Down with holiday clubs?

The holiday club. It rolls around with crushing inevitability every year. The process for a summer holiday club might start as early as January, with the selection of the material and the formation of a core team. It moves on through the spring with recruiting volunteers, booking venues, collecting resources, practising dramas, training the team and more… on and on it goes. The glorious week arrives and in a whirl of children, stickers, shaving foam and yoghurt pots, finally, it’s done. And there’s a couple of months’ rest before the planning starts again.

It’s easy to get stuck in this routine, the process driving you on, the numbers of children attending validating the club and proving its success. However, is it success? If we’ve not paused in our preparation to think through why we do a club nor stopped to check whether it’s what’s needed in our parish or area, how can we deem it a success or failure? Now, even though I’m a writer of holiday club resources and a joyous advocate of its ministry, this is my advice to you: stop. Think. Ask yourself this question: do you really need to do a holiday club?

Yes, the children will have a great time. Yes, you will find some new volunteers. Yes, you might have a few families move closer to being part of the church community. But is this what your community and church need? A holiday club is not just the responsibility and domain of children’s or family workers. If children and families start coming to your church, they will change the make-up and nature of the congregation. The church needs to be ready to welcome these new members into its community.

With that in mind, it’s vital to decide what your aims for outreach are as a church. Then you can see how (or if) a holiday club fits into the church’s wider plan for mission and you can tailor the aims of a holiday club so that they are in partnership with that plan. This is vital. For example, if you decide to reach out to families, and then there’s no provision for those families after the club has finished, what have you achieved?

Before you decide that you’re going to continue (or start) doing holiday clubs, get together with other children’s workers, some of the leadership of your church and others who are involved in mission, discipleship and evangelism. Discuss together where a holiday club might fit into your church’s wider aims, and if it does, what part the holiday club needs to play. Once you’ve decided this, you can make sure that you have the appropriate follow-up in place.

There are many reasons why you might run a holiday club, here are some:

To reach out to children and families who have no contact with the church

To further the discipleship of children who are already part of the church

To build on an existing relationship with a local primary school

To develop your leaders and recruit more to the team

To provide something for children to do in the holidays

For example, if you’re trying to reach children from outside your church community, then you’ll need a way of continuing the church’s contact with them. This might be starting a Messy Church, changing a weekly service so that it is aimed at families with children under 11 or starting a parents’ social group.

Alternatively, if you’re hoping to further the discipleship of children who are already part of your congregation, then you will need to focus your ongoing children’s work on the subjects and areas you have explored during the holiday club. You’ll also need to work with these children’s parents, so that you can help them with the discipleship of their children in their own homes.

However, as part of your discussions, you might decide that a holiday club isn’t the best ministry for your church at this point. If you’ve been doing a holiday club for many years, this could be a difficult and painful decision. It’s important to see the bigger picture of what God is doing in your community. You may need to do something new or focus your efforts and resources on another existing ministry, so that your church carries the message of Christ coherently and effectively to those whom it’s trying to reach. It’s important that we hold lightly onto our ministry,  as God might ask us to change or move on. If we’re too wedded to what we do, we’ll be reluctant to hear God’s call.

The programme

If you have decided that a holiday club fits into your church’s wider plan for ministry, how then do you go about choosing the right material or programme for you? Well, there are a couple of options:

Write your own programme

Positives: You can tailor what you do to your own church. Everything that you do can be designed to fit. You can easily take into account your venue, your team’s skills and individual children who might have additional needs. You can blend the teaching in with what you’re already doing with the children and what you aim to do in the future.

Negatives: It’s an immense amount of work. As someone who’s written a whole programme before, I can’t begin to say how much work it actually is! If you’ve allocated jobs and roles to different people on the holiday club team, then you’ll need to provide them with detailed guidance on what they need to do and how that fits in with other parts of the club. Small-group leaders need guidance in what they should be exploring with their group of children. Different age groups will need different material. Craft and games will need easy-to-follow instructions. Drama scripts will need great dialogue and good stage directions and so on.

Buy and use a published resource

Positives: There’s such a wide choice of different subjects and Bible themes from lots of different publishers, that you’re likely to find a programme that fits your needs. Most published programmes give you more than you need, so you’ll have lots of choice when it comes to storytelling, craft, games etc. Buying into a published resource also slashes the amount of time you’ll need to prepare. Most clubs are written by experienced practitioners and then edited by the publisher so that you get a programme that is well-conceived and easy to follow.

Negatives: It won’t fit your context exactly, so you’ll need to adapt it. You may not like one or more aspects of the material, so you could end up replacing something such as the drama or the storytelling with your own activities.

How do I choose the right resource?

Look at your aims and that will help you choose the right material for your club. If you have decided that you want to reach children who have no church background, then you will probably want to go for a gospelbased programme. This will help you introduce children to Jesus and give you a good platform to explain what Jesus has done for us, by exploring the crucifixion and resurrection story. You might want to approach the gospel from a point of view of it being God’s great plan for salvation – for this, a Bible overview programme might be best, taking children through the main acts of the Bible, in order to see why and how God repaired the way back to him. You might have a lot of children who enjoy adventure stories, or maybe you want to challenge children who are already part of your church. In this case, you could choose a resource based on an Old Testament story or Acts.

So, where do you find these programmes? A visit to a local Christian bookshop will give you a few different resources to browse through. However, these are getting rarer and rarer; you might not have a bookshop near you. In which case, an online search will unearth some choices:

Scripture Union:

Scripture Union’s holiday clubs are probably the most comprehensive in terms of activities, extra resources and guidance as you plan the club. They produce a new club programme every year. Every programme contains storytelling and teaching help, drama, games, craft and a theme song. There are also Sunday service outlines and suggestions for follow-up. This year, their club is called Polar Explorers. Written by Jenny Cheung (who also writes for this esteemed publication), Polar Explorers focuses on the early chapters of Acts and introduces children to people who went out to share the message of Jesus with everyone they met.

There is an accompanying DVD, which features Gemma Hunt (from CBBC) and tells the Bible stories using illustrations and a puppet. There are also booklets for KS1 and KS2 children to use during the club and take home afterwards. Other Scripture Union clubs include: Mega makers, On your marks, Champion’s challenge and Wastewatchers (gospel), Space academy and Mission rescue (Old Testament), Showstoppers (Bible overview), Rocky’s plaice (Acts).

Bible Reading Fellowship:

This year, BRF has produced a Messy Church, all-age holiday club programme. Called Messy family fun, which seeks to help families spend time together. The programme is filled with all the usual features of Messy Church, but there is also an ‘Extreme family skills’ section, where families can try out a new skill (limited only by the gifts you have on team).

The programme covers aspects of Jesus’ life and ministry, including discovering more about Jesus’ stories, friends and miracles. It also includes lots of help and guidance on how to run the programme, including case studies on existing all-age clubs. BRF’s other programmes are written by John Hardwick. They contain dramas, craft, games, storytelling and talks for each day of the club and, as you might expect from John Hardwick, there is an incredibly catchy song! Titles include: The adventure cruise and Starship discovery (gospel), Cops and robbers and Sports academy (Old Testament).

Other publishers

There are other publishers who have produced holiday-club resources.

Pulse Ministries


works alongside the local church by running holiday clubs, providing all the resources and offering training for the leaders to equip them for future missions.

Go Teach


publish a few programmes: Follow the leader (gospel), In the beginning (Old Testament) and Run the race (Acts). Christian Focus ( has its King of Clubs series, which contains four different programmes.

Christian Focus


has its King of Clubs series, which contains four different programmes. 

So what now?

You may be well into your preparations for your holiday club in 2015, but when the dust has settled in three or four months, embark on the process described here in order to define the aims for your club more clearly and indeed to decide if you should be doing a holiday club at all. A holiday club is an incredible ministry and can be an amazing tool for introducing children to Jesus. We just need to make sure it’s the right tool for us.

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