How To Do Vacation Bible School On A Tiny Budget

Some churches budget thousands of dollars for their annual Vacation Bible School program. But many smaller churches struggle to find the resources to support VBS. Here are some ideas for doing your Vacation Bible School without a lot of money. You should also check out our free curriculum for VBS.

Partner With Another Church’s VBS

Sometimes the best use of VBS money is to partner with another church (or churches) in your town to do a “Community Vacation Bible School.” There are some downsides to this in terms of safety and specific evangelistic outreach, but good planning can overcome those issues. The added challenges in planning will require a good director who can work with a team to pull it off.

Reuse Curriculum From Another Church’s VBS

Why not ask a church if you can use their materials after Bible school is over? This can work very well if you plan your VBS in July, while their’s is in June. If you have time, go and volunteer at their Bible school to see hands on how the program works. Our church makes plans to pass on our materials every year. It’s become a tradition to count how many churches get to use our props and curriculum.

Plan Easy Crafts

Aside from curriculum, craft supplies can be a major expense. If you keep the crafts minimal there is a potential to save. Don’t be too cheap, but skip the expensive craft kits that some of the publishers sell.

Ask For Simple Snack Donations

In most cases, you shouldn’t have to budget for snacks. Ask volunteers or church members to donate paper goods, cookies and other durable snacks. Even drink mixed can be donated by VBS supporters or local businesses. Kids love snacks, and usually are just happy with simple and inexpensive options.

Find A Donor To Underwrite VBS

If the church budget can’t cover the expenses, look for individual donors or business to sponsor your vacation Bible school. A few hundred dollars can make a huge difference to make your Bible school a success. Make sure you thank them publicly (if they don’t mind) and send a thank you card signed by the kids.

Another option would be to have the church take a special offering for Vacation Bible school. This may be effective in smaller churches that don’t have an annual budget. Pastoral support is essential to make this happen, so be sure your minister understands how important proper funding is for running Bible school.

Only Buy The Minimum VBS Elements

Most VBS programs allow you to buy a starter kit and then optional components separately. Often you can get by without all the fancy extras. This is something to look for when you choose a curriculum. Some require materials for every learner, while others let you make do with only the teacher’s guides. I still struggle to spend money on buying the themed t-shirts. Fortunately, our craft people have the children make custom shirts. These are about 1/3 the price and have more keepsake value for the families.

Ask For More Budget Next Year

It may be too late for this year, but why not ask for a budget increase next year? Even in small churches, the people will recognize VBS as the flagship program for children’s outreach. As soon as Bible school is over, draft a budget for the next year and take it to the pastor and finance people. The timing is important because VBS is often just a memory by the Fall when the budget committee crunches their numbers. If you can get them to agree in theory that more money would help, then it should make budget process easier when the time actually comes.

How does your church save money?

Our church is very generous toward the children’s ministry and give above what we need. So if you have more ideas to share I would love to hear them. If you have experience running VBS on a small budget, leave a comment below.

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Comments

  1. Sydnee says

    The summer of 2012 was my first time (co)directing – or even staffing – a VBS program. We (my co-director and myself) had between 30 and 40 kids attend, grades K-3. With a bit of help from our church, we pulled off the entire program for around $200.
    My best money-saving tip? Write your own curriculum! It may sound daunting, especially if you have never done it before, but I promise, it’s well worth the investment! You can customize the entire program to your church’s needs. Start thinking and praying early (about 5-6 months in advance or more, if you can) about what your theme should be, pick your theme verse, and what stories and points you will use to emphasize this theme each day. Then, think about how you want to teach each story, and go from there. If you are like me and don’t have little to no experience writing curriculum or teaching in a classroom setting, ask those in your church who do have experience for help, such as an elementary school teacher or even a Sunday school teacher.
    Another good way to save money on a VBS program is to customize the crafts or other objects kids use/take home to your budget (i.e. pick things kids can have fun with, but that are also dirt cheap to buy). For example, one of the crafts we had were sugar cube castles, made with sugar cubes and school glue. Kids also used ‘special binoculars’ made out of donated toilet paper rolls, scotch tape, and yarn to ‘discover God in nature.’ As the article suggests, ask for snack donations from your church congregation via a list where people can sign up to donate items. But don’t be afraid to ask for other needed things. See if your church already has craft materials they would let you use for your VBS program. Ask about using items for games that are already available at your church. Getting involved and asking if our church had these kinds of things saved us a LOT of money, time, and effort!
    If you decide to go the adventurous route of writing your own curriculum/program to save money, I highly recommend and encourage you to do so. Try to think of themes that would be easy to decorate or customize at your VBS location. For example, if you are holding VBS at a summer camp-like location, you could easily do a theme on nature, going on a treasure hunt (like pirates), or building your house on a firm foundation (wise and foolish builders). I hope this helps everyone. :)

  2. Wiz says

    Hello! This is our first year our church is staring with the VBS and I have been chosen as the Director. I don’t any clue where to begin…. I beleive that has a plan and he will show me the way. Can anyone provides me with some ideas please. I need help please.

    • Michellen Peterson says

      Do you have a church budget for vbs? Do you have a VBS theme in mind?? If you don’t have a theme in mind Lifeway has some good themes this year. and as others have said, if you church doesn’t have a budget for VBS or not much of one anyway… Ask for snack donations, and search our people within your congregation who are good at different tasks… Like for instance, Our snack people during VBS are either the cooks in our congregation and they are usually paired up with a couple of women who are moms that express interest in helping with snacks… The Rec portion we usually use a couple of younger men who don’t mind getting wet, or can get kids excited about participating. For crafts, we have some of the same ladies do it every year, who have shown creativity in projects throughout the year, or some ladies who have expressed interest in helping with crafts as well. for music, the music leader at your church is one of the best people (in my opinion) to ask. Along with some active teens!! or recent high school graduates! :) We have a Lady who does a lot with missions at our church, so she is the one who handles the missions part every year! My main advice is, if this is your first year… Ask for help!! maybe from a past director, or talk to the congregation before or after a service on Sunday and say HEY!! After church NEXT Sunday we are holding a meeting for VBS for input, as well as, maybe to get some volunteers in planning as well as putting on the VBS!!

      Sorry if I have jumped from place to place, I could talk about VBS all day long (if someone would let me! ;) Please feel free to email me with any questions, either to explain something in more detail, or if you just have any more questions! :)

      Hope this helped
      Michellen

      michellen_peterson@yahoo.com

  3. Audrey says

    These comments are incredibly valuable. We have been holding an ecumenical VBS for over 20 years now, and we have new leadership which presents its own challenges. I have found the typical “kits” which can be purchased to be too restrictive and detail oriented for our leaders and students. I feel that I can glean bits and pieces from each of these comments and create a great program with a specific theme and work from there. Our problem is recruiting volunteers. Asking for volunteers in the Sunday bulletins, and even face-to-face does not garner results. How have you had success in recruiting volunteers?

  4. Elizabeth (children's church pastor) says

    We are a small church and this year we are using 5 lessons from our children church program from Young Explorers. We are going to run it like a children’s church at night but have the whole family stay and not break it up into different age groups. We will have songs, object lesson, skit (live or puppet), game, Bible lesson, game, object lesson to recap Bible lesson and closing announcements and pray.

    • Elizabeth (children's church pastor) says

      This way we will not have to worry about crafts. We will have a vbs store for the kids to shop with their Bible bucks which they can get by coming, bringing friends, memorizing verses, and other times through the time of the lesson. Our theme is “Being on God’s Team”. This is the first time I am having the whole family stay and not just the kids. Any suggestion?

  5. Sonja Thomas (Youth Director/Sunday School Teacher says

    great comments! this is my 3rd year w/VBS. its exciting to know that these children never forget you. any time you work for God, He is already working for you. He’s awsome. VBS for our small church will begin in two weeks. Our theme is “Jesus to the Rescue”. If there is anyone who has ideas or decor’s for this theme, I’d greatly appreciate it. God Bless each of you.

    • Elizabeth (children's church pastor) says

      I think you should have a ship theme. Use life preservers and ship decorations. Have a ship made out of a refrigerator box. Use paper towel tubes as a spy glass to seek where God is working. Use plastic jewels, beads, coins to tell how God’s love is more valuable then any treasure. Make Bible verses to put into a index card storage box made to look like a treasure box. Use Jesus’ stories of calming the sea when He was in the boat with his disciples. You can make alumumin boats out of Reynolds wrap. I hope that helps.

  6. Diane Jiorle says

    Tony,
    Sometimes within your denomination there are grants available to help with a VBS program. They can be time consuming to fill out but I have found it very helpful for our church.

  7. rebeca Stlouis says

    Hi my name is rebeca stlouis, Im so eager to start vbs at my church this year! With our church budget its seems so more difficult to start vbs. I know with prayer and support from all my Christian brothers and sisters out there thats reading this, I have FAITH regardless that God WILL make it possible for us to minister to these kids this 2011 year!!!!

  8. says

    We have a church that donates all their decor and materials to us after they use it. We then pass it on to others. The curriculum/decor from last year has been used by at least 10 churches so far!

    At our annual CM workshop this year we had a class on doing a “One Day VBS.” The CM director who taught the class told us they used to have VBS all week, but they had a hard time getting volunteers. Then they had it in the evening. Tried a 3 day instead of 5, and for the last several years have had a Saturday only VBS.
    It is very successful, and they do it at a different time than all the other churches in town do their VBS.

    Crafts are one of the most expensive parts of VBS. I encourage you to keep this in mind when looking for craft ideas. Be sure it is something the children will want ot take home and keep. Otherwise it will be left at church or in the parking lot.

  9. eva says

    I direct VBS each year our church has a budget of 2000 for VBS…. and I have managed to stay within or under budget the last few years. One way we did this is our local sports store prints all of our tshirts for 6 $ a shirt… we take a donation on the xtra tshirts that we sell… each child gets a tshirt as a gift… it gets the word out and you see kids wearing these shirts year after year… adults also buy the shirts and wear them out about town. We don’t purchase any other “gift” or certificate which cuts down on cost… We also don’t purchase the books that go along with the vbs… we do a more hands on activity I love the VBS that we are doing this year … rather sad that it ends tonight.

  10. harriet turner says

    i’m a member of Heavenly Way Baptist Church in Griffin, Georgia we are a very small church. we don’t have vacation bible school and it’s been on my mind to find out what you need to start aVSB. I thank you for the help you have shown me from your sight. and i will carry this imformation back to my Pastor. I would like to see the kids at my church have a vacation bible school and hope we can get the money and teachers to have one. Thanks again for your ideals and help.

    • dixie says

      sugestion:Ask bigger church in your area or close state about comin as a mission to do a vbs at your church, most mission teams are willin to camp out at your church and feed themselves to avoid extra cost to your church and they more than greatful to do it, they bring the materials they used, decorations and teachers all you do is provide the space, our church is doin a mission vbs in 2011 in Arizona and were in Oklahoma, we will be in prayer,the lord provides where HE needs to be, every time.God Bless.

    • Marie says

      Before jumping straight into doing a VBS, I would start off somewhat small and do something like a Kid’s Crusade. We used to do a week-long event but with everyone working it is difficult for volunteers to commit to 5 days/nights. And this is also financially straining on some churches. So we now do a one day event on Saturday. We still choose a theme, although we don’t purchase curiculum. We use something from Oriental Trading or come up with something on our own. This year we decided to do a space theme. We also decided to omit the crafts because the kids usually end up throwing them in the floor or in the car on the way home. So we focus our funds on the set up, such as props and backgrounds but still don’t spend much. But our biggest expense is we rent an inflateable water slide or jumping thing. They seem to enjoy this more than anything. Then we spend ALOT of time in worship and the Word! The total cost of our VBS this year is around $400. (Our inflateable costs $250) We just put up a bulletin board in the church with items that need to be donated such as snacks. Hope this helps!

  11. trixie legarde says

    I am a Christian Filipino, i am now belong to one of the outreach of Living Word Christian Ministry here. I and our Pastor’s wife (Norma) have suppose to conduct a dvbs in our church, yet it’s too late for us to do it. We both agreed that we’ll do it next year, at the same time i read today (april 23, 2009) what you have suggested from your website. I find your website very helpful to me since this is the first time for me to conduct a dvbs, though many times i was a helper of this event. Your tips, “How To Do Vacation Bible School On A Tiny Budget”, confirmed and agrees to our plan.

    Thank You and GOD BLESS YOU AND YOUR CHURCH!

  12. Paul says

    In reference to the borrowing of another church’s VBS curriculum: are you sure that this is legal under copyright laws? It is my understanding that a church purchases a non-transferable license when they buy the curriculum. While they could reuse it, another church cannot use it, because the holder neither controls or is using the material once it is donated or sold for a nominal price. I would caution churches from using this unless someone has a release from the curriculum publisher.

  13. Denise says

    Our 2008 VBS was the first VBS that our church has ever had in the history of our church. And I was blessed to be the director. God gave me a vision last year and a burden for the kids so I decided to get started right away.
    What I did was I had a candle fundraiser through Home Interior. They donate 50% of what you sell to your organization. That was a big help since this was our first year and we had tons of things that had to be bought! Then after that we had a couple of bake sales and then we had the “adopt a VBS kid”. We had about 25 people in the congregation to adopt a kid for $5.00. Doesn’t seem like much, but it sure helped.

    This year, I’m not quite sure what we will be doing but I do know that I have got to get started. God has blessed my church and I and now we want to bless someone else.

    Best Wishes and happy VBS!
    Denise

  14. roma says

    Could you please suggest if any agency or church is ready to sponsor a VBS program this summer for a group in India?…we run a mission and seek financial assistance for different projects and so we look forward to get help to organize a VBS camp this summer for children around…who hardly get good study material.
    Thanks

  15. Janine says

    We have one woman who collects business donations. While we do have it budgeted, it doesn’t help if the money is not giving:) For the past several years we’ve done a sponser a child campaign where work out what it would cost for one child to attend VBS and then people in the church sponser a child to help cover the cost.
    -Janine
    christianparenting.today.com

    Janines last blog post..Proud Mama of Caring Boys

    • Nancy says

      We did this for our vbs, and our church family gave enough last summer to help us get through this year, as well. God does provide for the leaner times! When they realized how much vbs actually costs per child/per day, they were eager to help. Those who couldn’t volunteer to work in vbs told me they were happy they had a way of helping by sponsoring children through this donation—a ‘win/win’ situation, for sure!

  16. says

    8 or 9 years ago I led the children’s ministry in a church plant in the poorest county in New Mexico, USA. While per-capita giving was high and children were a priority we still had to do VBS on a shoestring.

    One thing that helped was that the children’s leadership made it into a competition to see how small an amount we could spend without making the program suffer. The two years that I co-planned the program we managed to do a highly popular program, with unusually high evangelistic results for under $200.

    The secret was that we made up our program from scratch and used the resources that we had on hand as much as possible. One example of this was when we made bricks the same way the Israelites did in Egypt. All we needed was dirt with a high clay content (plentiful in NM!), some straw like weeds that grew there, water, a kiddy pool to put it all in and the kids feet (we warned the parents the day before!). It was extremely popular and cost a whopping $0! (Well, I guess there was a small expense for printing the letter telling the parents to dress in their kids in clothes that can get muddy.)

    One year I helped at a large children’s outreach and was donated a lot of extra craft supplies (which certainly helped). Just some thoughts.

    • Szasza Paz says

      I’m interested to find out in the VBS that you did in New Mexico. We will be going on a mission trip, and we are having some sort of a paradigm shift in our thinking. We want to be able to leave a VBS material behind that they could use over and over again, without using expensive materials. in the past, I would bring things over from Canada to be able to be used in our VBS, but I realized that after we left, that they are not able to use this VBS, since they don’t have the funding to purchase the materials (even simple things such as colouring pencils/crayons). Any suggestions for me, in how we can be effective, and yet, also leave them with something that they could use, once we leave?
      thanks so much and God bless,
      Szasza

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