Even though VBS season is long past for most churches, perhaps you are looking ahead to next summer. For the last several years, the church purchased a VBS kit that we used to create a special week for the children of the community. This year we decided on a different approach. I had a co-planner (thanks B!) and loads of help from some other ladies in the church.
Back a couple of decades ago, the church had hosted a VBS based on the marketplace during the time of Jesus. Back then they didn't have a VBS starter kit so they set it all up on their own. Following their memories, we recreated a similar VBS back in July. Some of the grownups in our group remembered attending that VBS when they were kids.
My co-planner and I spent several months working on the intial planning. Without a kit, it was up to us to pick the music (old hymns), Bible stories, crafts, games, and projects. We focused on Bible stories from the four Gospels. One very generous couple from the church put together 2 of our large projects (toolbox and stepping stone), and everyone else involved really pitched in and made it happen.
Our best find was a tote of handpainted backdrops we found in the church basement. We used those to create our outdoor marketplace atmosphere. We also received many authentic looking items from church members to borrow for the week to complete the look. There was a well, a music area, a place for the Bible story, a large project area, a craft area, and a game area. We served supper beforehand in the Fellowship Hall each night. We decorate the tables with colorful tablecloths from Dollar Tree and baskets from the church basement.
At the well, the children got a cold water or juice after game time.
A display made from items church members let us borrow.
The rug was the place the children all sat to hear the Bible story each night.
Our supper area where the kids and volunteers were served a nightly meal.
While this VBS took much more planning time and carried a load of stress over all the little details, we loved having the freedom to create our own special theme. We heard the kids loved all the different parts they enjoyed each night. Doing our own theme encouraged volunteers and church members to take more ownership in the week. Everyone really pitched in and got involved. We average over 40 kids per night which isn't shabby at all for our church. The kids also DOUBLED our missions goal (which they have done the last 3 years even though we keep raising the goal). It really was a special event.
If your church is looking to cut VBS costs, take a look at the resources you already have on hand and consider building your own VBS. We kept our budget costs around half of what we spent last year. While there are some really great VBS starter kits available, we found that the price of those has continued to rise while the included materials have decreased. Be aware that doing this will require a team to coordinate the effort (it's way too much for 1 person), and it will take some more time. I found it was also more stressful than other years because many details weren't obvious until everything got started.
As with any other event, VBS is a complicated event that could never happen without the generosity and willing spirits of many people coming together to make a special week for the kids. I hope they remember it for a long time to come! We are 2 months out from it, and my kids still mention "the best VBS ever" regularly.