4 Tips To Help Prepare For VBS In 2016

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Well brothers and sisters it’s that time of year again! Summer is just around the corner and that means Vacation Bible School (VBS) is upon us. We’re adding some new planning tips and strategies to consider this year, as we have done with the past VBS planning posts, which will help make your VBS go smoothly!

Here are a few tips to help you prepare:

Prayerfully Consider Your Teams, Theme, & Timelines (6-12 months out)

As any church event should begin, start with prayer. Prayerfully consider your VBS program director and leaders, then select the best candidate that God has inspired for your church. Work with the new director to pull together a team of dedicated leaders and pray for them.

Once your team is ready you can choose a VBS curriculum and order a starter kit. Most publishers run sales on their kits starting early in the first quarter, and Christian bookstores like Lifeway often have the kits on hand so you can look through to help make a choice.

When your VBS kit arrives, you can get down to the real planning, such as recruitment, training, and requesting donations of money and supplies.

Recruiting & Registration (3-6 months out)

Finding dynamic, kid-friendly personalities can be a challenge. It’s also one of the reasons that the kids get used to seeing a lot of the same faces each year. Keep in mind that it’s always important to try and bring new volunteers into the fold, not only to avoid burnout, but often to reveal undiscovered spiritual gifts.

At this point, you should have a curriculum mapped out including supplies needed for each day & event, as well as how many volunteers you’ll need for each station. Communicating with the leadership of the church regarding any budgetary needs is also very important during this time.

Fundraising through events like trivia nights, silent auctions, and church meals is a great way to raise money for the program to cover costs that might exceed your church’s budgetary limitations. At our church we hold a trivia night and silent auction at the same time, where the questions relate to the theme of the VBS program. We register teams from the church members who then compete that night for an actual trophy that is displayed throughout the year in a common area of the church. This year we’re using Group Publishing’s Cave Quest theme, so all of the questions will relate to caves in some way based on Trivial Pursuit style categories.

Promoting the VBS program and keeping the community and the congregation in the loop is incredibly important. Churches vary on whether or not to charge for Vacation Bible School programs, so be sure to make your position clear from the beginning as it can help with fundraising.

Don’t forget to start allowing families to register their children around 3 months out. Today’s busy families start mapping out their summer plans in the spring, so be sure to allow registration – and make it easy! Consider using a system like Elexio Deluxe Suite or Essentials Giving that enable online event registration for programs like VBS. These systems can even process payments, if needed.

 

Training, Promotions, & Production (0-3 months out)

Don’t wait until the last minute on any of these. With the latest changes to law, at least where I’m at in Pennsylvania, requirements on volunteers for background checks and training are time-intensive and involved for whomever is coordinating VBS.

Elexio’s integrated background check system can help reduce some of that workload, but you definitely don’t want to take this to the last minute. Finding volunteers can be a challenge for many churches.

Training is important, too. Not only can you begin to identify a volunteer’s strengths and weaknesses, training will help both of you identify the best station or place for that volunteer to help. Many programs offer training materials, but churches can and should also include their own guidelines that are required by both state and federal laws, as well as any additional requirements from within your own denominations.

Pre-registration should be well underway at this point, and you should be able to start building group rosters and assigning volunteers.

Depending on how involved your decorations will be, 3 months before launch can be a good time to start assessing your needs for decorations and any sets. Last year, we ran Group’s “Everest” program and we started planning and buying materials around 3 months out. Within 2 months of our program we began building our set pieces, like small mountains, holding routine set building days for a few hours each Saturday.

Finals & Follow-Up (Last few weeks & Program)

During the last few weeks you should be pretty much ready, just putting the finishing touches on training, set building and decorations, or any last minute volunteer recruitment.

The last week before is always a rush. Many decorations and set pieces cannot move into place until the day you launch the program, and many times our volunteers are turning in clearances and paperwork at the last second. That doesn’t even take into consideration the mass of registrations that will all happen the “day of”.

For these reasons, we recommend scheduling a time of group prayer before you enter into the fray and welcome all of those young souls into your fold.

Work Smarter, Not Harder

Ensuring that you have the right tools will make VBS planning easier. Elexio offers the tools needed to track incredibly useful information, like:

  • Who have been our key donors?
  • Who has the spiritual gifts appropriate for this kind of ministry?
  • Who has volunteered in the past?
  • Who has registered in the past?
  • How much have we spent before, and on what?

Even better, when you can pre-register families through a web form and even take payment, you’ve effectively reduced the workload of your registration volunteers.

Take a closer look at Elexio church software solutions today and you’ll find out how you can focus on your ministry, not the management.

Is Your Church Running Background Checks?

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Most churches are working hard to get every member of the church community involved with one ministry or another. Some screen every potential volunteer to ensure safety and a good fit while others choose to save time and money by skipping this process. After all, most churches don’t have unlimited resources.

But as the need for background checks increases and the number of providers grows, the cost continues to drop. Even churches with a tight budget can afford to run background checks. In fact, they can’t afford not to.

 

Why you should be running background checks

 

CHILDREN’S SAFETY

Many churches see hundreds of kids come through their doors each weekend. Although we’d like to think that our families are completely safe there, not everyone worshipping with us has a clean record. And some of those people are trying to volunteer within the church—including the children’s ministry.

LifeWay found that in their program, of the 142,000 background checks conducted by 7,700 churches since 2008, nearly half revealed a criminal offense, and 21% contained serious offenses including over 9,000 felonies.

God changes lives—even the lives of those who have a criminal record. But the church needs to actively seek out this information in order to keep predators away from children and protect the church community.

CHURCH’S REPUTATION

If you don’t do your research before opening up volunteer opportunities, your church and those who are serving could face unfair accusations and a damaged testimony. Conducting background checks and training everyone who serves will help to protect your ministry.

PARENTS’ PEACE OF MIND

When parents know you’ve done your homework to ensure that their kids are in safe hands, they’ll be able to focus on worship and want to come back. As the holiday season approaches and attendance spikes, make sure your church is an environment where visitors feel safe.

 

Background check best practices

 

FREQUENCY

Determine how often you’ll perform background checks on current staff and volunteers. Many organizations choose to repeat them annually, while others wait two to five years to update records. But some insurance carriers will deny coverage unless churches repeat background checks every 12 months.

You should also consider how you’ll handle any situation where someone leaves the church or takes a break from serving, then comes back. Most churches will restart the process.

PEOPLE

Will you make each staff member and volunteer go through the background check process before they can serve or only those who will be working with children and financial information? Because many duties will overlap, enforcing background checks for everyone involved in ministry is the recommended practice.

Make sure that you’re not only running background checks on people who are new to your church but also those people who have been serving for 25 years before you implemented new standards. You might get some pushback, so help them understand the importance of these policies.

PRIVACY

Create a process for handling results and respect the privacy of your church community. Keep hard copies in a locked file and digital records secured with a password. Limit the number of people who handle this sensitive information.

PROBLEMS

Make a plan for dealing with any unfavorable issues that come up from background check results. You may have to ask people to volunteer with another ministry because of a checkered past. Handle these situations delicately.

PROVIDERS

You’ve got a lot of options when choosing where you’ll get background checks done. Consider companies like SecureSearch that understand the unique needs of your church.

OPTIONS

The extent of background checks will probably vary based on the person’s role, but you have a variety of resources available to you. (Keep in mind that some information also varies by state)

  • County and state criminal records
  • National criminal and sex offender database
  • Motor vehicle records
  • Employment and education verification
  • Credit history

CONSISTENCY

Develop a policy for background checks and stick to it. Otherwise people may feel like they’re being singled out or you could make an exception that could be devastating to your church.

DON’T STOP THERE

Background checks are important, but they’re not always enough. You can do even more to make sure you’re providing a safe environment at your church.

  • Use discretion when assigning volunteers. Look for warning signs. Just because someone doesn’t have a record, doesn’t mean they should be working with kids.
  • Be smart. Avoid private one-on-one situations and always keep at least two adults in a room with children.
  • Be proactive and keep people accountable. Enforce a policy that requires staff and volunteers to alert the church of any arrests or legal issues.
  • Invest in training. Help those serving in your church know what characteristics and behaviors to look out for and how to avoid risky circumstances.

Make it easier with technology

Integrate background checks with your church management software to save a few steps and run automated reports. You’ll avoid entering those details into your database, always find the results when you need them, and have a simpler way to get updated information.

Check out these other resources on background checks and making your church a safe environment:

3 Things You Need to Know About Background Checks

Volunteer Background Checks: Giving Back Without Giving up on Privacy

The Top 5 Myths About Background Checks

Image credits: istockphoto.com