5 Ways to Evaluate the Success of Your VBS


The stage is set at Tucker First UMC for their test of next year's Cokesbury VBS curriculum. (Photo courtesy of Mimi Sanders.)

By Rachel Quartarone
The crafts and decorations may be packed away, but it’s never too early to start thinking about next year’s Vacation Bible School plans. Mimi Sanders, Children’s Director at Tucker First UMC knows this all too well. Her church has served as a test church for Cokesbury’s VBS curriculum twice now – most recently this June. Cokesbury is already at work developing curriculum for 2019. Each year, they choose several test churches to use their VBS curriculum before they release it to the public.

“It’s a lot of work because you have to do everything early,” she says. They get no assembly videos, polished booklets or theme-branded craft supplies that are typically available for purchase. However, they do get to try something new and give feedback that they know will help other churches successfully implement the program. “It’s been a great experience working with Cokesbury,” Sanders says. “We’ve learned a lot about production and the amount of work that goes into developing the curriculum.”
You don’t have to be a test church to gauge the success of your VBS program, however. After the craziness of summer has passed, it’s helpful to sit down and take a closer look at how VBS went. What worked? What didn’t? Did you make an impact in your community?
Here are 5 ways to evaluate the success of your church’s VBS program:
1. Ask the all-important question: Were the kids into it? 
This is the obvious but sometimes overlooked question. Did the students seem to connect with the curriculum? Did they learn the Bible verses? Did they get into the songs and motions? Are they STILL singing the songs? Did they lose themselves in the craft activities? Reflect on your observations and ask around. Are there ways you can improve engagement next year?
2. Crunch the numbers. 
Take a look at your attendance compared to previous years. Did your attendance grow, shrink or stay roughly the same? Perhaps you’ve seen a spike in certain age groups but a decline in others. What factors may have influenced demographic shifts? Importantly, how many new attendees did you have? How many non-members vs. members? Is there a certain area where you’d like to see growth?
3. Survey parents and volunteers. 
Use an easy online survey tool like Survey Monkey or even and old-fashioned pen and paper survey to get feedback from parents and volunteers. For parents, ask about the logistical elements like registration, drop off and pick-up but also try to measure engagement. Did the children talk about VBS at home? Did they sing the songs? Did they seem to connect with the content?
For volunteers, it’s also important to look at function as well as engagement. How did the flow of the day work for them? Did they feel supported? Would they volunteer again? Do they have any ideas for improvement?
4. Have a debriefing meeting with key members of your team to share your data, get feedback and brainstorm for next year. 
It’s great to gather data, but it’s even better to put it to use. Share what you have learned with your team and ask for their input. What were their observations? Do they have any ideas on how you might reach more families or recruit new volunteers? What do you want to keep the same and what do you want to do differently?
5. Look for return visits, engagement throughout the year. 
Many churches hold a closing ceremony or recognize VBS attendees and volunteers during Sunday worship following VBS. Look at the students and volunteers who came back to celebrate – are they mostly members and regular attendees? What percentage are visitors and new faces? Are there ways you can connect with those new families to encourage them to get involved in the future? Also, look for those returning visitors not just on Sunday mornings but also church events like festivals, sporting games and concerts. Be sure to connect and say hello when you see your VBS attendees and volunteers out and about in the community. Feeling loved and welcome is what it’s all about!
“Sometimes it takes years to feel the impact of your VBS program,” says Sanders. “When you are getting community interest and people are trying to plan their summer around your date, that’s a good sign.” 

Rachel Quartarone is a freelance writer in Atlanta.