VBS staffing is a chicken and egg question. Do you begin by building a team of volunteers, which will determine the number of children you can safely register? Or, do you set a registration goal, such as 40 children, and then begin gathering enough volunteers to supervise this number?
Enlisting volunteers for any program is rarely easy. It involves starting early and blanketing your parish and community with written announcements through every media channel – from worship bulletins to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others.
Most important, recruitment involves making personal face-to-face invitations. During these conversations, you can respond to questions and concerns. Volunteers are more willing to work with you if you can meet their needs. For example, you may decide to shift coverage for someone who needs to arrive late or leave early. You may allow volunteers to bring an infant or small child in order for them to participate in the daily program.
Meeting volunteer needs, though sometimes logistically challenging, can result in a more diverse group of people working with VBS and a greater connection between VBS and the congregation.
Where to Find Volunteers in Your Congregation
What groups in the congregation might provide people to staff your program? 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 reasonable commitments can you can ask of them? Are there specific volunteer roles that do not involve being present onsite every day, such as buying craft or snack supplies?
Existing children’s ministry volunteers and Sunday school teachers
A strong pool of children’s ministry volunteers is certainly 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, especially if the program you have created or selected calls for volunteers with specific skill sets.
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 often need to be supervised themselves. But teens can also 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 in supervising craft activities, handling snacks, and leading songs. Find ways not only to assign them jobs, but also 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 a long-term commitment during the program year may be available for a short-term VBS program.
Teachers and other professionals who have the summer off
Identify those who do not have summer work commitments in your congregation. Respect their need to take a break, but ask if they might be open to help plan activities or suggest resources for different age groups.
Grandparents and other older adults
Make a point to ask parents if there is a grandparent who is not a part of the congregation who could be a volunteer. Often grandparents enjoy this connection to their grandchildren. Older adults in the congregation might be enlisted as storytellers, youth mentors, group leaders, or greeters.
College students (from the parish or nearby colleges offering teaching degrees)
Contact the placement offices of local colleges. If you have funds available to pay a stipend, consider working with other churches in your community to create a summer-long position. A college student could work for a different parish each week.
Baby-sitters and nannies who work for families in the congregation
Caregivers of children who are already employed by families in the congregation and who will be dropping children off at your VBS program might be willing to assist with activities. Be sure to coordinate this request with families who have outside caregiving arrangements.
Consider creating a VBS volunteer partnership in the community. Reach out to other local churches to share resources or even offer a community VBS. Some community VBS partnerships have existed for years, with the program rotating each summer to the participating congregations. Churches will need to come to an agreement about the theology presented, but VBS offers a great way to build relationships and work together for God’s kingdom.
Church staff – from clergy to office and support staff
While church staffs may not all be directly involved in leading VBS, they may be able to be a part of your adult-to-child ratio in the event of an emergency. (See Staffing a VBS Program box on this page.) Do not assume that clergy or staff will act in this capacity simply because they are in the building. Consult them about their availability and willingness to step in if there is an emergency situation. If they are included as part of the child-to-adult ratio, make sure they will be onsite during the program and not off campus responding to other responsibilities.
Staffing a VBS Program
|Age of Children
|Number of Adults per
|Number of Children
|2 through 4
|5 through 8
|9 through 13
|14 through 18
- In groups of children under the age of 5, always have two adults present with the group, regardless of ratio. This ensures that one adult is always available to supervise, even if a child needs undivided attention.
- These guidelines assume you are in a contained space. In a more public or open space that has greater access, additional adults are needed.
- Modify these guidelines depending on the activities. Water-based activities, for example, require additional supervision and staffing.
- 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 and seeing distance. Using fewer adult leaders depends on your space and your situation.
- Remember, even older teen helpers are still minors. If they are required to respond to an emergency, they would still need an adult supervisor available.
- If possible, recruit additional adults to be available to fill in as a group leader in case of emergency.
A Final Caution
The importance of safety precautions and sufficient adult staffing cannot be stressed enough. Do not let anyone mislead you into understaffing the program or bending rules that affect the safety of the children and the volunteers. Well-meaning adult helpers may reassure you that they can handle extra children without additional assistance. Gently explain that staffing is about the safety of everyone in the program and the liability the church assumes when caring for children. Do not enroll more children than you can safely supervise.
This article first appeared in Episcopal Teacher:
Spring 2018, Focus Issue – VBS, page 6-7