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?

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.



Just found out a teen didn’t sign up for our camp because his family couldn’t afford it.   Didn’t know that finances were an issue; however, apparently they were.  I found all this out from the teen’s small group leader who was curious as to why he didn’t see the boys name on the list.

Money in ministry creates a lot of tension and that’s because it’s something that’s personal.  While you would love to include everyone in your programs, events, and trips, but, is that possible?  Maybe; however, without money you would be more limited with what you could do.

A solution most youth ministers use for tight budgets is fundraising; however, all we do with fundraising is waste our time and barely cover our financial needs.  Instead of raising funds, you need to be raising givers.  But you are in need of something more immediate, because changing the culture of giving is something that requires time and commitment from your entire church, especially leadership.  If that’s you, then try these alternatives:

  1. Have Them Raise Their Own Funds: I know I just said that fundraisers are a waste of time, so hear me out.  Instead of coordinating an event to raise funds for the teens, encourage your students to write letters, make phone calls or set up a page on Facebook asking people to fund their cause, their trip.  It’s about sharing the burden and teaching them about thinking outside the box when it comes to raising funds.
  2. Be Frugal In Planning:  It’s easy to get comfortable with vendors (i.e. bus companies) when you plan the same events year after year.  However, if you want the best deal, it’s important to shop around.  You don’t have to swap out vendors, especially if you’ve built a relationship with them; however, you want to get the best deal.  The more frugal you can be with your planning the more you can bring down the overall costs for your event or trip.
  3. Budget In Expenses:  Instead of putting the burden on the teenagers, put it on the church budget.  Maybe not the most attractive option; however, one that will instantly bring down costs for the students.  This might mean cutting the costs of other things you do, but it’s all about deciding what is most important.
  4. Make Others Aware: One way to make your trips, programs and events affordable is by sharing the burden with your team, parents and members of the church.  Your church is filled with people who have connections and resources that are going to alleviate the burden of expenses.  When you start the planning process, ask your team, “Do we know anyone out there who could help us with X?”

In the end the best you can do is create a culture of giving.  A church that tithes, is a church that wants to invests in it’s future.  Plus, a church that gives is one that’s honoring God and as Malachi 3:10 says – Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not.  Use money wisely, and see how God will bless your ministry.

How do you take away the obstacle of money from your ministry?

Chris Wesley is the Director of Student Ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, MD. You can read more great youth ministry articles and thoughts on his exceptional blog Marathon Youth Ministry.