A time-honored tradition for many churches, Vacation Bible School (VBS) introduces children and their families to faith in a relaxed setting. Often the largest evangelistic outreach event of the year, these affordable, fun-filled “mini-camps” open the doors of the church to the community and foster spiritual development for both frequent attendees as well as guests.
Anyone who thinks running a VBS is easy has probably never done it. Churches do it because it’s worth the time, effort and investment to witness new relationships formed, seeds planted, and hearts transformed for eternity.
Naturally, the number one concern of parents when registering their kids for summer Bible programs is safety. It’s critically important for churches to have a plan in place and cover all their bases. Church leaders can use the following eight tips as a safety checklist for their VBS program:
1. Background Checks
Every VBS volunteer should undergo a background check. This may sound extreme, but churches, overflowing with children and largely run by volunteers, are a top target for predators, be they sexual or otherwise. In fact, many insurance companies require background screening on all volunteers. A mandatory background check can help deter criminals and be a first step in creating a safe and secure VBS environment.
2. Safety in Numbers
Many parents are hesitant about children’s programs because they’re unaware of the measures in place to ensure their child is never in a vulnerable position with an adult leader or student volunteer. Understanding all policies and procedures relating to who is allowed to walk with a child to the restroom, for example, will be top of mind for parents.
Create and enforce a “two-person rule” that requires at least two adults (or an adult with a student volunteer) be present with anyone under the age of 18 at all times. Volunteers should never be allowed to enter the bathrooms with children, but rather they should wait outside. Two volunteers should always be with a child when they are walking in the hallway for any reason and there should always be at least two volunteers serving in every VBS classroom.
3. Check-In and Check-Out
Whoever drops a child off at your summer program should be the same person who picks that child up. Family is complicated, and it can be even more so in church. Just because a child’s grandpa shows up without the parents’ confirmation and consent at the end of the day doesn’t mean he is cleared to pick that child up. The church staff needs verbal and written confirmation from the parent first. There are cases where failure to keep this in mind has put a child in the hands of a predator. Though the logistics are daunting, get contact info from every person (or couple) who drops off a child, and then make sure that same person checks the child out or indicates who is permitted to do so.
4. Food Allergies
Food allergies are no small issue. Many children have severe reactions to foods such as peanuts, which might be overlooked when a plate of cookies is brought by a parent to VBS. Include a food allergy question on your VBS registration form. As you check children in, it is also wise to ask their parents about any known food allergies. Write down anything important and share that info with other volunteers who might serve with the same child.