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.

4 Reasons Your Church Needs Check-In For VBS

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According to a 2013 Barna study, two-thirds of churches in America still host VBS each year—and the percentages are even higher in mid to large-sized churches. With all those kids, parents, and volunteers circulating through your church, your staff needs to be organized and prepared for this summer hubbub. An intuitive check-in system can take some of the stress off your shoulders by providing a few of the most important elements:

1. Safety

With hundreds of kids coming and going each day, a check-in system can ensure safety. Printed nametags that include food allergies and medical information and security receipts for parents will provide a safe environment for your VBS.

2. Peace of mind

Many of the parents who are dropping off their children have never even attended a service at your church. A secure check-in system will instill confidence as they leave their little ones in your hands for several hours.

2. Efficiency

A streamlined check-in process will save your staff and volunteers time so they don’t spend hours manually recording data for hundreds families.

4. Follow-up 

Your VBS isn’t just about providing a week of cookies, games, and Bible stories; it’s about ministering to your local community. You don’t just want the kids to learn and have fun; you want their entire families to come back to your church. When you quickly collect their information at check-in, a team can follow up with these families.

Step up your church’s VBS check-in game with these tips:

  • Utilize mobile check-in so that the parents who already have your church’s app can begin the process before they even unbuckle their rowdy kids from the car. And station volunteers throughout the check-in area so they can quickly check children in from a tablet.
  • Don’t just track attendance for the kiddos. Ask all your volunteers to check in each day and thank them for their service after the event.
  • Customize your check-in kiosks to match your VBS theme.
  • Make sure your check-in kiosks can run offline. Especially if your check-in station is located outside, you could experience connectivity issues.

Check out these other resources for more helpful tips:

Your Guide to Preparing for Summer at Your Church

Top 10 Things You Need to Recover from VBS this Summer

5 Ways Your Church Check-in System Could Be Holding You Back

 

6 Keys To Successful Church Event Management

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From cantatas to conferences to camps, churches typically host dozens of events each year. Hundreds of details need to align so these events can go off without a hitch—that’s where technology comes in and can simplify event management.

But before you even get started with planning, make sure the event is right for your church. Don’t just host a bunch of random events because that’s what you’ve always done. Ask these five questions to determine if the event has a real purpose and is right for your church.

Once you’ve ensured that a banquet or retreat or breakfast will serve your church community well, consider these 6 factors to successfully manage the event:

Communication and promotion

How are you going to get the word out about your next conference or outreach activity? You have plenty of opportunities to make sure people know what’s coming up; you just need to take advantage of them. Promote your event during the Sunday morning service. Use the information you’ve collected to send a mass email to the right audience. Include details on your website. Post on social media to keep your church community informed and allow them to invite guests. And integrate all calendars from your mobile app to your website so you can communicate consistently.

Registration and payment

Don’t let a complex registration process deter people from signing up for your event. Online registration forms provide convenience, and a mobile app option allows people to sign up from the pew as your staff announces the event. If your event has a fee, include payment options in the registration process. When all these elements are integrated with your church database, planning will be much simpler for your staff.

Volunteers

For most events that your church hosts, you’ll need some extra hands to get all the work done. When you’re recruiting help, make sure you find the right volunteers with the right talents for the right positions. Let your church community know that you need help and make signing up for these service opportunities easy—like from a kiosk or online. Once you’ve got the people you need, maintain communication with them and let volunteers know what you expect out of them. And after your event, express your gratitude for their service so they’ll be happy to lend a hand again.

Resource planning

Some events will be offsite or require nothing more than just standing room, but others require plenty of church resources like chairs, AV equipment, and designated rooms. Rather than learn at the last minute that the tables you need for the men’s breakfast are all being used for a seminar down the hall, plan and claim everything you’ll need in advance. Keep track of these resources within your church database, so everyone knows what items are up for grabs.

Check-in

Keep a record of everyone who arrives at your event while making the process a breeze for attendees. Allow guests to check in on a kiosk and encourage your church community to check in from their smartphones on the way to the event.

Follow-up

Use those check-in records to send follow up communication to the people that attended your event. You might send them a general thank you, a feedback survey, or complimentary resources. You can also invite them to related events in the future.

Looking for church software that will simplify these elements of event management? Contact us!

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

Why The Moms In Your Church Need Mobile Check-In

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Your church has got a great check-in system: a couple kiosks, label printers, barcode scanners. But what about mobile check-in? For the sake of the moms in your church, you might want to take advantage of this convenient feature.

Just imagine a mom from your church hauling her six little ones to church Sunday morning—alone. It’s six on one. Even with well-behaved kids, those are terrible odds.

After a series of spills and tantrums, she packs the kids into her minivan and takes off for church.

Twelve are we there yets later, they pull into the parking lot. While the kids are still buckled in, mom whips out her iPhone, opens the church mobile app, and uses express check-in to get the entire crew checked in.

She unloads the van, scans the confirmation code on her phone at a kiosk inside, and grabs the printed name tags that display soy, dairy, and peanut allergies. Drop the kids off at their classrooms, and it’s on to sixty minutes of peaceful, uninterrupted worship for this exhausted mom.

But what if one of those kids dropped her brand new phone in the bathtub this morning? Rather than trying to harness six rowdy kids in the check-in kiosk line, she can walk over to a volunteer checking people in from a tablet. Tell him their names, and she’s done.

Now picture that scenario without mobile check-in. That’s when mom really feels outnumbered. Even though check-in kiosks are fast and efficient, it seems like everyone shows up to church five minutes before the service starts, resulting in a long line and congestion surrounding check-in stations. And mom is trying to keep six tired, fussy kids still and quiet until they make it to the front of the line. They sneak off, spill juice, have accidents—so mom gets the kids checked in with enough time to catch the last thirty seconds of the closing song.

Helping Your Church Community

 

Mobile check-in isn’t just another shiny new feature. It’s about making things practical, convenient, and easy for your church community—especially the mom who’s got her hands full on a Sunday morning. And that’s because mobile check-in:

  • Minimizes the number of check-in kiosks needed
  • Eliminates crowded check-in stations
  • Operates on iOS and Android mobile devices
  • Works even when check-in kiosks are running offline
  • Is included in the free mobile app with Elexio’s database and check-in

Of course the dads, grandparents, and basically everyone else in your church will be happy you made the switch, too. But it’s those moms running on two hours of sleep and a pot of French roast who will be extra-thankful for this lifesaver.

So consider adopting mobile check-in for your church, at least until moms grow three more arms or every kid in your church suddenly turns into an angel.

Now if only there were an app for that…

Want to learn more about mobile check-in? Check out the video and let us answer your questions!

Don’t Return To The Stone Age: Offline Church Check-In

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When you’re accustomed to an intuitive check-in system, scrambling for a pen and paper because the internet’s down can feel like you’re returning to the Stone Age.

After scanning your fingerprint on a touchscreen kiosk, you might as well be clocking out from the Slate Rock and Gravel Company with a slab of stone like Fred Flintstone.

But not all church check-in systems require an active internet connection to function. Some offer both online and offline function so you’re never left stranded.

Why you might need it

Whether you’re meeting at a small building in the country or a megachurch in the heart of a major city, the internet connection is not always reliable. You can invest in the best technology and a seamless set-up, but weather can be spotty—and so can your connection.

Storms, provider issues, limited internet access, and a high traffic volume could all bring your smooth check-in process to a screeching halt.

But if you can check people in offline, there’s no panic when the Wi-Fi fails–at least not for your kid’s ministry volunteers.

What it means

1. Flexibility

You don’t need to be dependent on a fickle internet connection. Rather than relocate your kid’s ministry to be central to a router, you could station your computer or check-in system in an obscure hallway and the software would still do its job.

You might not even dream of running check-in kiosks offsite or at outdoor events with no internet access. But your church can still track attendance when you function offline.

Portable churches face unique challenges. Connectivity can be an issue when you don’t have a permanent home. So no matter where you meet, checking people in with a system that will work anywhere is a great convenience.

2. Consistency

Most new visitors are impressed by a sleek check-in system—it means the church is current and their kids are safe. But when you’re switching from a barcode scanner one week to a tablet the next week, people might not get the best perception of your church.

3. Efficiency

If you’re using a check-in system that can only operate online, you’ll be stuck finding another way to track attendance and monitor kids when you lose your internet connection—scribbling down names, throwing improvised duct tape nametags on kids, and organizing that information. You’ll have to enter all those records into your database later, once your internet problems are resolved. But functioning offline means you don’t need to waste time manually entering data.

How it works

A check-in system like Elexio’s is web-based, but can also work locally on a desktop or kiosk when offline. Once you have an active internet connection again, the information will sync and update your database. So your information is always available and you’ll avoid downtime even if you can’t get online.

You can’t anticipate every hiccup in ministry, but you can be prepared with the right technology so you don’t revert to the Stone Age.

Learn more about our check-in solution if you’d like to stay in the 21st century even when the Wi-Fi fails! 

Is A Church Check-In System Really Worth The Investment?

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Switching to a church check-in system would cost more than the pen and notepad you’re using right now. You also have to account for the hardware to use these programs. So is it really worth the cost from your church budget? What does a check-in system really have to offer?

The kids

Probably the greatest reason for implementing a check-in system at your church is to keep kids safe and accounted for. Even in this typically secure environment, a slight risk always exists. Someone could slip in the back door and try to lure children out of the nursery. Parents in the midst of a custody battle could discreetly pick up children when there’s no system for recognizing authorized guardians. But a poor check-in process—or none at all—should never be an excuse for child abduction. You can’t put a price tag on kids.

Children should also be safe from any medical concerns when they’re in the hands of your kid’s ministry volunteers. About 8% of children have a food allergy. With snacks being passed around, your church needs an effective way to monitor which kids are at risk of developing a serious reaction should they get their hands on one of these treats. Allergies, medications, and health conditions can easily be documented and monitored with an effective check-in system.

Your church

If a child is hurt or abducted while in your care, the church could be held legally responsible. Without a check-in system in place to drastically reduce the chances of an emergency situation, your church could be left financially devastated. The reputation of your ministry is also at stake—visitors should feel confident leaving their children in the hands of your staff and volunteers. To keep them coming back, show them you value the safety of their children.

Whether you see 15 kids each Sunday or 1,500, a check-in system can lead to better organization for your church. Writing names on masking tape and sticking them on the backs of active toddlers is a quick way to lose track of children. Lists and clipboards leave a messy paper trail and even more work for your volunteers. But a touchscreen kiosk? That leaves volunteers to interact with the kids—not office supplies.

Not just for the kids

When most churches search for a check-in system, they have kid’s ministry in mind. But check-in can help streamline processes throughout your entire church.

Rather than passing attendance forms down the aisles and distracting from worship, utilize check-in stations to track attendance for weekly classes, small groups, and special events. Utilize a label printer to provide nametags for participants at a conference and simplify the entire process.

Have your volunteers check in when they arrive for duty at the nursery or welcome center. Track their service so you know who’s showing up and what areas of ministry fit each person’s unique gifts. Utilize this information to thank volunteers and reach out when your church has a need for help.

Speed up the process by allowing entire families to check into multiple classes in a matter of seconds. You can control which events and classes are available to each person based on age, gender, or other criteria. So if mom is checking in for the family, she’ll be reminded of the ladies’ brunch—but this wouldn’t be an option for her husband or kids.

Get the most out of your check-in system

  • Integrate your check-in system with your ChMS to eliminate repeat data entry—your records will be automatically updated
  • Custom brand your check-in stations with images, colors, and logos unique to your church and its various ministries
  • Take advantage of the multiple secure access methods—fingerprint, barcode, pin number—so people have quick options for checking in
  • Utilize a label printer to print nametags for children—including medical information—and security receipts for guardians
  • Track attendance and volunteer participation to help you gauge the discipleship of your church community
  • Send out follow-up communications based on attendance at events and services
  • Allow check-in offline when you don’t have access to an internet connection or lose power and your database will update once you reconnect
  • Train your volunteers and staff to effectively use this resource

Want to learn more about how a check-in system can help your ministry? Get started!

 

Image Credits: istockphoto

The Cookie Threat: Allergy Awareness In Kid’s Ministry

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Whenever I think back to my time in nursery or children’s church, I can’t remember much about the Sunday school teachers or the flannel graph lessons. Call me a heathen, but I remember snack time. Animal crackers or those generic-brand Oreos? I could take them or leave them. What I wanted were the ring butter cookies—they were snacks and accessories. And a couple times a month, every kid got a few of these golden goodies to eat (or wear), no questions asked.

With a sister who suffers from Celiac disease, I wonder what would happen if these gluten-filled treats got into the wrong little hands. Such food intolerances are a serious issue, but allergies could lead to significant medical problems or even death.

Allergy awareness has come a long way since I was a toddler, but many churches are still struggling to properly care for children with special dietary and health requirements.

The Facts

According to a 2009-2010 study, about 8% of children have a food allergy, and 38.7% of them have a history of severe allergic reactions. Those numbers seem to grow every year—approximately 50% between 1997 and 2011.

90% of all food allergies are attributed to eight foods: milk, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. Makes you rethink the choice of cheese crackers and chocolate chip cookies as the snack choice, doesn’t it?

Many children also suffer from allergies to non-food items like latex, medication, and creams you may be using in the nursery.

Even beyond allergies, specific medical needs can leave kid’s ministry a hotbed for potential danger.

The Concerns

The greatest concern, of course, is child safety. No ministry wants to see a child rushed to the emergency room because of an unknown health condition or an allergen-packed snack.

But beyond the immediate safety of children is the concern of their parents. They should be able to trust your staff and volunteers enough to feel comfortable leaving their vulnerable kids in their hands. You want them to be able to leave any concerns at the door so they can focus on worship, fellowship, and their own spiritual development. Especially when dealing with visiting families, you should show credibility in these areas so they keep coming back.

The liability of the church and its volunteers is also at stake when dealing with allergies and medical conditions. Should a child have a serious reaction, the church could face legal consequences—beyond the tragedy that a little one was harmed. A lack of awareness and one incident could be devastating to a ministry.

The Solutions

Although there are several things that could go wrong, churches can prepare and equip their people to deal with children’s medical issues.

Utilizing a check-in system that prints labels for children that can include allergies, medical needs, and any special instructions is one of the best ways to prevent any health scares. Parents won’t have to worry about personally telling every nursery worker about Billy’s soy allergy, and the critical information will follow him wherever he crawls. Ministry staff won’t need to keep a mental list of which kid has which allergy—they can simply check each label before handing off a treat.

Churches should also provide volunteers and staff with the proper training to understand allergies, intolerances, and other health concerns. Awareness is key. The problem is much more serious and sensitive than most people understand—just a trace of eggs or contact with peanuts could be enough to trigger a reaction. Make sure workers always double-check the labels for hidden ingredients—different brands of the same item can contain very different ingredients. Allergens find a way to sneak into most foods where you’d never expect to find them. Proper protocol may require more than one kind of snack available, and some churches are eliminating them altogether. Always require anyone who will be in contact with children to wash their hands, as cross-contamination can also lead to problems.

Being proactive is most important, but accidents happen. So learn to be reactive as well. Along with prevention training, ensure at least one volunteer or staff member in attendance knows how to administer epinephrine and CPR, and always keep first-aid supplies nearby. Develop an emergency response plan, and contact parents or guardians immediately after an incident occurs—never try to hide and solve the problem without involving them.

Get started with a church check-in system today and take advantage of some other great resources:

Allergies in the Classroom

Why Your Church Needs a Plan for Allergic Reactions

Food Allergy Basics

How Well Do You Know Your Church?

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When you’re part of a church plant or new multi-site campus, it’s pretty easy to remember the names of your 25 members, their kids, and how often they’re sitting in their usual spot in the third row on the left.

But as the church starts growing—and hopefully it does—keeping track of all the little details about your congregation becomes much more difficult.

Yet whether your church has 10 members or 10,000, people will expect your staff to be able to recite the names of their entire family and remember each ministry they’re involved with when you run into them at the grocery store.

While you can’t realistically remember the intimate details of every single church member, you can take advantage of technology to keep certain important information accessible at all times.

  • Who are they?

Not just their first names—do you know where their heart for ministry is? How old they are? Who their kids are? Having this information about your church community readily available in a database so you can access it when needed (like on your smartphone during that run-in at the grocery store) can be a great tool for your ministry. You can also keep their contact information and links to their social accounts so you can see what’s important to them. Something as small as sending them happy birthday email or card can be a great encouragement to your people.

  • Are they still attending?

Just because someone was among the original members of your church back in 1992 doesn’t mean you should assume he’s still coming to weekly services. Invest in a church check-insystem that automatically updates your database as people arrive. Look at what classes and events they’re attending and learn what’s important to them. If there’s a shift in attendance, you can then examine the data you’ve collected and determine who’s not coming and why that might be. If you’ve collected all the details, you can also look back at how long they’ve been attending, when they became members, where they came from, and much more. The more information you have available, the better you can lead and serve.

  • Are they giving?

If your church has doubled in size, but the offering totals each week have stayed the same, your church community may not be giving. Find out where the disconnect is. Of course money is not the main focus in a church. But bills still need to be paid and ministries still need to be funded. Especially when dealing with new Christians, they may not know what God’s Word says about giving—today’s culture is charitably benevolent, but have you addressed the concept of Biblical giving? Consider making it easier for them to make contributions with giving kiosks and mobile and online giving—and allow them to access their own financial records.

  • Are they connected?

It’s not difficult to slip into the habit of going to church on Sunday morning, saying hellos to the five people who typically sit in the same section, then go home and not interact with anyone from the church until next Sunday. But getting plugged in and fellowshipping with other believers is so important to the body of Christ. Keeping a record of what small groups—if any—your members are a part of will help you better understand your people and their spiritual growth. If they seem to be disengaged from your church community, how can you help them get better connected?

  • Are they actively involved?

Just as you want your church community to connect with each other, you also want them to actively participate—serve in the nursery, teach a Sunday school class, lead worship. Keep track of where your people are serving and make it easy for them to continue to volunteer. Take time to record where people would fit based on their gifts—someone with no technical knowledge may not be the best person to run your sound system, but might make a wonderful, friendly greeter. Based on people’s ministry strengths, you can actually reach out to them with specific service opportunities.

  • What are their needs?

When a believer is struggling in life—whether it be spiritually or financially or any other area—he should be able to go to the church (specifically leadership) for support and encouragement. Make it easy for people to share prayer request and seek out that support. Keep track of those needs and follow a system for dealing with them. Utilize functions like follow-ups to aide in the discipleship process.

 

Even in a small church, it would be practically impossible to remember each of these details about every single member. But you can utilize technology to keep track of all this information so you can access it whenever you need to. Check out how Elexio’s ChMS can help you know your church community better.

Visit these other great resources for more insight:

Do You Know Who Is in Your Church? (You May Be Surprised)
Are You Getting the Most out of Your Church Software?
Pastor, how well do you know your church?

 

Image Credits: istockphoto