About this time of year in the spring, I get the privilege of coaching many youth workers through their youth ministries’ involvement with VBS. I’m still surprised at what I find. My sense is that there are two schools of thought about youth helping at VBS. Of course, the “official” response (whenever church leaders are around) is “Our youth LOVE helping at VBS.” But what I hear at a more street-level reality? You’re either a “VBS Eye-roller” or a “VBS? I’m on it!” kinda youth worker.
It’s important to positively brand your youth ministry both inside and outside the church walls. People are going to talk about the youth ministry anyway, so give them great stories to talk about!
If you’re in the first camp, too bad for you. Oh, I get it. Some youth workers feel like the youth ministry is being “used” by the VBS people. Youth workers and VBS leaders don’t always operate in the same way and that can drive some youth workers a little nuts.
Even more sad, too bad for your youth, if your outlook on student involvement is a negative one. A bad attitude about VBS costs you and your student ministry PRIME summer calendar coverage and ministry outreach.
Stick with me on this; here’s my (VB)School of thought. I’m giving you why’s and ways to make VBS a “first priority” week in your summer planning:
1) Kill two summer calendar birds with one stone. You and your youth will be coming anyway; so why not add a few “youth only” pieces to the week, leaving more room on your personal calendar at other times. VBS week can be the time you do events like “welcome the new 6th graders pool party,” a special summer Bible study based on the VBS themes, or a youth only breakfast before each VBS day begins. For you night-time VBS churches out there, nightly runs for ice cream cones at McD’s for all youth helpers could be fun. They’re $1 and I bet somebody’s budget can happily cover the cost. Or maybe you have a “youth helpers only” movie night after the final session is over. You get the idea; incentives and rewards still work their magic.
2) VBS is inter-generational ministry at its best! Don’t let the youth get stuck doing just the grunt work in VBS areas that other adults don’t want to do. Guard your intergenerational intentionality by making sure there’s a good mixing of age levels in every aspect of your VBS. Be pro-active in ensuring that youth are at the training events, which is another part of the intergenerational mixing. At the same time, make it clear to the VBS Leaders that during VBS week, you’re just one of the team. If there are youth behavioral issues, the VBS chain of command deals with the transgressors.
3) The Rumor is True: Most churches can’t pull off a VBS without the youth. So if you’re reluctant about youth involvement, you may be putting your church’s key summer outreach event in jeopardy.
4) Go ahead and brag; post the pictures! It’s important to positively brand your youth ministry both inside and outside the church walls. People are going to talk about the youth ministry anyway, so give them great stories to talk about! Let folks know what your kids are up to. Hit up your church’s website with lots of “Youth at VBS” photos because when new families are shopping for a church, they check out the website first and they want to see a church where the generations are integrated.
5) Let your students bring friends. I know this is tricky since friends need to follow the rules and may have missed the training opportunities. That’s where you can come in; you can bring the friends up-to-speed. It’s worth it; youth see energy, excitement, and enthusiasm at the church and they may just want to continue to hang around. I’ve picked up more new students in the fall from VBS!
So, in case you hadn’t picked up on this, I’m an uber fan of youth ministry in VBS world. Hope you are, too!
Stephanie Caro has been involved in ministry to children, youth, and adults in the local church since…a long time. Her humorous, straightforward style keeps her busy presenting and coaching at conferences, training events, camps, mission trips, retreats, churches, etc. She is Senior Consultant for Ministry Architects, which allows her to help churches assess, vision, and formulate their ministry game plan.
Her books, Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches and 99 Thoughts for the Smaller Church Youth Worker, were published by Group/Simply Youth Ministry. Her next book, “Ten Solutions (to 10 Common Mistakes in Churches) comes out in 2016. Stephanie is a contributing author to several ministry resources like YouthWorker Journal in addition to her regular column “Smaller Church Youth Ministry” in Group Magazine. Check out Stephanie’s blog, part of the #1 read youth ministry blog network, youthministry.com from Simply Youth Ministry/Group Publishing. She also blogs for youthspecialties.com, Princeton Theological Seminary, and others. Stephanie and her husband, Steve, live in Houston, TX. Their 7 children are all grown!