Get the most from VBS Print
Written by DONNA LUCAS   
Tuesday, 08 October 2013 07:52 AM America/New_York

Gospel Light leader helps retailers reframe their thinking about this key opportunityLifeWayVBSRecreation

Vacation Bible School (VBS) rolls around every year at this time, setting up one of the busiest selling seasons of the year for Christian retail stores. Whether VBS fills you, the retailer, with dread or anticipation, it’s important to remember the benefit your store can offer area churches in meeting their ultimate goal—building Christ’s kingdom.

Research shows that 67% of churches in the United States hold Vacation Bible School each summer. An average church spends $350-$500 on curriculum materials for their Vacation Bible School program—and that can add up to revenue for your store as you demonstrate your commitment to serve the local church.

However, many stores report that they feel like the local church has largely abandoned them. For many churches, stores are no longer the most convenient and knowledgeable resource for curricula. Churches that once were regular customers are rarely seen now. Because of the new abundance of distribution possibilities, competition has increased. But these changes aren’t a sad reality—they represent an opportunity—and it’s time retailers seize the moment! Reframe your notions of how to ensure you are the first choice of local churches.

As retailers, you need to get creative with your sales tactics. Ask yourself the following five questions, and write down the answers to get your creativity flowing: 

  • ?What do other sources have that my store doesn’t? 
  • ?Why should a local church buy from me instead of another source?
  • ?Do the local churches in our area know that our store is a source for VBS materials? 
  • ?Do the children’s directors in every local church know who we are? 
  • ?What can I do to make myself an indispensable resource for the churches in my area? In my region? 

As you fire up your creative thinking, consider how you can make your store the most convenient source for church ministry needs. Do you offer them something no one else can? Maybe you can drop off their order personally. You not only offer them that convenience, but you get to meet them again face-to-face. 

Here are three additional ways to increase your VBS traffic and resulting sales: 


Don’t forget to reach out.You may know the senior pastor, but do you know the children’s director. What about the VBS director? Which new churches have popped up in your area? Find them! It will take some effort, but set out to discover which churches did a VBS program the previous year. 

Get the contact information for the main VBS decision-maker—and make a personal phone call in the next few weeks to each one. Ask each one to share some critical information that will help you serve them better. Don’t try to sell them anything—simply ask them some of these key questions: 

  • Which program did your church use last year?
  • This gives you a starting point to determine what programs they will be drawn to, then find out why they chose the course they did.
  • Was it the music?
  • The theme?
  • The Bible content? 

Your goal is to understand what they value and what features of the ministry matter most to them. If a church had a good experience with one program, they will be inclined to look at the same publisher again—so knowing that helps you determine their future buying habits. 

When did you hold your VBS program? These dates and times are important information. By keeping track of this, you’ll quickly get an idea of the timing of the VBS market in your area. Great follow-up questions to this will help you determine when people will be in the market for materials and will help you to advise others on trends in your area. 

RBP-Joanna-teaching3There is no longer a standard way churches do VBS. Some may have a week-long morning program, some an evening program. Some begin VBS at the end of the week and use weekend services as part of their VBS. Others may do a weekend program or five VBS Sundays in a row. There are now so many options for churches that it’s important to find out what works for each one. It’s critical to your success in resourcing them. 

Did you have a good experience? This will be the single largest indicator of whether the church will do VBS again and whether they might use the same publisher. 

What were the standout moments? Was it a powerful assembly? Increased attendance? Children accepting Jesus as their Savior? Their own reports of amazing moments will show you the values and the heart of the church.

What was the biggest challenge with VBS last year? This important question will establish for you ways that you can help them with their VBS purchases this coming year—establishing yourself as that indispensable, helpful, wise friend they need.

If I could assist you with one thing for next summer, what would it be? This is great information for you as you plan in-store promotional activities. If you see a trend between churches, address it proactively. 

Be sure to get contact information—address for the VBS director, best phone contact, whether email or text works better and email addresses. Use all the information you collected to better serve the churches in your area. Look for trends, similarities, differences and the breadth of the market. It will help you determine the manpower and intensity you want to put towards developing your VBS business in creative, fresh ways that appeal to a new generation of churches and buyers.


Each publisher offers you resources to promote the new VBS curriculum. Use them creatively. We know that direct mail is expensive, but it is still one of the most effective ways of communicating and getting attention from customers. While email is more cost-effective, inboxes are easily ignored. Many people never reply to email anymore—so try short, catchy text messages. 

Make your communication personal. You spent all that time getting to know the churches, so now make your message personal. In today’s world of too much marketing, you can make yourself stand out because you know the customer personally. If you run an independent store, it is one of the things that sets your store apart from other bigger retailers.

If you have an active website, use the resources provided by your publisher to fill out the information on your site. Gospel Light offers a publisher-designed site that gives your customers the same information as they’d find on the main publisher’s page, but then takes the customer back to your site to complete the purchase—and that is offered to you free! Whatever resources each publisher offers, take advantage. Use them all! 

In-store signage, bag stuffers and flyers in invoices are all ways to use the many resources that are available to you. 

Use special sales and promotions wisely—so that you tie up sales before the customer has time to look elsewhere. They’ll appreciate the feeling of that decision being “done,” so speak to them earlier than you have ever done before. Don’t wait until you get your kits; start talking to customers now.


Time marches on—and we need to think creatively about the old model of VBS workshops. People are busy—their calendars are packed. Taking time for a traditional workshop experience may not be possible, so offer a creative approach. Using the information you received in your phone conversations, determine how to make the workshops something they won’t want to miss. 

Here are some ideas that may help you increase attendance and effectiveness of these workshops:

  • Offer training. The more professional, the better—this gives people a reason to give up a few hours of their time—and allows you to feel comfortable asking professionals to come to your event. In addition to short product presentations, provide training for participants on how to have an effective VBS program. Gospel Light—and perhaps other suppliers as well—offers industry leaders who can provide training for your customers and their teams at your VBS workshops. Or, use other resources, including Skype presentations or video conferencing. Make the event the best experience possible. You might also ask a seasoned local leader to come and discuss VBS best practices.
  • Provide discounts, but only at the event. As I traveled the country last year doing VBS workshops, I noticed that many stores never offer a reason for the churches to attend! A special promotion that benefits them also secures their order that day. I challenge you to secure the kit orders early—don’t let them walk out undecided. This simply lets them move on to another provider for their resources. Make the offer compelling, timely and available only at the workshop.


I know that having a dedicated VBS salesperson at your store is unlikely. I also know that when I make this suggestion, it may just come down you! But make sure you or your designated expert knows as much as possible to answer questions and help a customer make the right choice for their ministry. With a little effort, you can become familiar with the various programs so that you truly can help a customer weed through all the choices on the market in order to make the best decision. 

Use the resources you have access to, like the publishers website—they have distilled their materials down to the basics. But aim to know more than the basics. Look at the director’s planning guide in each kit. You’ll get a feel for the new features and key distinctives for each theme. 

Speak to the publishers yourself. Ask them to help you narrow down the profile for the perfect church for their particular program. If the person you’re talking with cannot do this, then ask for someone else—the marketing director or publishing director. 

Be bold. Publishers want your business—it’s in their best interest that you succeed! With some creative thinking about the “ways we’ve always done it” and some thought and prayer, you could see your VBS sales soar as you become the indispensable expert and friend of the local churches in your area. 

Donna Lucas has served as director of children’s publishing and marketing at Gospel Light for seven years.