Bring Them In: Developing a Van or Bus Ministry in Your Local Church

In my early years of leading a bus ministry, when it all was new and exciting as well as frustrating and tiring, there were two very special sisters, Tasha and Misha.
One memory that is especially dear to my heart is when we decided to have a girls’ sleepover, with all our girls within the church.  My bus ministry kids were so excited about the sleepover.  They could hardly wait.  I sent a flier home with all kids about a week before the sleepover with a list of different items to bring.  Snacks were included on the list with a note to parents that the snacks were to be shared with everyone.
As I was making my rounds to pick up my bus kids, Tasha and Misha were waiting outside their home.  I can’t begin to describe the excitement on their little faces.  Right then I said “Thank you, Lord, for calling me to this ministry.”  As I got out of the van and went around to help the girls in, Tasha said, “Ms, Effie, Ms. Effie, wait ‘til you see what we brought!”  As we got settled in the van, I said “OK, let’s see what you have.”  Misha pulled out a single packet of instant grits and said, “We brought these for all the girls!  We can share.”  I immediately had to turn around because I knew the tears would stream.  I have never seen such joy on the faces of children over a packet of grits.  I turned back and said “We will have a wonderful breakfast, thanks to both of you.”
When all the girls began to arrive, they brought bag after bag of goodies and snacks.  I began to think “Oh Lord, Tasha and Misha are going to feel so bad about their packet of grits.  What am I going to do?”  But God already knew.  Those two girls didn’t say a word; the excitement never left them the entire night.  They “had the time of their lives”, with a beauty makeover, fashion show, times of sharing, and much more!
In the morning, along with cereal and juice, we had the most delicious POT of creamy grits you would ever want to eat!   As I was taking the girls home that morning, Tasha said, “Ms Effie, God sure made a lot of grits this morning!”  I simply hugged both girls and said, “Isn’t God awesome!”

-Effie Woodard, Children’s Pastor and Outreach Minister


What is a van or bus ministry?
It’s an outreach program sponsored by a local church that regularly uses buses or vans to transport people, most often children, to evangelistic and discipleship programs as well as other special events.

Why should our local church consider having a van or bus ministry?
A bus or van ministry provides the local church an opportunity to obey Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations”.  Through this ministry unchurched children hear and respond to the Gospel.  But a bus or van ministry goes beyond evangelism.  Through the discipleship ministries of the local church the children also participate in discipleship ministries such as Sunday school and children’s worship.

Through a bus or van ministry the local church moves outside its walls into the streets of the neighborhoods around it.  The church becomes known to the people of the neighborhoods not just as a building but as a group of caring people.  Also, the church gets to know the people—who they are, what their lives are like, what their needs are.  From this awareness the church can develop ministries that are honestly relevant to the people living around them.
Finally, local churches that run a bus or van ministry have the potential for sustained growth.  Effective van and bus ministries will help the church to grow numerically but will also produce growth in these areas:

  • More people will become involved in ministry and use their gifts to serve
  • More people will take on leadership roles and develop as leaders
  • Children who ride the bus or van will grow up to serve in that local church or be sent out by the local church to serve elsewhere

DON’T have a Bus or Van Ministry simply because—
–you want your church to grow

–other congregations are doing it
–one or two people in your congregation insist on it
–you’ve always had one


The Key Components of a Successful Bus Ministry:

There are so many things to consider when developing a bus ministry—What routes will we travel?  How will we get buses?   Who will volunteer to serve?  How will we minister to the children?  How will we connect with their families?  You must seek God in every aspect of the ministry if the ministry becomes fruitful.

Don’t move ahead until you have the green light from your pastor and the support of your church’s leadership team.  Keep their support by involving them as intercessors and communicating regularly.

A van or bus ministry will only succeed if everyone is on the team.  Not only must the bus captains, assistants, and drivers be on the team but you must also make sure the Sunday school teachers, children’s worship leaders, and anyone who serves the children in any way are part of the team.  Communicate with the team regularly.  Build community among team members by spending time together and affirming each one.

People mistakenly believe that if they buy buses, determine routes, and pass out flyers that they will have a successful van or bus ministry.  But this ministry is only successful when the bus ministry team is willing to spend their time building relationships not only with children but also with parents and others in the neighborhoods along their routes.  Relationships are built by being in the neighborhoods regularly, getting to know the children and their families by name, and, when possible, meeting needs of children and their families.

10 Steps to Starting a Bus or Van Ministry:

Step 1.  Decide What Type Ministry God is Leading Your Church to Have and Establish a Purpose Statement
Are you going to run your routes any time other than Sunday morning? Some churches have their bus ministry program on Saturday; is this an option your church might consider? If you don’t have a children’s worship, will you start one or have the bus riders sit in the adult worship service?

Step 2.   Prepare the Church
Help your church membership understand what you are trying to accomplish. Make sure the benefits of being involved in an outreach ministry as well as being aware of what problems may arise.

Step 3 .  Obtain Vehicles
Do you have a bus or van you can use or will you need to purchase vehicles? If you have to buy buses, is it in the budget or will funds have to raised? If you need to purchase vehicles, start your process of locating buses by contacting several churches with a bus ministry and ask them where they bought their vehicles and who they recommend. If you plan to use smaller vehicles, consider 15-passenger buses instead of vans.

Step 4.  Enlist and Train Workers
Sunday school teachers, children’s worship leaders, ushers, kitchen volunteers as well as the bus ministry volunteers will all need to know what to expect when the bus or van starts to run.

Step 5.  Plan for More
As the bus or van ministry grows so will your need for larger facilities, more volunteers, and more funding.  Plan ahead to avoid a crisis that could shut down the ministry.

Step 6.  Develop the Saturday Schedule
If you are going to run your buses or vans on Sunday morning you will probably want to have a short bus meeting on Saturday morning and visit your riders then. As your ministry progresses, you may find a better time to meet and visit your routes.

Step 7.  Develop the Sunday Schedule
What time will children along the routes be picked up?  When the bus or van arrives, what will the children do and where will they go? Will they stay for both Sunday School and worship? Do you need to have someone meet the bus and escort them to and from class? Make sure every person on the team knows the times and procedures for unloading and loading the bus or van as well as what classes the children are to go into and where the classes are located.

Step 8.  Establish the Routes
Decide where you want to run your routes and then design them by time rather than by distance. Most churches find that it’s best if there is less then one hour from the time the first rider is picked up until you reach the church. This will be “trial and error” at first but you will soon discover the time to leave in order to stay on schedule.

Step 9.  Hold a “Kick-Off” Meeting
Invite everyone who will serve the bus or van riders to the “Kick Off.”  Plan a creative way to review the vision and purpose of this ministry and inform everyone of the first visitation and pick up schedules.  If possible provide everyone on the team with some type of logo wear such as a hat, a tee-shirt, or visor.

Step 10.   Launch the Ministry!

Don’ts of Effective Bus/Van Ministry:

  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations.
    One bus ministry leader remembers, “I’ll never forget the day we launched our bus ministry.  It was Easter Sunday.  We had a wonderful visitation on Saturday then on Sunday morning sent out three vans to pick up children.  Not one child got on a van.  I cried out to God, ‘I don’t understand!’  but I didn’t give up.  After 3 weeks of visitation the people of the neighborhoods knew me, trusted me and they began to come.  When I left that bus ministry we were reaching more than 150 children and their families.”

    Remember that the children on your van or bus routes very seldom have someone at home encouraging them to go.  Sometimes there is no one to help them and their younger siblings ready to go.  It will take time to build relationships, provide information, and develop a habit of regular attendance.
  • Don’t put out flyers and expect them to come.
    A dazzling flyer or an exciting promotion will not develop an effective bus or van ministry.  Consistent investment in the community through prayer, weekly visitation, on-time pick ups and meeting known needs will produce a fruitful ministry.
  • Don’t do bus/van ministry visitation the same way you would do other visitation.
    Remember you are targeting children.  Send visitation teams out armed with candy and small prizes.  Grab the neighborhood’s attention by bringing a costumed character or clown to walk down the street with you.

Don’t just sit there…do something!

Traveling to and from church with the children is a great time to build relationships, teach spiritual truths, and have fun!  Here are some things you can do with kids as you are riding to church—

  • Sing songs and choruses that they are learning in children’s worship or club meetings
  • Teach a memory verse
  • If the van or bus is equipped with a dvd player, play Christian cartoon clips or music videos.

The bus ride home is the most important time of the day.  If the children have a good time going home from church they will want to ride again next Sunday.  Here are some things you can do on the ride home—

  • Sing songs and choruses
  • Bible quizzes and memory verse review games related to what was taught at church
  • Games such as:
    • Silly face contest (See who can make the silliest face on the bus.  Award prize.)
    • Sleeping game (Every person on the bus pretends to fall asleep.  The best sleepers are rewarded.)
    • Life Saver on tongue (Have each rider put a Life Saver on his tongue at the same time; the last one to dissolve wins.)
    • Bubble gum blowing (See who can blow the biggest bubble.)

Bus Rules: You Have to Have Them

The bus ride to and from church can be safe, relational, and fun if you establish and consistently enforce bus rules.  Determine what rules are necessary for the safety of each rider and what rules will free you up to build relationships and lead bus activities.  Here are some suggestions from other bus ministries:

  • Keep heads and hands inside.
  • Stay seated.
  • Talk in a normal voice and use good words.
  • Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Everyone participates on the bus.
  • Everyone goes to Sunday school and children’s worship.


 The Soul Winning Bus Ministry by Dave Smith, Assistant Pastor, Bus Director.  Download this 112 page manual on bus ministry FREE!


Originally printed as the Volume 11, Issue 10 of the CM Newsletter, October 2007, Contributing Editor: Effie Woodard

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