Inadequate. That is the feeling that overwhelms you.
It is so easy to get discouraged when you are a small church with a smaller budget (or non-existent budget) and you look at what those with a larger budget are doing. You see the pictures of the little faces filled with joy at the activities that a budget can provide.
Inadequacy is quickly followed by guilt for being ungrateful for what resources God has given you. And then the discouragement again. Why do they have so many possibilities and you have so few resources?
Here are some suggestions for making VBS happen for your kids and community when you are faced with a teeny tiny budget.
Use an older theme
As awesome as it would be to use the most current theme, that isn’t the best use of your resources. Often you can find another church willing to donate curriculum from a previous year for the cost of shipping. Share your need on a children’s ministry facebook group or another network you have. Search for “Kidmin Resources Online Yard Sale” on facebook. If you post in a facebook group, be sure that you are following the guidelines of that particular group.
Be willing to be flexible on what theme you use. But do your research, does that curriculum match your doctrinal beliefs? Will it clearly present the gospel? If it isn’t the most user-friendly curriculum, are you able to support your volunteers well as they use it? If it isn’t ancient (think 5-7 years or more), search for some reviews online for it before you commit.
When planning on a tight budget, everything must go through a fine sieve to determine if it is worth spending precious dollars on to make it happen.
Begin by asking God to give you wisdom as you decide how to spend the money that has been entrusted to you for VBS. James 1:5-8 instructs us to ask for wisdom boldly and expectantly.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
James 1:5-8, ESV
Be confident that the God who entrusted you to care for this program and use the budget wisely, will, in fact, give you the wisdom to do both when you ask.
Once you have confidently prayed for wisdom, work through your schedule or program plan. Make a list of resources you think that you will need for each activity or event scheduled.
Are you doing crafts? List out all the supplies that you will need for each craft. Are you doing a games rotation? List the supplies that you will need for games. Are you providing snacks? Will you ask for cookie donations? Or purchase snacks? Don’t forget things like napkins and cups.
*Tip: List everything…even if you already have those items. You can then divide your mega list into smaller lists such as “Things to gather,” “Things to purchase,” or “Items to ask for.” Why go through your lists multiple times when you can divide and multi-task!
Next, consider the other essentials that you will need for VBS. Can you imagine doing VBS without nametags? If your VBS is just for the kids at your church, then you can probably get away without having nametags. But if you are inviting the community, nametags are a must! But before your heart sinks and you think that you need to add lanyards, name badge holders, and inserts to your list, think outside the box a little. Is there someone at your church who has a Cricut and loves to make things? What about a cardstock nametag with some yarn or a safety pin to match your theme?
Here are some other details to consider…
- Crayons, markers, scissors
- Check curriculum to see if it requires any odd supplies that you might not have on hand
- Printing cost if you don’t have your own copier…it is amazing what you will need to print for VBS. If you are looking for suggestions, check out the 21 things that I print for every VBS
Once you have a good list of required resources, go through the list again and research the estimated cost of your supplies. This is super easy to do online. Does your projected cost match your budget? If not, go through your list again and condense supplies. Or evaluate the activities that you desire to do. Can you substitute something else for the more expensive items? Or can you modify your activities to make it work for your budget. If you can’t, it is okay to change your activity.
Be sure to leave yourself a little cushion in your budget for unexpected needs. You will run out of painter’s tape when you are decorating or you will have forgotten to get pencils. Or you will have not calculated your needs accurately.
Love Volunteers Well
Volunteers are the hands and feet that make your VBS possible. It is vital that you love your volunteers well – especially when your budget feels like it is nonexistent. So often we think that we can only serve and treat volunteers when we spend a little money to get them a gift.
Volunteers are grateful when you step out of the norm and provide something special for them. But that doesn’t have to look like a gift card to Starbucks for each person. It can be as simple as a pitcher of sweet tea and a special room set aside for them. Do you have some great bakers in your church? Ask them to make a special treat for your volunteers to serve with that sweet tea.
You have let your volunteers know that you value them and their service. And that you appreciate them.
Another way to love your volunteers well on a small budget is to communicate clearly with them. When you outline exactly what you expect from them, when to do it, and how, volunteers feel well equipped to serve in the role that you have assigned them. There is a delicate balance here, though, be aware of the trap of micromanaging volunteers.
There is a delicate balance here, though, be aware of the trap of micromanaging volunteers. Don’t set up so many detailed expectations that you cease allowing your volunteers to use their creative gifts in their roles.
Be realistic with your expectations of yourself, volunteers, and church as you put on your VBS program. Recognize that your VBS is going to look different than the VBS from the church who has the huge VBS budget. And that is okay.
Be realistic with your decorations. You don’t have to have huge and elaborate stage pieces to have a successful VBS program. You don’t have to have every inch of all the wall space decorated. A few tasteful decorations and loving your volunteers is a better balance than a huge set and not seeking to serve your volunteers. It is okay to have basic decorations…or no decorations at all.
Be realistic with your activities. You might not be able to use the curriculum exactly as written. Your budget may not allow for you to purchase the supplies needed for the activities. You may not be able to purchase student pages or kits or whatever your curriculum has for students. And that is okay.
Be realistic with prizes. You don’t have to have prizes or giveaways at all. Kids aren’t coming to VBS because they are getting a piece of candy. Kids are coming to your VBS because there are adults who are willing to spend a couple hours each day with them. Kids are coming because they know that you care about them. It is okay to not have prizes.
Be realistic with crafts. Feel free to do crafts. Or feel free to not do crafts. This is a little VBS secret…you don’t have to have crafts to have VBS! If you just can’t afford to do them or do them well, it is okay to not have crafts.
Join with another church to put on your VBS. Just be sure that you share similar doctrine so you are comfortable with what is being taught. Or reach out to see if there are any other churches who are using the same curriculum you are. Can you share any supplies?
Or is there a church who did your theme last year and still has some resources? It is worth exploring those options. Join a kidmin facebook group and put your question out there.
These are just a few ideas for planning a VBS with a small budget. Don’t allow your limited resources to discourage you so much that you would choose not to do VBS. Some creative thinking and planning will still allow you to have an outstanding program where lives are changed for all eternity.
What are your favorite tips for small budget VBS planning? Leave a comment below to help us all!