Make Big Fish Bay Your Back-to-School Event

Man, woman, five elementary age kids studying a bushChildren love to celebrate being more grown up! And birthdays aren’t the only time to celebrate. Enjoying the end of summer and looking forward to a new school year is another. What better way to celebrate than with a supercharged, memorable back-to-school event!

In the Big Fish Bay VBS intro kit, you’ll find everything you need to prepare for an unforgettable voyage. The material can easily be used for a one-session or weekend event instead of a full VBS. Big Fish Bay is a great way to kick off your fall children’s programs, the new school year, and ministry opportunities for families.

Planning an Adventure in the Bay

For an exciting Big Fish Bay back-to-school event, you have at least three great options—one session, two-session weekend event, or two-session weekend event with a closing ceremony. With your church leadership and event team, decide which format is best for your ministry. Consider any calendars and schedules that might apply, being sure to choose a date that isn’t already taken by a school open house or any other school, church, or community event that will involve a large number of families. You may want to plan for not only a premium Plan A as an ideal scenario, but also for a Plan B, to give added flexibility.

Operation Safe Harbor photoAlso consider the Operation Safe Harbor missions project, which can be woven into any of these scheduling options. It’s an opportunity for children and families to get involved in a fulfilling goal: helping orphans in several countries around the world!

A Two- to Three-Hour Session

Download a sample schedule.

In this format, the excitement of Big Fish Bay is focused into two or three fun, meaningful hours. A Saturday evening could be a good option, but another time slot, such as a Friday evening or Saturday morning, may also be an excellent choice. One benefit of this format is that it allows you to choose the best of every activity, such as games, snacks, and crafts.

  • Promote and build excitement for the big event with families in your community. Begin at least four weeks beforehand, but six weeks is preferable.
  • Four weeks before the event, you could begin teaching lessons 1–4 in your children’s ministry.
  • Preregistering students will help in making the big event hassle free and effective.
  • At the big event, consider giving families the option to join in the fun. To keep families together, you could organize by families and individual students instead of by age groups.
  • Consider using the lesson materials from lesson 5. The real heart of Big Fish Bay is discovering God’s mercy through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and this could lead to your event being more effective for evangelism.
  • For a two-hour event: Begin with a 10-minute assembly time. Then four groups of families rotate through the lesson, snack, games, and craft together. Each rotation lasts 20 minutes, with five minutes for a transition. End with a 10-minute assembly.
  • For a three-hour event: Simply add 10 minutes to each time segment in the two-hour event while keeping transitions to five minutes.
  • Decorations are worth going all-out. After the event, you can either donate them to a church that will do Big Fish Bay next summer, or decorate your children’s classrooms for fun themed decor!
  • This back-to-school event is a great chance to spread the word about fall ministries that apply to children and families.

The time spent may be brief, but the impact on children and their families could be enormous. This fall kickoff could be a springboard for families to dive deeper into God’s love and mercy through future ministries!

Two-Session Weekend Event

Download a sample schedule.

If you’d like to plan a longer timeframe that is still a fall kickoff event, this format might be for you. The two sessions could take place on a Friday and Saturday, or a Saturday morning and Sunday evening. It’s even possible to place both sessions on one intense day, with a lunch provided in between. Of the three options, this format has especially broad potential, as it can be used in many contexts.

  • Begin spreading the word four to six weeks beforehand. Promote it in any way and on any platform you have at your disposal.
  • Consider doing rotations twice for each session, while shortening each rotation slightly. Here is a sample schedule: opening assembly time (10 minutes); first set of rotations—lessons, snacks, games, and crafts (15 minutes each); repeat the rotations (15 minutes each); and closing assembly time (10 minutes). Allow five minutes between rotations. The total time for a session would be slightly over three hours.
  • In this format, consider using lessons 1 and 3 for the first session; lessons 4 and 5, for the second session.
  • If your students will be organized by age groups, combine groups with a lower number of registrations to make four groups.
  • You could also stay with the traditional through-the-day format instead of doing rotations twice. If you choose to do so, consider using lesson 1 for the first session and lesson 3 for the second session. Teachers could fill in a brief account of Jonah in the fish, perhaps as an introduction to the second session.
  • Again, decorations are well worth the effort!

The beauty of this back-to-school event is that many scenarios could be successful, regardless of the situation in the fall. You could run this event on a weekend just before school begins or as a Labor Day Weekend (Friday and Saturday) event. For that matter, you could hold it even after school begins.

Two-Session Weekend Event with a Closing Program

Download a sample schedule.

Another shape your fall event could take is much the same as option 2, but a closing program is added. This gives an opportunity for the largest possible audience—both visiting families and church families—to participate and learn what God has done in the Big Fish Bay weekend.

  • Once again, promote, promote, promote! Begin four to six weeks before the event weekend.
  • Plan everything as you would for option 2, “Two-Session Weekend Event.” However, plan a closing program for Sunday morning or evening as well. For the closing program, students go through rotations only once instead of twice, but add five minutes to each section for a total of about two hours and fifteen minutes.
  • You could cover lessons 1 and 2 during the first session, lessons 3 and 4 in the second session, and lesson 5 in the closing program.
  • If your closing program is on a Sunday morning and/or you’d like to use a more traditional format, consider using the suggestions on page 46 of the Director Guide.
  • One way to attract new families is to make room for families in your closing program. Set up extra chairs for lesson time and snack time, set up a place for them to watch games, and allow them to do the craft with their children.
  • Consider having a cookout, ice-cream social, or other celebration afterward—enjoying time together could draw in families from the community and your church.*
  • Once again, remember to go all out with decorations. (Shh, don’t tell anyone, but adults love decorations almost as much as kids do!)

Of all the options in this article, this one has the most full-VBS flavor. And over the span of three sessions, you’ll have many wonderful opportunities to meet visiting families and build relationships with kids. For either of the weekend options, you could ramp up the outreach magnetism by doing all you can to make families feel welcome. One way is through family get-togethers after one or more of the sessions.* You could also include families that want to join in the fun in a few activities.* There are many ways, but this weekend offers a great chance for what makes the most long-lasting impact on kids—reaching their families as well.

*For detailed ideas, read:


The end of the summer is a once-a-year opportunity. Kids not only want to enjoy the remainder of the summer, but often they’re excited about what is coming up in the fall! With a Big Fish Bay back-to-school event, they can end the summer with a bang that propels them forward.

The activities that are packed into Big Fish Bay are easy to adapt into an event like this. And the lessons could impact kids for eternity. What better way is there to begin the school year than getting “hooked on God’s mercy”!

About Joshua Mason

Joshua Mason is RBP’s creative manager for VBS. He holds an M. Div. and has served as a children’s pastor and in other ministry roles. As a VBS director, he saw the impact VBS could have, not only on children but also the entire church and its outreach to the community. Now he’s thrilled to be part of making sure churches have the tools they need as they reach children for Christ!
On a normal day you might catch Joshua flying a drone with his daughter in his free time. He also likes to read good books or articles, ride bikes with his family, and play basketball.
This entry was posted in Ministry Highlights, Vacation Bible School. Bookmark the permalink.