For Carolyn Kersten, the Strategic Leader of Growth at Trinity Church, Vacation Bible School (VBS) is the highlight of her summer. It’s 20 hours of summer fun and teaching God’s love in one week. But those 20 hours are just the tip of the iceberg for Carolyn, who has to spend countless hours getting the event ready each year. Why does she do it? Because those 20 hours together could be more time than leaders would see a child for the whole rest of the year.
In this episode of Moving Mountains, Carolyn shares wisdom from over 16 years of running VBS to show God’s love, teach God’s truth, and make a lifelong impact.
Starting + Organizing Vacation Bible School
Vacation Bible School often evokes memories of silly songs and popsicle-stick crosses as kids learn and grow in their faith. But it’s a big responsibility with many moving parts, so strong leaders and volunteers are essential. Carolyn encourages recruiting leadership roles in January and February. Whether she was looking for a leader or a volunteer, she says that God consistently provides. Over her 16 years, Carolyn has found rock-solid volunteers and has also spent time searching for new leaders when life circumstances prevent previous volunteers from being able to serve again.
Prior to 2020, VBS at Trinity Church had 1000 kids enrolled, which created a demand for a lot of volunteers. With a need for 200-300 people to serve, Carolyn says that VBS provides an opportunity for people of all ages, interests, and abilities to get involved. Not everyone wants to or is able to work directly with kids, but they still want to serve. All it takes is some creative thinking.
There’s a place for everybody to volunteer: prep work, one-on-one time with kids, playing music, sports, bringing snacks, or helping with technology. She has worked with volunteers who meet year-round to prep curriculum, cut materials, and bag snacks.
Streamlining VBS With Technology
Technology can make all the difference when planning, recruiting, and executing your church’s Vacation Bible School program, and Carolyn shares her favorite ChMS features:
With the Needs feature, Group Members can create requests that others can fulfill. Carolyn uses Needs to encourage snack donations for kids and volunteers. She says, “If you want to serve jello to 800 kids, it just takes some math.” Whether it’s boxes of jello or craft supplies, leaders can think through specific needs and create requests for reasonable parts people would be willing to donate – like three boxes of jello or four packs of glue sticks.
Other features that streamline VBS for Carolyn are Forms and Process Queues. With the framework in place, students can register by filling out a form and then be assigned to classrooms for VBS. And for volunteers, Carolyn notes that she uses Process Queues for recruiting volunteers and running background checks. Trinity Church”couldn’t do it without a system like what Pushpay provides.”
And with the curveball that 2020 brought, the team were able to make quick pivots because the framework and technology were already in place. Instead of hosting VBS inside their building, they transitioned to Trinity at Home, where volunteers could host VBS in their backyards. Carolyn heard volunteers describe it as a “beautiful time for connecting with neighbors and kids’ friends.”
Innovating VBS For Middle Schoolers
Students in fifth through seventh grade have a blast, literally. Their VBS program, called The Blast, offers all kinds of unique opportunities to make it cooler, like a live band and their choice of electives. These electives are all provided by families in the community, and offer activities like archery, group games, drama, woodworking, and sewing.
One of Carolyn’s favorite electives came from thinking creatively. After she noticed her friend Becky posting beautifully decorated cakes on Facebook, Carolyn asked her to lead that as an elective. Becky’s response was enthusiastic, as baking and decorating was her thing, and she never imagined using that to serve at church. And when Becky was no longer able to serve at VBS, two sisters who ran a baking business were able to step into that role.
It’s unique, creative electives like these that keep busy middle school students engaged and excited about VBS.
The Ripple Effect of Vacation Bible School
Vacation Bible School doesn’t end after seventh grade for Trinity Church. Students come back and serve as leaders and teachers, investing their time in an experience that blessed them, creating a ripple effect. They are the heartbeat of VBS for Caroyln, and one of her favorite stories of hope is Benji.
Benji, the youngest of six kids, lost his mom suddenly when he was two. His aunt filled the maternal role in his life and his siblings’ lives. One of the ways she invested in her nieces and nephews was to enroll them in VBS every summer, despite not being members of Trinity Church.
Now, as a junior in high school, Benji leads the music team and is a student leader in the church’s youth group. Benji acknowledges that he had many people pouring into him over the years and that “VBS is a powerful consistent rock in his life.”
Even though he’s aged out of attending VBS, Benji still spends his summer at VBS, now as a volunteer. And his life wasn’t the only one impacted by VBS. The ministry rippled outward, and now his aunt and uncle have become members of the church. The summers spent at VBS grew Benji’s faith, which ultimately inspired his aunt and uncle to get more involved. And the best news is that Benji is one story out of the thousands of children encouraged by VBS, experiencing unconditional love, and learning God’s truth.
Stepping into VBS
Carolyn jokes that one of her Christmas presents each year is starting planning VBS in December. As early as 6-7 months before VBS is running, Carolyn is planning and starting the planning process. But while there’s a lot to dive into, she offers the encouragement “There is so much flexibility to VBS, and it fills a super important need.” Carolyn teamed up with her sister, Katie, to create a process for listeners about where to start. You can access that process here.
Stream this episode of our Moving Mountains Podcast to hear Carolyn’s heart for children’s ministry and how impactful VBS is.