Neighborhood VBS Tips from VBS Leaders—We’ve Done This Successfully!
In a time when a large, on-site, traditional VBS may not be possible, a neighborhood VBS (often called “backyard Bible club”) is ideal! You’ll maintain relationships with your church and community, and be a warm, welcoming, encouraging neighbor for those who attend. Watch the full conversation to discover best practices and tips from children’s ministry leaders who’ve successfully led VBS in this unique format.
First, A Few Basics
- Flexibility is key.
- Keep it simple. This isn’t going to be your big Bible school with all the decorations.
- Focus on the interaction and relationship-building—this is the perfect time to make sure your lessons are relational since you have a small group. Keep numbers manageable (15 kids or less and 3-5 leaders) and in-line with CDC guidelines.
- Check with your church insurance to see if there’s coverage for offsite events. If not, have host sites check their homeowner’s liability to be sure they are covered in case of an accident.
- Matching shirts for the staff, especially in this informal setting, helps parents recognize that it is a safe event and they can feel comfortable with their child being there.
- A few tables and chairs, not just blankets, are very helpful. Think plastic, fold-up tables.
- Because VBS is offsite it’s important to be prepared and make sure you have everything with you. You can’t run to the supply closet to get an extra ball or more pipe cleaners. Create a master supply list that you use when packing up supplies for each host site.
- Put your song lyrics on foam core boards and don’t worry about technology. Use an old-fashioned CD player!
- If you want to be intentional about kids inviting their neighbor friends, set up host homes in a few neighborhoods where you have children who attend your church. Then invite kids in that area.
- Have your teams meet at church to pray, get supplies organized, and then send leaders out to the VBS sites.
Set-Up & Logistics
- Summer sun is hot, especially if there are no trees to provide shade. Borrow EZ-Up canopies for instant shade in the yard. Plus, these pop ups help define spaces, like check-in or VBS stations.
- Designate which space at the site will be used for VBS. Consider using a front yard instead of a backyard— it allows kids passing by to see what’s happening, and join in! Plus, front yards are out in the open, above and beyond reproach, allowing churches to meet Safe Sanctuary Policy and Safety.
- Use a cul-de-sac if you’re in a neighborhood without a large yard for games.
- Establish at least two different areas, even two different shade trees or pop up tents. This will allow for movement and a noticeable change between stations.
- Have a plan for bugs. We don’t want mosquitos, fire ants, or bees a-buzz during VBS hours. Tip: Spray the yard for mosquitos the night before.
- Stay outside as much as possible. The one exception is to use the bathroom.
- Figure out bathroom availability in advance. How will you let kids into the host house? Which bathroom will be used? How can you safely supervise within your church safety policies?
- Be aware of the weather forecast.
- Have a plan for inclement weather. Agree with the site host where VBS attendees can gather if the weather changes. A covered patio or porch, or opened garage may be options. Or kids may need to go inside if space permits.
- Have a plan communicating easily with parents if weather forces you to shorten your program.
Create a sign-out procedure so everyone is safely accounted for at the end of the day. (Remember, this can be super simple, since your numbers will be small.)
- Ask kids to bring a water bottle labeled with their name, and a towel to sit on. The towel is a great visual reminder to social distance and could be used if there is a water game.
- Outside VBS will likely be shorter than a program that’s held inside. Humidity can be tiring and attention spans are different in an open space. Aim for up to two hours.
- Snack is fun, but not necessary with a two-hour program. If you have snack, use pre-packaged items rather than homemade.
- If you have fewer than 10 kids, keep children (even preschoolers) in one group for all activities. Just make age-appropriate word choices and simplify the lesson a bit for the pre-K kids.
- If you have more than 10 kids, form mixed-age crews with the preschoolers all in one Crew.
- Maintain staff ratios, so supervision of children is manageable.
- Take time to discuss yard boundaries with kids. This is especially important for unfenced yards or those with a pool. Clear boundaries are even more important if you’re having VBS in a public park. If you meet in a park, have more trusted adults present.
- Pack a simple first-aid kit for each host site.
- Register as usual (online or at church), then the VBS Director assigns participants to sites.
- The church lists each site online, and families can sign up for a specific site.
- Old-fashioned clipboard and paper registration in each host site kit, for potential walk-ins.
- Walk door-to-door to hand out flyers. Take names and cell phone numbers to text a reminder if families are participating.
Info for Parents
- Ask parents to slather their kids with sunscreen bug spray before coming. Have a few bottles of sunscreen and bug spray available for parents to apply, if they’ve forgotten.
- Ask parent to have their child use the bathroom right before leaving their home.
- Encourage kids to wear a ballcaps for shaded eyes.
- Require kids to bring a water bottle labeled with their name and a towel to sit on. The towel is a great visual reminder to social distance.
- Organize supplies by station and day. Put supplies in a clear tote with a lid. Label each tote so it’s easy for a volunteer to find and grab what they need.
- Create a take-home bag for each child. Gallon-sized resealable bags work great. Use a permanent marker to put their names on the bag.
- There are some supplies to gather (besides those used for curriculum and teaching) that will make your neighborhood VBS run smoothly:
- EZ-Up canopies
- card table or plastic folding tables (1-2)
- clipboards to use when parents are dropping off kids or filling out forms
- CD player
- outdoor extension cord
- portable speaker or small sound system to amplify music
- first aid kit
- gallon-size resealable bags (to keep forms dry and for “per-kid” items to send home each day)
- permanent markers
- name badges for leaders and participants
- several large, clear plastic tubs with lids
- hold all VBS supplies for each host site
- keeps supplies dry and from blowing away
- large blankets to sit on (ideally 1 for every Crew or Tribe)
- biodegradable hand soap
- access to a hose for hand-washing
- paper towels
- trash bags
- hand wipes
- sidewalk chalk, bubbles, frisbee, and a couple of playground balls for free-play arrival activities
The Team at Group will be praying for you as you plan your Neighborhood VBS. If you have any questions along the way, email us at VBSTeam@group.com
A huge thank you to all the VBS Directors from around the country who have contributed to this conversation: contributors Heidi Lewis, Peggy Emerson, Gary Lindsay, April Jackson, Tisha Peterson, Joel Bullock, Amy Bishop, Julia Berger, Sharon Stratmoen.