"VBS can be an opportunity to expand the number of adults connected to children’s ministry."
Building a Staff for VBS
VBS staffing is a chicken and egg question. Do you build a team of volunteers and thereby determine the number of children you can safely register? Or, do you set a registration goal (say 40 children), and then go about gathering enough volunteers to supervise this number?
Enlisting volunteers is rarely easy. It involves starting early, and blanketing your parish and community with written announcements through every media channel. Most importantly, it involves making personal face to face invitations. During these conversations, you can respond to questions and concerns. Volunteers are more willing to volunteer if you can accommodate them. For example, you may have to shift coverage for someone who needs to arrive late or leave early. You may decide to allow a volunteer to bring an infant or small child in order for them to participate. Accommodations, though logistically challenging, can result in more VBS volunteers and a greater connection between VBS and your parish.
Where to Invite Volunteers: Ideas for Pools
From what populations will you draw your staff? Think outside the box! Who are the adults and teens in your parish that are available and reliable? What times are volunteers available, and what commitment can you can ask of them? Are there any volunteer roles that do not involve being present onsite every day?
Existing children’s ministry volunteers & Sunday school teachers
If you have a strong pool of children’s ministry volunteers, certainly that’s a bonus. But turning to the usual group of “go-to” volunteers for VBS increases their risk of burnout. VBS is an excellent time to cast a wider net.
Teenagers are your secret weapon. Nothing is cooler to a little kid than a big kid. Middle-schoolers love being in charge of younger kids. True, they are goofy, can be silly, and need to be supervised themselves... But teens can be wonderful mentors and inspire faith connections in little kids in ways that adults simply cannot. Teens that are too young (or immature) to be responsible for younger children can be very successful leading craft activities, handling snacks, and leading songs. Find ways to not only assign them jobs, but to tap into their boundless creativity.
Adults who can’t make a long-term commitment during the program year
VBS can be an opportunity to expand the number of adults connected to children’s ministry. Adults unable to make longterm commitments during the program year may be available for a short-term VBS program.
Teachers and other professionals who have the summer off
Identify these folks in your congregation. True, they may need the break; but they might be willing to help plan, or offer resource suggestions.
Grandparents and other seniors in your parish
Make a point to specifically ask parents if there is a grandparent in the family who can volunteer. Often grandparents enjoy this connection to their grandchildren. Seniors in your parish might be enlisted to help with food or to provide snack items.
College students (from your parish/from nearby colleges offering teaching degrees)
Contact the placement offices of local colleges. If you have any funds available to create a stipend, could you cooperate with other churches to create a summer-long position? A college student might work for a different parish each week...
Baby-sitters and nannies who work for your parish families
If baby-sitters and nannies are already employed by your families and will be dropping children off at your VBS program, they might be willing to assist. Of course, you will have to coordinate this request with your families.
Can you create a VBS volunteer partnership? Reach out to other local parishes to share resources, or even offer a community VBS. Some church VBS partnerships have existed for years, with the program rotating from summer to summer to each of the different congregations. You will need some degree of agreement on theology/material presented, but what a great way to build relationships and work together for God’s kingdom.
Church staff: clergy, office and/or support staff
While these folks may not all be directly involved in leading VBS, you may be able to consider them as part of your ratio if these adults are willing to assist in the event of an emergency. Of course, discuss this with them, and do not assume that they will act in this capacity simply because they are in the building. Furthermore, if you are counting them as part of your ratio, make sure they will indeed be onsite during your program and not out to lunch or making pastoral calls.
How Many Staff do you Need?
When considering staffing needs it’s helpful to think in terms of ratios. Here are some general suggestions for target ratios. Keep in mind that the following chart refers to the adult in charge of a small group; each VBS activity area will have additional adult leaders.
|Age of Children||Number of Adults per||Number of Children|
|2 through 4||1||6|
|5 through 8||1||8|
|9 through 13||1||10|
|14 through 18||1||14|
Notes About Staff Numbers
- In groups of children under the age of 5, you should always have two adults present with the group, regardless of ratio. This ensures that there is always one adult supervising, even when one child needs undivided attention.
- These guidelines assume you are in a contained space. In a more public space, with greater access, you will need additional adults.
- Modify these guidelines depending on your activities. Water-based activities (even wading pools) will increase the number of adults, as will any activities involving vehicular transportation or supervising children in an open or public space.
- A group of older children may not require two adults at all times. As long as other adults are in close proximity, and within hearing/seeing distance. This depends on your space and your situation.
- Remember, even older teen helpers are still minors. In the event of an emergency, they would need an adult.
- It always a good idea to have additional adults on hand to fill in as a group leader in case of emergency.
A Final Caution
Safety and sufficient adult staffing cannot be stressed enough. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. You may encounter a well-meaning adult helper who reassures you, “I can handle that many children by myself - I don’t need anyone else.” You need to gently explain that staffing is not about what someone can handle, but about safety precaution and the liability you assume when caring for children. Do not take on more children than you have adults to supervise.
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” was published in 2017.