“Marketing” VBS, A How-To

Children at Catholic Church

What is your foundation?

It sounds simple, but drawing people to your Vacation Bible School (VBS) requires a clear understanding of what it is you are offering. What is your goal for VBS? Who do you hope to engage? Do you have a parent and a children’s portion? Does your summer program have a theme?

If you haven’t already, consider brainstorming a tagline – a motto that summarizes essential information and can be easily remembered. For example, this past year was the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. The motto chosen by the Holy Father was “Merciful like the Father.” Keep in mind that clarity, simplicity, and warmth are key.

Who are you trying to reach?

This is your target audience. Your target audience can most likely be loosely divided into two groups, the parents (and children) who:

  1. Believe in the mission of VBS, plan on attending or will need little convincing
  2. Do not understand the value of VBS, or who don’t know about it – but soon will!

Determining your target audience will help you to choose messaging and promotional materials that will either appeal to both groups, or help direct efforts to create slightly different versions of the same materials to attract one audience or the other.

How will you reach them?

Last year’s attendees

This audience is probably the easiest to identify and engage. Reach out to this group to invite them on a new Bible adventure! Highlight the aspects of last year’s program that received rave reviews, and build excitement for what’s new this year.

If you used ParishSOFT Religious Education last year, simply pull the report from last year’s term, email participants directly from your ParishSOFT platform, or export the list for future use (e.g., email marketing through a service provider like Constant Contact, MailChimp, etc.). [1]

Children who didn’t attend last year, but are in age range for VBS

This will require comparing the list of last year’s VBS attendees with a list of your registered parishioners. If your records are up-to-date in ParishSOFT Family Directory, simply filter for the group of parishioners and guests you are hoping will participate.[2] Compare this list with last year’s VBS attendees.

Excel’s tools can help you automate this comparison, but if your VBS registrations are in ParishSOFT Religious Education, you can use ParishSOFT Intelligent Query (IQ) to create a custom report of children of VBS age who did not attend VBS last year. Voilá! There’s your target audience!

Consider examining the records for your regular Religious Education (RE) program. Those who attend local Catholic schools or are home educated may not participate in regular RE. Find and invite them.

Your goal is to ensure no one is being left out. If you haven’t already, now may be the time to create a Member or Family Workgroup to make communicating with the families you hope to engage a breeze.[3]

Community members

Kids from your neighborhood, local schools, your children’s intramural sports teams are all potential participants! Not to mention the children and parents you might engage if you post information at your library, community recreation areas (parks, sports complexes, etc.). When it comes to engaging families outside the parish, parishioner involvement is key!

Come and see, it’s ALL about relationship

We can talk about the benefits and highlight the fun to come, but nothing is as impactful as a friend asking another friend to “come and see.”[4] In other words, the most effective “marketing” is founded on relationship.

Brainstorm ways to get your parish families fired up and prepared to begin promoting VBS to friends, family, and within their sphere of influence.

Partner with parishioners and businesses

Ask your parishioners to partner with you by promoting VBS at their business or place of work. Use pulpit announcements, the bulletin, email – but most of all personal invitation – to engage parishioners in this year’s VBS. This is an opportunity to not only ask them to spread the word, but to also volunteer their time and talent in other ways that can only enhance the VBS experience for those who participate.

If you are tracking this information in ParishSOFT Family Directory, filter by profession for parishioners who might easily be able to promote VBS (for example restaurants, places of gathering such as music or dance studios, nurses, etc.). Reach out to them directly to ask for their ideas and assistance on spreading the word about VBS.

Also think about contacting local businesses, schools, and community gathering spaces to ask if you can post promotional materials for the wider community.

Ignite the Faith

If this seems like too much… if you’re thinking to yourself, “Geez, I’m tired. It’s been a long year. I just want to get through VBS so I can get to other stuff on my plate, and we want to give the kids from our parish dibs on openings…” don’t worry – you’re not alone! You’re putting together a great program, and the point is to bring the people in.

VBS is the perfect evangelization opportunity to ignite the faith. Don’t be afraid to let it bloom and grow. A program that fills up and has to turn away kids is a sign that you need to at least think about offering another session. Trust in your team and your community. Let them know what help you need, and let the good Lord provide.

What’s next?

The target audience (“who” you are trying to reach) has been identified. You’ve brainstormed ways to engage and partner with parishioners, businesses, and the larger community to promote VBS. Publicize, Advertise, and Promote – Religious Education, takes this topic to the next step with insights into creating materials and establishing marketing channels for the greatest impact.

Interested to learn more about how ParishSOFT Family Suite can serve your parish? Please contact us at 866.930.4774 x 7, or sign up for a free demo!

[1] From your ParishSOFT Religious Education platform, select Reports, select the correct Term (last year’s summer term). The list of attendees will appear in the List View. Reach out to children in appropriate grade or age range by checking the boxes to the left of their name. Export the list for future use using the Quick Report option, or email them directly from your ParishSOFT web-based platform!

[2] Interested in learning more about Family Directory filtering options? You may appreciate this helpful online tutorial: Searching and Filtering for Reporting.

Access the full list of family and member characteristics that can be searched (including registration status, gender, age, and much, much more!) right from your ParishSOFT system. From Family Directory, select “Help” in the top right corner of your browser window, or click here. Type the word “filter” into the search field and click the “Go” button. The first three help topics: How to Filter Records, Descriptions of the Member List Advanced Filter Options, and Descriptions of the Family List Advanced Filter Options describe the available filtering options and give instructions on how to use this invaluable functionality, no special report-building skills needed!

[3] Family and Member Workgroups are an excellent way to organize families or members who share common traits, interests, or responsibilities. Interested in learning more? Check out our Workgroups and Communication video tutorial.

[4] John 1:45-46: “ Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.”

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