financialpinchThere is a financial pinch being felt among churches.

I shared in a recent article how my own church has felt it, and how we must all be “resigned to serve” in ministry.

It’s why I want to run something by you, given the tension we all likely know between your budget crunch and the vision still trying to be realized. It’s a philosophical question, as it will set a precedent throughout your ministry/church.

aliveI saw a sale today on door hangers for ministry outreach. My first thought was, “Cool idea. I wonder if we could/should get those.”

Then I remembered how we’ve attempted some great ideas in the past only to experience poor buy-in. There’s a box filled with fundraising supplies in our church building that we’re still trying to discern what the next steps on are.

I had a third thought, though: “What if we created a type of grassroots funding and ownership by letting people know about these opportunities and seeing which ones were sticky? We could create a webpage or some flow of communication that made information on these ideas available?”

Practically speaking, I get emails all the time like the one I got on door hangers – likely because church resourcing organizations have my email address. If I prop this out there in some way, perhaps someone willing to spend $4.50 for a package of outreach materials is the very person I’d want to start talking with regarding the vision/logistics of going door-to-door to hang them.

Wouldn’t this be a much better approach than a church buying materials and trying to convince people to buy into the idea? While that latter idea will still need to be in place from time to time, the former taps into the Millennial-esque bent toward random generosity.

  • Isn’t this why we ask the church-at-large to fund kids to go to camp?
  • Isn’t this why we park kids at the door after Sunday services with a box of candy bars and a change purse?
  • Isn’t this why we shop for food in bulk at Sam’s Club to supply the next spaghetti supper that people can buy tickets for “on a donation basis?”

Here’s the hurdle, though.

standardsThe precedent you’d be setting with the newer approach is that people could/should fund their favorite projects as it tickles their fancy. That has implications in a few different directions, including how some people might divert their giving from the church budget to do this instead. Then again, some might argue that people are itching to be generous – and if you can get them giving at all (even to their own pet projects) it will inspire them to give more holistically down the road.

Should funding great ministry ideas feel like an “a la carte” menu… or should we keep trying to get folks to give toward the church budget “household grocery list?”

When does fund-raising contradict faith-raising?

Is your approach to fund your next big idea contradicting the bigger big idea?

What do you think?

It happens to the best of us. It happened to me yesterday. And if I’m honest maybe the past couple months. Any of these ring a bell with you – some have felt pretty familiar to me in my youth ministry experience!

  • getting paid less than equals
  • little to no website exposure
  • higher expectations of you than others
  • total absence in the bulletin
  • budget cuts … again
  • note getting credit
  • feeling invisible in your church
  • they still won’t let me hire an assistant
  • not getting enough resources
  • spouse expectations
  • we’re growing while the church is dying
  • the scape goat for everything
  • unsupported by the leadership

So we become martyrs. We resign ourselves that these feelings are the underpinning price of being faithful. That doing God’s work just isn’t fair and this is our lot in life. Crybaby. Pity party.

  • Take a few minutes and think about where you’re feeling sorry for yourself. Journal a few thoughts about your fair and unfair comparisons and the trap you have fallen into.
  • The blame game has no winners, only losers.
  • Confess where you are playing the martyr.  Martyrdom will always suck passion and create tension.
  • Believe you are not a victim. Victimization will only give you excuses instead of results.
  • You are not constantly suffering. You are actually alienating yourself from the leadership who is trying to do the best job that they can.

What would you add to either list?


If you’re like most youth workers, just reading that headline probably made you shutter a little bit. Youth workers get uncomfortable talking about money and might even be a little uncomfortable managing it. Besides, economic times are tough, and it seems selfish to ask for a bigger piece of the pie, especially if the pie is getting smaller.

But here’s the thing. If your ministry is healthy and growing, an antiquated budget can absolutely be the thing that limits your growth. Don’t let that happen. It’s time to approach the overseers in their financial tower and ask for a bigger budget. Before you march in there, make sure you have your bases covered.

Explain how a bigger budget will help you to do bigger ministry.
If you’re asking for more money because you want to more easily sustain status quo, you’re doomed before you even begin. Explain how many more students you expect to reach or how many more service projects you’ll be able to complete. Be prepared to be measured on these later.

Demonstrate at least THREE ways you’ve worked to cut costs.
This is likely the first question you’ll be asked. So what have you done to save money in other areas? If you can’t answer this question, you need to start here and not with the budget proposal. You can’t win a bigger budget if you can’t illustrate that you’re trying to be an effective steward.

Make it clear that your new goals are good for the entire church.
The first time I asked for a budget increase, it was so we could continue to build our outreach ministry. Several new students had become part of our program, and two of those students brought their parents on Sunday mornings. After I shared this story, I was no longer asking for a budget increase for myself. Suddenly, it was for the benefit of everyone.

Know the names of the people on the Finance Team.
Rookie mistake. I called a guy Jeff for an entire meeting. His name was John.

Treat your proposal like it’s important because it is.
The first time I wrote a budget proposal, I was a 21-year-old in Business School. My proposal was 17-pages and impeccably formatted with color charts and graphs. I even had one of my professors review the thing for me. I found out years later that no one on the team actually read past the third page. But I got the budget approved because according to either Jeff or John, “If it was that important to you, we figured it should be that important to us.

Saturate the entire process in prayer.
Just because it seems like a business transaction doesn’t mean it’s not a spiritual one. You’re talking about the allocation of the gifts that other people have given unto God, and you’re likely having that conversation with several people who have to make several difficult decisions. A little of God’s wisdom is absolutely necessary.

This entire process can be pretty intimidating, and you’ll likely have more questions. I’ll be happy to engage you in the comments and answer any questions you might have.

Aaron Helman is a youth minister in South Bend, Indiana and the creator of Smarter Youth Ministry. He wants to reduce your frustration so that you can do ministry forever. Join his free email list to get a copy of his Budget Questions Worksheet.

It’s still the second biggest taboo in Youth Ministry after salary, but ministry budgets are really important to talk about even though discussing them make people squirm. I wrote a few months back about a better way of talking about budgets with other pastors by comparing budget on a per student basis. But a pattern that I have noticed in my ministry, and I have seen in others as well, is that an increase in budget can result in a decrease in diligence of good stewardship.

To give a little context to this, 2 years ago our youth ministry had a budget of 8% of what it was in 2001. There were similar amounts of students and leaders and 75% less paid staff. In the time between now and then was a period where the group shrunk and the budget did accordingly. I will never complain about the finite budget had because it taught me a few things:

Tight budgets breed creativity: There is a great book called $5 Youth Ministry and for many youth pastors that is the name of the game. Getting creative, shopping on craigslist, building a home made catapult pumpkin launcher; this is the stuff that the memories are made of. Not having a lot of money to spend creates environment where collaboration and brainstorming happen, where students and leaders can use their gifts in ways that buying a solution might now allow.

Tight budgets promote stewardship: I can remember vividly, 3 years in a row, where I was a volunteer in my early 20’s and not paying for a youth trip because I knew that if I dragged my feet long enough that the Church would just pay for it or forget about it. Not the lesson we want to teaching leaders and students. Following up with all students and leaders to make sure they pay is a great teachable moment around stewardship, commitment and integrity. Lets face it, it is also a great teachable moment for ourselves to learn to be thorough in planning and executing events.

Big budgets can breed wastefulness: As we have transitioned from a season of very tight budgeting to one where there has been an increase, I have noticed a decrease in my urgency to return things that I didn’t need, to buy more, or to buy frivolous things. It’s easy when there is a little more to spend, coupled with the attitude that I have to spend all of my budget if I want to get it back, that can cause purchases and events based solely on the reasoning of “why not?”.

I often need to remind myself that I am spending our congregant’s tithes that they have entrusted to me to spend for the furthering of the Kingdom. Having a small youth budget is not a death sentence, in fact it’s really a formative experience to work within one. Learning to use your budget wisely will allow for your effectiveness to grow proportionately with your budget.

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.

Stop asking how much my youth budget is.

When I was in Chicago for SYMC Josh and I were chatting about budgets over steaks and a blue cheese wedge (which I had never seen or heard of until then) and we were batting around the complexity of budgeting and the fact that there its really tough to compare one church to another. But it never surprises me how the question of “how much is your youth budget?” is never far away when talking among Youth Pastors. My Church is mid-sized (2,000 people) but many of the Churches around us are smaller and talking about youth budgeting can become an apples and oranges conversation unless you crunch the numbers down to a comparable figure.

I have learned that when we talk about your budget is to never talk about the total, because unless you have the exact same size ministry, the numbers won’t really matter. Its much easier to have these conversations when you calculate dollars per active student. I would suggest that contrary to what Mark Devries (Sustainable Youth Ministry) argues, that a figure that excludes your salary is better because, salaries can be very different; even regionally, and in a single Youth Pastor setting that difference can skew the figures. And lets face it, it also keeps us from doing a head count at each others youth group and trying to crunch the numbers to figure out what each other make.

When I polled the Youth Ministries in my area, my other Youth Pastor friends were shocked when my quick survey revealed that their budgeting had between $110 and $175 per student per year and me at the “big church” was $48. It is really easy to be jealous when you hear what some youth ministries have for budget because you hear the total number, but the reality is that when you do the math its probably not nearly as rosy as you think.

So I guess what I am getting at is, if you want to have a great conversation with other youth pastors about money, maybe ask them how much they budget per student. Asking this way will result in less discouragement and allow for discussion of vision, value and purpose instead of, WHOA!, they give you how much?!?!?!

Geoff Stewart is the Pastor of Jr & Sr High School for Journey Student Ministries at Peace Portal Alliance Church and regularly contributes GUEST POSTS to MTDB. Be sure to check out his Twitter stream for awesome ministry goodness. Want to get in on the fun and write up a guest post yourself? See how right here.

POLL DAY: Budget Cuts

 —  December 14, 2010 — Leave a comment

Let’s say you have a budget, which is awesome alone. But it gets cut. Where do you look to make the first cutbacks of these poll options?