergen-free snacks kids will love
  • Discover helpful books, blogs, podcasts, and conferences

Don’t wait to see what’s new and upcoming in children’s ministry, download the 2017 KidMin Almanac, now!

Jayson D. Bradley

Author Jayson D. Bradley

Jayson D. Bradley is a writer and pastor in Bellingham, WA. He’s a regular contributor to Relevant Magazine, and his blog has been voted one of the 25 Christian blogs you should be reading.

More posts by Jayson D. Bradley