A couple years ago, we started to charge students to join a small group in our youth ministry. Why? Good question – honestly, I’ve had to explain this on occasion to parents, so writing it out here will help me articulate the answer. Just for perspective, as a youth group we budget $0 for Life Groups, the money raised by registration fees goes to cover resources, trainings and materials. Here’s the details:

LIVE Bible
The most important item a student will receive is their new Bible. This year we moved away from the Life Application Bible to use the LIVE Bible. Really, really like this Bible, excited to get it in students’ hands. The Bible retails for $22.99 but can be picked up for $15-18 pretty easily.

Alternate Resource
In the case the student already has a LIVE Bible, we offered up some alternate resources for students to use over the course of the year. This year we gave a Bible study book or a pocket Bible commentary.

Student Journal
We gave students a small journal to write down their learnings and record prayer requests from their group. We’ve printed different ones over the years, sometimes they’re simple like a little Mead notebook with a sticker on it, sometimes more complicated. Either way, we want students to have something in their hand to write down what they’re learning.

LIVE curriculum
Students don’t feel the actual return on this one like getting a physical item like a Bible or journal – but they’ll feel it each week during the teaching time. LIVE isn’t cheap – $499 for the first year and $99 every year after, but we love it and it has quickly become part of our 4-year teaching plan.

Once again, something students won’t feel tangibly, but it should be felt intangibly every moment of the school year. We pour into volunteers, giving them training, discussion groups, resources (like 99 Thoughts for Small Group Leaders) and more. Every minute we pour into small group leaders is a chance to pour into 5-10 students.

Not saying that your youth ministry should charge for small groups next year, but it is working for us, and students are getting a TON of bang for their thirty bucks.


This fall we’ve been trying out some new ideas with our fall youth ministry calendar (you can see the actual calendar here if you missed it a couple months ago). It is always tough to make adjustments when things are going well – the tendency is to settle in and keep doing whatever is working. So our motivation was to make things even better was not without risk – but it felt like it was the right time to pull the trigger.

Here’s some of the theory behind some of the changes we’ve made in HSM’s events and activities philosophy:

No More Events
This fall, we had one single event on the calendar for our students. PumpkinFest. Now, we planned for it to be big, we pushed it for weeks. This was not just the only event, it was going to be the one to be at! But other than that one event – you couldn’t find a budget-killing, overnight black hole of time and money planned for our youth group. While we’ve never been an event-driven student ministry – but this is a big change from a youth ministry based on the event to event hype machine from one big thing to the next.

More Activities
So streamlining events and going for more effective has led us to this: more activities. Let me explain the distinction, because on first glance that might sound conflicting. Events take you out an extra night of the week, they take a ton of resources, they take a ton of manpower. Events are a ton of work, and most of the time, not enough return. Often times they’re effective in bringing a crowd, but have little effect on reaching people for Jesus Christ or much less even increasing the number of students attending regular services. Here’s where activities are different than events; they’re attached to an existing program. Activities are a pancake breakfast on Sunday morning. Activities are bingo nights with great prizes after after youth group or hanging out at Chic-Fil-A after small groups. Activities are easy, and fun, build community and hold hands more closely with the actual church.

I think there’s room for both in youth ministry, but I’m loving doing less events and more activities. Thoughts?


An interesting discussion came up on last week’s Simply Youth Ministry Podcast (episode 144, click here to watch it). The discussion was about giving your students an incentive (money, discounts, prizes, etc) for bringing their friends to church. The team seemed pretty much opposed to it, but I didn’t see it as a big deal. Curious as to what you think? Vote today!


Here’s the latest episode of the Simply Youth Ministry Podcast. Enjoy it – just recorded another one today, too!


Weekend Teaching Series: 2020: The Future is Now (week 3 of 6)
Sermon in a Sentence: What are you chasing? The pursuit of money isn’t a worthy goal for your life and your future.
Service Length: 78 minutes

Understandable Message: HSM was pumped to have Doug Fields teach this weekend as part of the future series. He’ll be back the next 2 weeks, too! His message focused on what we are chasing after with our life, and how we are a product of our culture – which means that without thinking we could assume the pursuit of money and wealth is worthwile for our lives. He challenged students to reconsider their attitude about money, and to be giving, give out of abundance and give out of sacrifice.

Element of Fun/Positive Environment: This weekend was a super clean program, just a couple of video elements, music and teaching. We also introduced the eBay offering campaign that will run for the next 2 weekends – more details on that here if you missed it.

Music Playlist: Golddigger [Kanye West cover], No One Higher, The Stand, Sing Sing Sing, May the Words of My Mouth

Favorite Moment: Having Doug back teaching in HSM for the first time this fall was awesome. So excited for the next couple of weeks!

Up Next: 2020 – The Future is Now: week 4

Phil is back again this week with great learnings about how to budget for an upcoming youth event like summer camp, a retreat or help pull off a student leadership conference. Reading over the list, I can assure you these are born straight out of some experiences in the past year – it’d do you well to look it over to help you develop skills with numbers. Here’s a few of them, worth the trip to get the rest:

11. Think about whether you need to make a scouting trip before the event. You may need to factor in money for this as well.

12. Do your research. If you are thinking about providing a “takeaway” at your event (perhaps a water bottle or wristband with the theme Bible verse printed on it) then figure out a realistic cost, don’t just guess.

13. Look for fixed cost items (rather than costs related to group size). If you can find items or activities that are a fixed cost this will help you as once you reach your target number, additional registrants will be bonus.

14. Factor in leader/volunteer cost. If you cover the cost of volunteers at your event, make sure you factor that in early.

15. A large event needs a buffer of 5-10% of the total budget. This will hurt to add but it will hurt you more if you don’t. If it’s the first time you’ve run this event or the first time at a new venue make your buffer ~10%, if you’ve done it before you might get away with ~5%.


Phil (on our HSM team) is the captain of event planning. He posted the 5 Keys to Event Planning on his blog yesterday and thought you might benefit from the link. Here’s a couple of them, head there for the complete thought:

1. Know the purpose of the event
Why are you doing what you are doing? You need to figure this out early on. It may be an event that you’ve come up with yourself or one that you’re planning for another team member. If it’s the latter, ask! If it’s the former, check that there is a point and it isn’t simply something that you will find fun (though hopefully that will play at least a part). Write a mission statement, one sentence that sums up the event that can come back to to help you stay on track.
Even for a simple parent reception ask yourself what the intended outcome is…do you hope to meet parents yourself, present something to them, help them connect to each other, honor them as ministry partners or just take a moment to pray.
Never put an event on the calendar simply because it was there last year.

2. Know WHO the event is for
Parents, Students, Staff, Volunteers, Newcomers, well connected students, Christians, the whole youth group…
This is vital. If you plan a camp and invite non-Christians then your teaching must reflect that. If you want to run a discipleship retreat, figure out how to attract the specific demographic you’re after and tailor the retreat for them.

3. Work out a budget
Do this early on. Don’t fall into the mindset of “money doesn’t govern my ministry” because in many situations (like on the paper report you present to your senior pastor) it does!
Start with the big costs like Venue, Transportation and catering and then add in the next level of costs like a guest speaker etc.
Remember to ask questions when booking all of these, never assume anything – your budget will hate you for it. Check what you should tip a bus driver (I always ask to have the tip included in the contract), factor in room tax, check to see what A/V equipment is available and whether there is an extra charge. Don’t feel like you’re asking too many questions, remember, you are the client!


Doug, Matt, Josh, and Katie are back and joined by Andy (at least for a bit). After Doug and Matt share about taking on a new small group together and an update from a team member. The questions include topics of resources with no budget, catchy youth group names, Doug’s homemade pants, job descriptions, tithing, and helping a new youth pastor in your old job.