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Find and Keep the Right Volunteers for VBS

As spring begins to thaw much of our great nation, church leaders and volunteers everywhere are turning their attention to the most wonderful time of the year: VBS! Vacation Bible School is a hugely energetic, impactful, and FUN week when our churches shine brightly with the Gospel directly and on purpose to kids and their parents. Is this week the same as our weekly ministry? Yes, but on a giant scale. In order to reach intentionally into the communities in which we find ourselves, we need partners who will help with this wonderful week.

First, Pray

The first idea I want to share with you is to ask your pastor, your church’s leaders, and the volunteers in your church’s children’s ministry and Sunday School to join you in prayer for the upcoming VBS week. Covering the week in prayer is huge for purposefully asking God to align you to His will and plans. Ask this team to pray for you and for your pastor and other key leaders for the week. Don’t forget to ask for prayers for the custodial and maintenance staff. All of these people should be covered in prayer as you partner intentionally with them to create a unified ministry for families who may be with you for the first time.

Come Up with a Vision for VBS

Before you start gathering and training volunteers, lay out a clear vision for VBS. In developing the vision, it is helpful to understand how VBS furthers the mission of your congregation. It is also helpful to have two or three SMART goals for the VBS experience. These might be numbers-driven, or you might want to create goals that speak to relationships or church visitors. As you begin to speak to potential volunteers, sharing that vision clearly and simply can empower them to do ministry.

Identify Volunteer Positions

Read through your VBS materials in an uninterrupted block of time. Have a stack of sticky notes and a marker with you and jot down names of people who would be perfect in various roles.

Publicity Volunteer

One of the volunteer positions not listed in the director’s guide but quite helpful is a publicity person. This person might create handouts or send daily parent emails. They might be the person who reaches out to local schools, libraries, daycares, and such to invite families to come to your VBS. This person shares the vision of your church and this week of outreach, and frees you to handle the many other director responsibilities while they share the story of what is happening at VBS each day.

Photography Volunteer

You might also request a person to serve as your VBS photographer. Often this can be a student (middle school to college age) who has an eye for wide group shots, action shots, and more close-up candid shots. This photographer doesn’t need to take photos of faces all the time but can simply take pictures that tell the story of the ministry happening on your campus that week. At our church, we upload 3–5 photos each day with the daily parent email. That way, parents have a taste of the experience and something to chat with their kids about each day.

“Extras” Volunteer

One last volunteer position that can be overlooked is the “extras” person. This volunteer is in charge of two key things: blessing the volunteers each day with a little something extra and creating experiences that put the cherry on top of each day. For instance, one year our “extras” volunteer looked at teacher appreciation ideas on Pinterest and had something small, fun, and thoughtful for the VBS volunteers at the beginning of each day. They also sent home a personal thank-you note to each volunteer and their families at the end of the week. These volunteers felt excited for the work they’d been part of AND felt supported and loved throughout VBS. Many can’t wait to do it again! Hooray for retention! Similarly, the kids and families loved the surprise OtterPop day, the at-church campout one year, and the crazy BMX bikers who put on a performance at the end of one of the days last year. There are so many other extra surprise ideas you can try. These cost little to nothing, but the memories and the opportunities for relationships are priceless.

Call the Book

For VBS at our church, we typically need 25–80 people in various positions. This is quite daunting! I was encouraged by a more seasoned ministry leader a long time ago to “call the book.” This is just what you’d expect: I set aside three hours each week, beginning twelve weeks ahead of VBS. I call every person in the church directory and ask if they might be interested in serving somehow during VBS. I briefly share the theme and vision for the week (being sure to include the evangelism target areas and the ways I think the week will flow) and the joy of responding to the Great Commission.

Then I ask them if they would be interested in investing a week or part of that week to God, and I listen. If the person is not interested, I say, “Thanks so much for letting me know that, and I ask you to hold VBS in prayer.” If the person is interested but wants more information, I pull out the list of volunteer positions needed—everything from advanced decorations people and greeters to bathroom-break people and teachers!

When you call your church’s book, be sure to have this list ahead of time. Then if you get questions about how people can get involved, you’ve got the information at your fingertips. If there are other churches in your area, consider comparing volunteer position lists to see if you have all the areas covered.

Support Volunteers

As your volunteers begin planning, cover them in prayer. Pray for them personally and for the work they will do. Pray for the families and children who might come to your church for the first time, and pray for their experiences there. Pray that God would mightily touch their hearts and that they would be open to the Gospel message. Before VBS starts, be available to troubleshoot and check in with volunteers on their areas. You can solve a lot of problems during VBS by troubleshooting ahead of time.

As the week goes on, keep praying for and encouraging volunteers. Share stories with your pastor and others about how amazing your leaders are. Be a person who catches sight of the amazing things these servants are doing for God in His church, and share the news far and wide.

End the week with personal notes to your people. At my last church, we finished VBS with a family experience on Thursday night. It also became a tradition to gather as a VBS leadership team a month after VBS for chips and salsa. We would share our “bests” and “worsts” and dream about how different areas could go from good to great. When doing this, I found the volunteer buy-in and investment to be larger year after year.

Allow Volunteers to Drop Off

Lastly, it is fine if some people who are amazing during VBS week choose not to serve the other fifty-one weeks of the year. Not only does this allow for their utmost creativity during VBS week, but it also allows others to join in the important ministry that happens beyond VBS.

I am praying for YOU as you plan and find volunteers. Be encouraged that the Holy Spirit is working mightily in your community and that you have the privilege of joining in what God has already laid out for you to walk in!


Find more tips on working with VBS volunteers.

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Written by

Shelli Haynes

Shelli serves as assistant Youth and Family minister at Red Hill Lutheran in Tustin, California. She has been a DCE in Southern California churches for 21 years! Shelli holds a BA from Concordia University in Irvine and a MA in Family Ministry from Concordia University in Seward. Shelli is wife to Travis and mama to two daughters, Megan and Mandy. She and her family love the beach, backyard badminton, and Giants baseball.

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