I’ve yet to meet a youth minister who gets excited about managing budgets or planning fundraisers, but those are things we all have to do. At Smarter Youth Ministry, I’ve shared the kinds of money saving ideas that make it easier to manage your finances so that you can pay more attention to your students. Last month, I heard from a youth worker who’d been able to eliminate to car washes and replace them  with fun outreach events. Here’s how he did it.

Cut a ton of money from your budget by negotiating pizza prices.

Most chain stores are run by independent franchisers which means that they’ve got the latitude to cut you a deal, and except the one you’re currently using, every place in town would love to cut you a deal. Here’s how to give them that opportunity.

1. Create a one-page proposal that you can share with every pizza place in the area. Tell them how many pizzas you anticipate ordering this year. Tell them the kind of deal you’re getting right now. Tell them you want a better one. Give them a window of time to get back with you (48 hours seems right). Throw out phrases like “official pizza provider” and give franchisers the option to place posters or coupons at your serving area.

2. Fax, email, or hand-deliver your proposal to every decent pizza place in town.

3. Once you receive responses, send another proposal to each of the places that responded. Share the best deal you received and give each one more chance to beat it.

4. Decide on a deal and lock it in. Negotiate delivery fees (these are always negotiable). Make sure the organization knows that you’re tax exempt!

5. Do this every year. Pizza franchises are notorious for changing ownership on a regular basis, and a new owner might be more willing to cut a deal.

When I started in youth ministry in 2004, I was paying $9.50 for a large pizza at Donato’s. Today, we get large pizzas from Cici’s for $4.50, there’s no delivery charge, and the owner insists that we do not tip the driver. In a larger youth ministry, it’s feasible that this could save you $1,000 or more.

If someone showed up to donate a few hundred dollars to your program, you wouldn’t hesitate to take it. What would stop you from saving just as much money and giving a couple of local establishments an honest chance to win your business?

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 receive the actual copies of the letters he’s used to negotiate pizza prices.

Back in high school I had to borrow my neighbors car to run a few errands.  As I picked up the car I asked him, “Is there anything I need to know?” He replied, “Keep your eye on the flow of traffic because the speedometer is broken.”  Being a new driver I didn’t realize how big of a deal this was until I was heading down the road passing what felt like a million cops with no clue whether or not I was speeding.

It doesn’t take a genius to realize that you need every gauge on your car’s dashboard to head down the road safely.  Without it you don’t know how far and fast you are going.  You need it to track the health of the cars and when you need a tune up.

In youth ministry you need a dashboard for similar reasons, because you need to know:

What Are You Tracking?

This might be a question that makes you nervous because it brings up the numbers game; however, it’s more than that.  Knowing what you are tracking means you are keeping track of the health of your ministry.  Therefore, you need to be tracking:

Who Is Coming: Attendance is more than just a blank number, it can help us determine if we are tracking more boys than girls or more churched than unchurched.  Tracking attendance isn’t just counting bodies; it allows you to understand how you are growing.  Knowing who is coming will also shape the identity of your ministry.

Spiritual Deepening: It’s very difficult to judge a man’s heart (unless you are God); however, by tracking spiritual deepening you are looking at the ratios of teens that are showing up versus how many are going deeper.  Knowing the ratios means knowing that teens might struggle to plug into a ministry versus a small group.  This helps you understand the path you’ve laid out for them in your ministry.

Why Teens Are Coming: Tracking this question may lead to answers as simple as, “My friend brought me.” Or “My mom made me.” however, it will also show you your influence and impact in the community.  Do people know about you?  How are they learning about you?  Are you more present in certain schools, clubs or teams? Know this and you can make your impact greater.

Adult Influence: Tracking ministers might not be a difficult task because you work at a small church or there aren’t a lot of adults serving in the student ministry.  However, if you don’t track who is serving, how long they are staying, why they are leaving and how they got into ministry then you are never going to learn how to grow the number of men and women serving in your ministry.

Budget: If you want to protect or increase your budget you need to know where the money is going and even where it’s coming from.  Finances are definitely not the most appealing area of student ministry; however, it’s important.  Without God honoring stewardship it’s going to be hard to fund the movement you are trying to lead.

Whether you use certain software or a basic spreadsheet you need to be tracking the progress, growth and movement of your ministry.  With no dashboard you are essentially putting your ministry at risk of crashing and spinning out of control.  Talk to your leaders and take the time to answer the question, “What should I be tracking?”

What other aspects of ministry should we be tracking?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more about his blog Marathon Youth Ministry.

Just curious if there is a magic price point for summer camp – I realize it will vary among us as far as how long camp is, etc. But I think just knowing the price of camp across the spectrum will be helpful. Vote in today’s poll!


We had a letter come in from a youth worker asking about building a youth room. Not every Youth Ministry has a dedicated youth space, like mine for example where we share common space with the Church, and Josh, well lets not go there! :)  It would be great to hear what your perspective is on this question:

We are in the process of a transition and conversations are beginning about building a dedicated youth space. But is it worth the investment? Do we build it for the group we have or one much bigger? Are there negative aspects to having a dedicated student space that I have not thought of? 

What do you think? Lets help this youth worker out, share your experiences, good or bad with building a dedicated youth room.


For the most part, when I write something about youth ministry it is field-tested. I have done it…it worked. I have done it…don’t ever do it. I have done it…check out these scars. One of the ideas floating around in the old noggin that I have never done and I don’t know if it will work is … wait for it…seasons passes.

Allow me to explain: we live in a CostCo world. If I can’t buy 12 of something at a discounted rate then I don’t want any of them. I love the idea of warehouse stores so much that I bought my wedding ring at CostCo. (Longer story for another day) What if we were to sell season passes to our youth ministry with some of the same mentality? It would work something like this. We do 10-20 events throughout the year that cost different amounts.

    Winter Camp-$200
    Summer Camp-$500
    Connecting Event (Broomball)-$10
    Connecting Event (Road Rally)-$25
    Mission Trip-$100

…you get the point. If you were to plan your entire calendar for the year and figure out the cost for a family to send a student to everything you would come up with a grand total. Assuming the above 5 events were the only things my ministry was doing it would cost a student $835 to attend all of them.

What if you offered a 20% (or whatever you could afford as a ministry) discount on the cost of all of the events, and if a parent spends $668 they could go to all of the events for a 20% discounted rate?

The reasons I think I am on to something:

Who doesn’t love a discount? More for less is a good thing.
Forces you to plan (and stick to) your events for the year. I am 6 months into a new job at a new ministry. This will probably not happen for a year or two until I am sure of what works and what doesn’t.

There is a group of students who are bought into an event before you even start to plan for it. Once you have paid for something there is a willingness to go to it. You don’t want to waste the season pass. So you can assume most of the students who bought the pass will be at any given event. If not then you can be disappointed about their absences with a little extra money in your pocket.

You have some seed money for start of the year costs. All of our deposits are due at the same time and I put our accounting offices into a panic every September. If your budget was front-loaded by some extra incoming cash, they might not break into a cold sweat every time they saw you coming.

You can allow payment plans. Take the cost of your season pass and divide it by 12 or a little less after a deposit and then families can budget it on a monthly basis.

This one is a slippery slope…You could give some discounts or other privileges with the pass. Discounts on shirts, books, or other things you sell. Maybe front of the bus (or back) seating. Like I said, this one could get a little dangerous but just a thought. As mentioned, this is in the beta phase of genius, so I would love your thoughts or why you don’t think it would work. Maybe you have already tried it and you have some evidence one way or the other. Would love to see a discussion in the comments!

Jeff Bachman is the High School Pastor at Rock Harbor Church just up the road in Irvine, CA. Feel free to leave comments or email him at jbachman@rockharbor.org and of course subscribe to his blog The Until Matters.

Thought this article from Luke Trouten on youth ministry events was fantastic – it goes into practical detail about planning and preparing a big event. Some really great stuff here – read the little bit I’ve stolen here, head there for the whole piece. Awesome!

Find Your Range
Because of all those variables, you won’t be able to nail down an exact per-person cost for any trip. To make sure you don’t lose your shirt (or your job!) it’s important to figure out the best-case and worst-case scenarios for sign-ups. You want to make sure that if you sign-ups are particularly low you can still afford the event. It can also give you an idea of the minimum number of students you’d need before the event can pay for itself. Likewise, it’s important to know what happens to the price if everyone brings 5 friends to the retreat.

Our parent church goes to the same convention we do each spring, but they charge much less than we do. I assumed it was just because they have a larger budget and could afford to subsidize it more. Out of curiosity, I plugged in their numbers to my formula (they bring about 5 times as many students) and was amazed to find that the price plummeted for a group that big. Sometimes the per-person costs don’t work how you’d think.

Don’t Apologize for the Price
It can be tempting to apologize when an expensive event comes up. While it may feel like you’re winning points by sharing in the sticker-shock, ultimately you’re devaluing your own event. You should be confident that the trip or retreat your planning is worth every penny it costs (and more)! To be honest, most youth trips are a bargain, and planning a similar event for your family or school group would cost even more. When you apologize for the price you convey that it maybe isn’t worth that much to go to the event. People are willing to pay if they are confident they are getting a good value for a fair price. Don’t undermine it by insinuating maybe the event costs too much.

Offer Assistance
While you shouldn’t apologize for the price, you also shouldn’t let the price get in the way. The reality of trips is they cost money. The reality of life is that sometimes money is tight. If your church does fundraisers, that can help offset some of the cost. Our church has a few reasons why we don’t do fundraising. But we still say, over and over, that money should not be the only reason a student can’t attend an event. That’s right, if the only thing keeping a student from signing up is the cost, we take away that obstacle. We ask if they can afford part of the fee, and the church covers whatever is leftover.

If we are going to tell students to that God provides if we trust in him, then we better put our money where our mouth is. This has been our policy for years and it’s provided many opportunities to see God come through in powerful ways. One of my favorite sayings is, “If it’s God’s will, then it’s God’s bill,” and he’s picked up the tab (and created some great stories) more than once.

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.

A few weeks back I was sitting down with the director of Youth Ministry at the college I am going to be teaching at and he was telling me that Duffy Robbins himself was going to be coming in October to do a one week intensive course which amounts to much of the content that him and Doug Fields teach in their speaking to teenagers series.

I couldn’t believe it, Duffy is coming to the college, for a week in a class of only forty students, to which I replied what most people would ask, “can I sit in on the class?” I mean after all, this is a tremendous opportunity to hear from a great mind in YM and I ask a lot of questions so this is going to be great. He said of course I could attend, and I asked could I invite some of my youth pastor friends from the area to which he replied with something I did not expect.

He replied by basically saying that he had offered in the past and none would come because many Youth Pastors are only interested in professional development if it means traveling to a conference on the Church’s budget. I’ll be honest, I don’t completely disagree, I recently went to a training event that advertised $5 for youth leader training, and it that cost included all course materials, a thumb drive, a keychain and a speaker flown into town. I packed up our team and got there to find a total attendance 30 people in the auditorium of a church that held 1200. The event was well advertised and lots of calls were made, but no one showed up.

The brightest people I know in the youth ministry world are the ones that read the most, and take every opportunity to learn more and if we are serious about growing as leaders its starts with saying I don’t know it all. There is so much quality training out there, take advantage of it.

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.