This Summer We Took VBS “On Location”


“Families spent time doing the crafts and talking about the Bible story at home. While the length of camp time was shortened, the faith formation time lengthened – a win all around!”


Taking VBS Outside the Box
St. Paul’s is a vibrant, historic parish whose VBS participation had become so small we cancelled it the past two years. No scheduling changes – time of day, length of program, or week of the summer – seemed to make a difference to these dwindling numbers.

This year we did something completely different: we brought our entire VBS off-site and “on location!” Yes, it took coordination and lots of pre-planning, but what program doesn’t? Our good news is in our numbers: we had 15 children and six adults participate. The total cost for this year’s program (drinks, admission prices, supplies for take home crafts) was a little less than what we have spent on previous years’ programs.

VBS On Location
Our VBS met Monday through Wednesday from 10:00-1:00 pm, with families meeting us each day at a different location. Children ranged in age from 3 to 10. Participants brought their lunch, and St. Paul’s provided drinks with a special treat at the end of each day. Two of our sites charged an entrance fee, so the church subsidized the cost.

Day One: Our first day was at Norfolk Botanical Gardens for the Godly Play Creation Story. We spent time in the butterfly garden where the children could hold many different types of butterflies. We listened to the story on a shady boardwalk. Finally, we spent time together in the children’s section where they were able to get wet and participate in some fun garden crafts. As families left, each child received a bag to take home and decorate, using the fabric markers provided. Also inside were craft kits to emphasize the Creation Story. I suggested crafts be done sometime that afternoon or evening as a family.

Creation Story at the Botanical Gardens


Day Two: The second day we met at an environmental center where the children and parents heard the Moses in the Bulrushes story. They spent time swimming and had a tour of the environmental center. I switched up my original plan as I found it worked better to let the children swim first, take the tour, hear the story and then swim some more. Each child received a zip top bag with two Moses crafts to do at home.

Moses in the Bullrushes and swimming


Day Three: The third day we went to the Zoo. We had planned to hear the Noah story. Unfortunately we had a heat advisory that day. In communicating with parents beforehand, we decided to go anyway but not hear the story – too long and too hot. The children were able to get wet in the fountains and as we walked around the zoo, we talked about Noah. Children received a zip top bag with several craft items (an animal face mask, a small water animal toy and a Noah’s ark with animal stickers to place on the ark).

The story of Noah and the Ark at the Zoo.


Final Gathering: We will have one more get-together, which will be a beach day at a parishioner’s home. We’ll hear the Godly Play Jonah story, we’ll all swim in the Chesapeake Bay, and the church will provide pizza and drinks.

Unexpected Benefits
Setting up an off-site VBS took coordination and prior planning, as well as families who were willing to think outside of the box. That said, the benefits were unexpected and fabulous! Parents told me they loved it because there seemed to be less time commitment and thus less stress. Our VBS combined the summer fun of a trip to the Zoo with faith formation, allowing families to feel as though they could pop in.

Families spent time with their children doing the crafts and talking about the Bible story at home. While the length of camp time was shortened, the faith formation time lengthened – a win all around! Finally, parents loved getting to know one another and want to continue to meet on a monthly basis doing some type of activity together. How wonderful for each of us to meet one another, learn about those we didn’t know, and form community. With little to lose, thinking outside the VBS box provided multiple opportunities to grow.


Vicky W. Koch is the Director of Children and Youth Ministry at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Norfolk, VA, content manager for our church Facebook page and a Certified Spiritual Director. She is a widow and has two children and two grandchildren and recently completed the Camino Ingles.

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6 Responses to “This Summer We Took VBS “On Location””

  1. Kim Lyon says:

    Again, what a splendid idea! Problem is, though, for us, the number of volunteers is down. We usually get a fair number of children, though. I love the idea of going on location and will bring this before the worship committee as a possibility for next year. Thank you!

  2. Janae says:

    I love the idea of VBS in different locations. What kind of advertising was done to reach those families? Did you conclude with invitations to return to the church at any point? Any additional information you can share would be helpful! Thank you.

  3. Carolyn Chilton says:

    Great idea! And hi Vicky!!

  4. Vicky Koch says:


    I had a committee made up of several families who helped spread the word. I also put an article in our newsletter, in our weekly newsletter and in our bulletin.

    And I emailed my Sunday school teachers (many of them fall into the age bracket for VBS) letting them know about our different VBS.

    I thought telling the story first would be great because the kids would be scattered and would have difficulty paying attention. The second day we told the story after swimming and taking a tour of the environmental center, basically it was the third thing for that day. It was much better telling it after they had some fun! They could pay attention, respond to the wonder questions and expanded on the story.

    And parents are planning an outing for September and hoping more parents will be able to join them. They loved getting to know one another. It is about community.

    Let me know if you have more questions. I’d love to answer them.

  5. Vicky Koch says:


    Hi back. I learned from the best. Hope things are well at Grace & Holy Trinity.


  6. Vicky Koch says:


    How wonderful that you’re going to bring it before your worship committee. You never know what might happen or how a program may grow until you try.

    And you may attract more young families too.

    If you have any question, please send me an email at vkoch@stpaulsnorfolk.org. I’d love the opportunity to respond.


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