Pulling off a large scale event with small scale resources

I have posted very little in the past weeks/months, primarily because I have been tied up with some pretty major projects. One of these projects was our summer Vacation Bible School at University Covenant Church. This year the name of the event was somewhat of an amusing journey:

  • It’s been called VBS for years. But VBS is an in-house term and we wanted to be more outreach-focused this year and friendly for people who do not have attending church as part of their culture.
  • So then it was called Vacation Bible Camp (VBC), as a transitional phrase as the new one was found.
  • After a while it settled to Summer Day Camp (SDC), as a Bible camp sounds somewhat mysterious and possibly intimidating to newcomers.
  • After much research, Glen Nielsen, our director, decided to go with Bayside Church’s (Granite Bay) curriculum, Breakaway to the Royal Kingdom, which they did summer of 08. Bayside staff and leaders have been so incredibly helpful for our event — huge kudos for them in not only creating a fantastic curriculum, but also their kingdom-mindset in helping to equip other churches!
  • So in the end, we just called the event Breakaway (as Bayside does). This is a big shift from VBS, but we put VBS in small letters in the logo so long-time attenders would know what the event was. Next year we are doing Breakaway to the Great Frontier so perhaps over time Breakaway will become normal language.

So the question for us was… how do we translate a huge event from a huge church to a smaller event at a smaller church?

Bayside: 2400 kids VBS; 10,000 attendance on weekends.

Us: 370 kids VBS; 950 attendance on weekends.

One huge challenge for us was sets. Bayside had amazing sets. We had neither the budget, nor the time, nor the manpower to do something to the extent they did. (Because of other circumstances that led to Glen getting hired late in the game, the construction team didn’t even get put together until 3 weeks before the event! And our church budget for the entire event was $2500 for everything, which if you count snacks, giveaways, supplies, construction, decor, recreation, marketing, etc, isn’t a whole lot! It basically comes down to $1.35 per child per day.)

But God is an amazing God of resources, so here are some of the things that really helped us.

One of the things we wanted to do was convert the front of the church into a castle. Here’s what Bayside did:


1. Draw a scaled plan

I drew up a to-scale plan in Illustrator using their photo as a reference. Time was saved by finding an architectural drawing of the front of the church, scanning it in, and then using it as a base to redraw in Illustrator. Then I drew the castle on top of the facade. I made a larger version on the side that had dimensions, and then a top view showing the drawbridge.


Drawing a to-scale plan saved a ton of time. The construction team knew exactly what dimensions things needed to be and didn’t have to start from scratch. (Having some blueprints didn’t hurt either!) 🙂

End result:

09-0810front elevation

Another view:

09-0810front elevation2

Making the castle walls was quite an adventure. I’ll do another post on that later.

2. Do donation pull-tags.

We made little tags for people to donate. Each tag had on the left side one item for the person to donate. People filled out the right side and left it with us.

donation pull tags

What we would do next year: Put a price amount on the tag. Some people just wanted to donate money to cover the cost and it actually made it easier for our team because they could go out immediately and get something!

We hung all the pull tags up on a rope and people could look at them at once. The same items were all grouped together and hung from a mini-binder clip.


The pull-tags were a very effective way to receive donations… and then we had a record of who was bringing what in!

People donated all sorts of items towards our construction project: paint pans, rollers, drop cloths, styrofoam, etc. I was so blessed by the generosity of the people in our church!

3. Simplify any set changes.

One of the challenges for the drama was that 4 out of the 5 days required a new set. So we decided that the base set was the castle, and all the other sets would build on top of that, because it was too much work to move the castle and we didn’t have the crew to rebuild. (They were already stretched thin as it was! HUGE kudos to our amazing construction and decor team!)

We also do not have the beautiful colored theater lighting that Bayside has, which does add quite a bit, but at least we were able to turn our white lights to highlight different parts of the set!

Day One: Castle.

Bayside’s original version:


Our scaled plan:

set - castle

The final set. Notice all the sheets on the floor where the small groups met — a carryover from previous years.


Day 2: Village

Bayside’s original set:


Scaled plan:

set - village

We discovered too late that the bamboo “thatching” for the roof needed a backing. This was one set that just plain ran out of time. It was very simple, but it got the job done.


Day 3: A rural, farm area

Bayside’s original set:


Scaled plan:

set - rural

Final set. The decor team sewed together black bedsheets and painted trees on with grey paint. The construction team built a support for the sheet out of PVC pipe and hung the sheet from the top of the castle. The fence was made out of … um… some kind of fibery board… the name escapes me at the moment… The horses were borrowed — made out of styrofoam painted. People lent us their silk trees and I covered the baskets of the trees with green tablecloths.


Day 4: Dark spooky forest with cave

Bayside’s version:


Scaled plan:


Final set. The archway on the right was covered with brown butcher paper. We tore off large lengths of paper, crumpled it up, screwed in the paper on one side of the arch, puffed it out as it wrapped around the arch, and screwed it in the other side. At first we thought we needed chicken wire but in the end we didn’t. Added more silk plants, more green tablecloths, and more of the fibery board to make the gate.


The photo above is with full lighting so doesn’t look so great. During the drama it looked a lot better.


As you can see in the progression above, we tried to make as few changes as possible to the set yet still convey the quest of the prince and princess as they traveled to different settings in the land.

5. Use recycled stuff

Our teams were pretty amazing at scrounging up materials for little cost.

  • They went to the paint recycling center and got most of the paint (and people donated the rest).
  • They passed a house that was being remodeled and asked the contractor there if they could carry off all the old wood they were going to throw away anyway.
  • They went between different hardware stores and bargained them down by telling them what the other store was offering.
  • They went to Walmart for fabric and found super cheap bolts on sale there.
  • They bought items with re-use in mind… things we could take apart and put together again for next year.
  • Had we had time, we would’ve asked business to sponsor by donating some items, as we have in the past.

The decor set the stage for the event. People would walk in and go, “Wow!” Some people said it felt like Disneyland — only better, because kids were learning spiritual truth. We can’t thank enough the hard-working people that made this all happen! God answered many prayers and it was so cool seeing Him work in amazing ways!

Now… what to do with all this stuff…. any churches out there need some castles?

A Yee

Angela Yee is a professional designer (graphic design, stage design, interior design — angelayeedesign.com) and teaches leadership skills at strategysketchnotes.com.

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  1. corriespondent - August 10, 2009

    Very nice! Thanks for the summary post!

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