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Explore These Options for Vacation Bible School

By Scott Spradley

Stock girl sitting in church pew vacation bible school vbs

Spring is in the air. As the flowers begin to bloom, they suggest the warmth of summer days ahead. This is the perfect time to “spring” into your plans for the summer months, which includes preparing for vacation Bible school (VBS).

Vacation Bible school is an excellent opportunity to connect with the community around your church (outreach) and provide powerful Christian education for children. VBS offers children and volunteers the opportunity to share stories from the Bible through a variety of learning styles, such as music, games, and crafts so that families can discover how to live life like Jesus. VBS also creates growing relationships and allows children to make new friends and strengthen the friendships they already have. VBS provides an opportunity to share in fun faith formation activities and missional service projects for the entire faith community.

In Luke’s Gospel, we are reminded of Jesus’ maturation, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, and in divine and human favor” (Luke 2:52 NRSV).

Children also grow in wisdom as they experience lessons from the Bible, in divine favor as they learn about God and God’s love for them, and in life skills. Vacation Bible school offers ample intergenerational opportunities as well. Adult volunteers benefit by learning (and telling) the stories from the Bible well enough to teach them. Youth and active teenagers have opportunities to learn what it means to serve as they volunteer.

Once you have decided that you will host a VBS, the next step is selecting the right curriculum. This article offers a few examples of the importance of finding the right vacation Bible school curriculum.

  • Research the community around your church and its summer schedule. These days, churches compete with many activities that could affect your VBS program. The summer months are continually shrinking, making opportunities for weeklong VBS more challenging.
  • Be creative as you plan your event. Perhaps even offer a less traditional format than a Monday–Friday program.
  • VBS resources are available in several formats that can be offered in a variety of approaches. Summer is filled with sports events, school-sponsored camps, and other programs that rapidly fill the calendars of children and adult volunteers.
  • Communicate with other area churches to see what weeks they are planning to offer their VBS programs to ensure there is no overlap in dates, as community children may spend the summer VBS-hopping, getting involved in all surrounding opportunities.
  • Partner/collaborate with other churches in your community to offer VBS.
  • Find ways to make your VBS experience unique, exciting, and life-changing for all involved.

When selecting a curriculum, look for an engaging VBS program that involves learning in various ways. (See “Who Am I as a Teacher?”). Be willing to go the extra mile to make it exciting and reflect the context in which you serve. Making connections within your community will allow you the opportunity to invite visitors to return to church after the completion of VBS.

To make VBS special and unique, use the following checklist to assess curricula as you compare VBS resources. The following checklist, created by Discipleship Ministries, is presented to provide basic doctrinal and practical guidance in evaluating curricula.

Even if a resource or curriculum meets all the following criteria from the checklist, it does not guarantee effective facilitation. This checklist cannot replace the need for training of leaders and facilitators. While training leaders for VBS, find ways to make the experience for participants something that they would not experience at any other vacation Bible school in their community. How can you use the curriculum to make a lasting impact on a participant’s life?

Also, note that the curriculum should not be automatically rejected if it doesn’t meet all the criteria on the checklist. This resource is intended to give leaders flexibility in implementing curriculum to their audience and ministry context. Finally, all curricula should be supplemented and taught in a way that is in line with basic United Methodist doctrine and practice.

Use this checklist in your planning stages. As you select the curriculum, have church leaders read and review the curriculum and activities before the promotion of vacation Bible school. Find ways to weave the curriculum used for VBS into other aspects of church life; include praise and worship songs during worship; offer sermons around the same themes and find other ways to make this an intergenerational church approach.

DOWNLOAD United Methodist Curricula Checklist (PDF)

To help you begin selecting the best vacation Bible school curriculum for your church, the following provides a few examples of the diversity of vacation Bible school experiences that are newly published for the 2024 season.

Cokesbury VBS

Cokesbury VBS’s approach to program development is:


Cokesbury develops VBS (vacation Bible school) resources that present a perspective that specifies three types of grace: prevenient grace, which is God's active presence in people's lives before they even sense the divine at work in their lives; justifying grace, through which all sins are forgiven by God; and sanctifying grace, which allows people to grow in their ability to live like Jesus.

Bible Story Focused

The Bible story is the star of the Cokesbury Kids’ VBS programs: From assembly time to recreation and even snack time, students will connect with the Bible story and be invited to remember and reflect on the story and how they might respond to the truths it holds and the lessons they are learning.

Child-Centric Approach

Cokesbury designs VBS programs from the perspective that children are designed uniquely and wonderfully by God and that children connect with and hear from God and can engage in spiritual practices. It is the work of the educator/guide to come alongside children as they discover who God designed them to be and how, as unique creations of God, they might respond to the Bible story and live out the truths each story offers.

Invitational Throughout the Experience

We’ve encountered some misconceptions that our materials do not “share the gospel” because we don’t have a one-time planned event in our programming for a commitment to Christ. However, each session includes multiple opportunities for the children to reflect on the Bible story and key lessons to consider how they might respond to God, to others, and out in the world. For churches that would like guidance on how to approach shepherding a child through a profession of faith in Christ, we provide some help in the Director Guide in a section called “Discipleship Opportunities at VBS.” For students who have already professed their faith in Christ, there are multiple daily invitations to live out that faith. These can be found specifically in the Bible Storyteller, the Reflection Leader Guide, and in what we often refer to as Bible Tie-ins in the other stations.

Adaptable for Multiple Settings and Timeframes

The Director Guide walks leaders through multiple ways of designing and scheduling VBS to fit the time, resources, and schedules of individual churches.

For the summer of 2024, Cokesbury has two standard VBS programs available and three One Room VBS Digital Download Kits.

Standard VBS Programs for 2024 (Ultimate Starter Kits available for $249.99, Digital Access Kit available for $199.99)

Camp Firelight VBS is based on Psalm 56:3 (CEB): “Whenever I’m afraid, I put my trust in you.” This verse reminds us that we can trust God no matter what challenges we face in life. Camp Firelight invites us to trust in God in every situation, including times when we are afraid. Surrounded by water, trees, and rolling hills, Camp Firelight is the perfect location for every camper’s favorite summer activities! During each assembly session, campers join first-time camp counselors Sam and Lu (short for Lumen), the lightning bug puppet, and learn to face their fears while trusting in God. Each day, campers see Counselor Sam face new challenges from leading campers on a hike to meeting a new and wise nature expert. With the help of Lu the Lightning Bug and the Camp Counselor Guidebook, Counselor Sam and our campers explore timeless Bible stories that show how Old and New Testament figures trusted God in the face of their own fears and went on to do great things in God’s name. Through these stories, this program will teach us about people in the Bible who experienced the gift of a trusting relationship with God, and it will teach us to trust God to go with us, to lead the way, to share wisdom, to give us peace, and to spark joy as we celebrate the good news of Jesus in our own lives and in the lives of others. We will also learn ways we can connect with and put our trust in God whenever we are afraid, challenged, or called to do God’s work in the world and share the good news of God’s love through Jesus Christ. Here’s how each session highlights the ways we can put our trust in God through Bible heroes who modeled trust in challenging times:

  • In Session 1, God Goes with Jacob, campers discover that even as we face the fear of the unknown and the possibilities of aloneness like Jacob, we can put our trust in God to go with us on the journeys where God leads us.
  • In Session 2, Ruth Chooses to Go, campers learn the story of Ruth choosing to stay with Naomi and follow her back to Bethlehem. Campers ponder the ways we can trust and see God leading in our own lives and the lives of others.
  • In Session 3, Young Jesus Shares Wisdom, campers are invited to consider how we, like young Jesus, can begin our journey of pursuing God’s wisdom and trust God to share wisdom that will go with us throughout our lives.
  • In Session 4, Jesus Calms the Storm, campers learn that, like Jesus, we can ask God for peace during the storms that crash against our lives and know that God is with us through it all.
  • In Session 5, the Good News Sparks Joy, campers are invited to consider how, like Philip, we can respond to God’s love and grace and share it with others and how we can trust God to spark joy in our lives as we live out this key part of our discipleship.

DOWWNLOAD Comparison Color Chart (PDF)

Hero Hotline VBS is based on Romans 14:19 (CEB): “So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up.” This verse reminds us that God calls us to be part of a community, and working to bring peace to the world is something we are all called to do together.

Here’s how Hero Hotline helps heroes work together to bring peace and build one another up:

The Hero Hotline Headquarters is a secret place where heroes go to help solve problems called in by other heroes out in the community. At Hero Hotline, everyone’s gifts are valued, and each hero has a role to play. Heroes receive a call/assignment each day from the Professor and Super Meer to help solve a problem that other heroes in the community are facing. Heroes will then explore the Bible lesson and database of the Hero Hotline to discover how heroes can work together to bring peace. Peace comes from God, and as God’s people, we are called to share that peace with the world. We work together, help one another, and encourage one another because God has called us to live in community and fellowship. We all can strive, in both expected and unexpected ways, to bring peace, love, and justice to the world.

Here’s how each session will highlight the ways we can work together as a team to strive for peace and build one another up:

  • In Session 1, Jesus Builds the Team, heroes recognize that we are all a part of the family of God by our faith in Jesus. Just as the disciples were called to follow Jesus, we are also called to follow and be a part of his team.
  • In Session 2, Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam: God’s Wonder Women, heroes learn that our faith in God calls us to help others in need and stand up for what is right. Just like Shiphrah, Puah, and Miriam stood up against the injustices of the Pharaoh, we can speak up for those who need help.
  • In Session 3, Jethro Mentors Moses, heroes learn they can’t go at it alone! Just like Moses took his father-in-law’s advice to build a team of people to help share the load, we too can look to mentors and friends to work alongside us to do what God has called us to do.
  • In Session 4, the Magnificent Magi, heroes discover that God speaks to and directs us in many ways. Just like the magi were directed by a star and a dream, we can receive God's words and direction when we pay attention to the Bible, creation, the people God puts in our lives, and so many other ways.
  • In Session 5, Unexpected Heroes Give Paul a Basket Ride, heroes learn to find ways to show grace to others. Paul’s story began with grace being offered to him, both from Jesus and from some of the other disciples. People who once didn’t like Paul helped him to safety! We too can offer grace to those around us.

DOWNLOAD Comparison Color Chart (PDF)

One Room VBS Programs Available in 2024:

One Room VBS is perfect for churches that want to offer VBS but don’t have a large number of kids or volunteers. It can be done with as few as two leaders in just one room with ages 5-12. Each of the five sessions includes a Bible Story, Science, an Active Learning Option, Recreation, Crafts, and Music. One Room VBS curriculum is easy for churches to customize!

One Room VBS programs are written so that churches can put the programs on without purchasing theme-specific craft kits and other theme-specific items. Most activities can be done using items that can be found in your church supply closet or in discount or crafts stores.

There are downloadable digital One Room VBS Kits for the following programs:

  • Camp Firelight 9781771029432 $89.99
  • Hero Hotline 9781791027551 $89.99
  • Food Truck Party 9781791024598 $89.99

One Room VBS Kits include the following:

  • One Room VBS Leader Guide
  • Complete Music CD files (includes instrumental music and PowerPoint lyrics)
  • Bible Adventure Video DVD/CDROM files (includes Bible story videos, trivia videos, full assembly script)
  • Younger Reproducible Fun Pages
  • Older Reproducible Fun Pages
  • Small Promotional Poster

Scott Spradley is the Director of Cokesbury Kids at United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville, Tennessee.

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