"In identifying your VBS theme, you will take an important first step in laying the foundation and building excitement for your program!"
VBS: Deciding on a Theme
The Christmas pageant costumes are put away. Holy Week looms ahead on the church calendar. It’s hard to shift into Vacation Bible School mode, but in order to run a successful program, early planning is a must. One of your first tasks is to decide is the theme of your VBS program. But how to choose? And should you go with a pre-defined package or might you decide to create your own?
What Makes a Good Theme?
Some things to think about as you consider themes …
A theme provides an overarching structure or cohesion that ties ALL of your activities together. Just as importantly, a good theme is an accurate reflection of your parish. How does the theme connect back to your congregation? How does it fit into your church’s greater ministry goals?
A good theme provides opportunity to evolve, to expand, to transform, and to grow over the course of your program: participants won't finish where they started.
There is an element of creativity and openness in how children might live into this theme. If the theme is too rigid, we limit the potential for real spiritual growth and limit the impact of VBS to mere entertainment.
There is a broad spectrum of Christian understanding and teaching. The theology of your VBS theme needs to be consistent with your denomination’s theology. Not all themes will do a good job of illuminating your congregation's approach to scripture and ministry. We need to be clear and intentional in what we choose.
Types of Themes
The theme will be expressed in VBS over a series of sessions. How each session connects to the overall theme and to the other sequence of sessions depends on the type of theme. Some general types of themes are:
Linear/temporal themes - start at the beginning of the story and move through it in a temporal way, from beginning to end.
Character-driven themes - can be a story or stories from the perspective of a single-character or from the perspectives of a few characters.
Component themes - involve a predetermined number of segments such as 7 days of creation, 10 commandments, 4 gospels, etc., with each session representing one segment.
Literary or media-based themes - use a book, movie, or TV show as a means to illuminate the Gospel message.
Immersive themes - engage children in a world of creative play, imagining they are a jungle explorer, scientist, or an Olympic athlete and drawing Gospel lessons pertaining to that world.
Geographic/Historical themes - focus on an area/culture/time period/etc.
Activity-based themes - offer hands-on opportunities such as cooking, art, movie making, or gardening through which to experience and engage in the Gospel
The Right Theme for You
To determine what is the right theme, ask yourself what instinctively appeals to you? What is a story you want to tell, a lesson you want to teach, a question you want to answer? What is going on in your church right now? In your neighborhood? In the world?
How does your VBS theme fit into the overall goals and focus of children’s ministry at your church? Will it build on issues or topics you are exploring in other programming?
To determine a theme, you don’t need to have identified every Bible story, every craft and every song that will support that theme. But in identifying your theme, you will take an important first step in laying the foundation and beginning to build excitement for your VBS program!
Lisa Brown recently accepted a position as the Director of Digital Ministry with Membership Vision. Building on her work in Children’s Ministry and Communications at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh, PA, she helps churches connect to people and to God in the digital space. An active member of Forma and Girl Scout leader, Lisa is passionate about enriching the spiritual lives of people. Her book “The Best Do-It-Yourself VBS Workbook Ever” will be published in early 2017.
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