Think Again: 5 New Ways to Look at Your Youth Group’s Budget

1. It’s not fund-raising; it’s harnessing interest.

A woman in our congregation hired a boy to move some boards from her car to the garage. She paid him the equivalent of $60 an hour and sustained him with donuts, cookies and milk. Why?

People love supporting students who are trying to live for God.

Rather than solicit donations or write letters to relatives, make a list of students available to do part-time work. Find a parent or volunteer good at administration and have them dispatch kids by geographic location. You might be surprised to find that many people look for any excuse possible to hire students and give them money when asked to take a personal interest in the students’ lives.

2. Think in “dollars per student.”

As you communicate a budget to your board or accountability partners, shift the focus from money to people – especially when you’re asking for an increase. Whenever I’m preparing budget spreadsheets, I always include dollar-per-student rations. This will help you think efficiently (how to gain the most student influence per dollar in your checkbook): “It cost us $xx per student last year to bring them through our discipleship program. With the growth our group has experienced this year and the improvements we’ve made, we’re now looking at an overall savings of $xx per student this coming year.” The more thinking you do in terms of dollars per student, the more opportunities you’ll uncover to improve your program.

Also, remember that the budget is a guide. It is meant to communicate the priorities and direction of your program, not the untouchable arrangement of numbers in a list. Whether you’re talking to the elders or addressing the congregation, focus on the meaning behind the money. Talk in terms of your goals and the gains you’re making in achieving them. You may not see more dollars in your account, but you’ll elevate the discussion and keep everyone focused on students rather than costs.

3. Resources are in your church – go find them.

Stand in the back of your sanctuary next Sunday and look at all the people. Not as a crowd, but as uniquely gifted individuals. Those people have what your group needs. Let’s say you’d rather dig ditches than scrounge around looking for good deals for your group. I’ll bet there’s someone in your church who would be thrilled to play such a part in your youth ministry. Ask around and pray for God’s direction. He gifts all kinds of people with priceless abilities; and when the end result means blessing and encouraging the lives of your youth, there’s no telling what they might come up with. So remember, there’s gold hidden in those pews (or chairs), and it’s not just in people’s wallets.

4. Equip your students to own the needs of the ministry.

Imagine two young Boy Scouts sitting at behind a table while their scoutmaster comes forward asking you for donations. If the scoutmaster asks for money, it’s easy to turn him down. But could you turn down two boys looking up at you with that fragile, pleading look? Are you kidding? There’s no way you want to crush those impressionable young spirits.

It’s important to keep students in front of adults. Adults need to experience the grace of empowering young people to find their way and gain strength in the faith. Besides, nothing makes an adult feel better than firsthand experience with “It is better to give than to receive.”

5. When it comes to need, show, don’t tell.

In our early days, our youth group had this brown van that was supposed to hold 15 kids. It actually did fit 15, as long as none of them fell through the holes in the floor. Over the course of a year we put ads in the bulletin and occasionally mentioned our need for a new van from the pulpit, but the money didn’t come in. Finally, someone got the idea to simulate what it looks like to take a couple dozen students on a trip in a dilapidated van. The pastor let us have five minutes at the end of a service and we went for the jugular – using actual seats from the van, piling kids on top of each other, and showing what happens when 27 young people try to fit on seats built for 15. We then took an offering and collected $12,000 on the spot, – which at that stage in the life of our church, was an unbelievable amount of money.

Allowing adults to see the needs of your ministry, not just in the financial difficulties, but also in the support needed for the kids the ministry is designed for, will remind adults of their investment in the students’ lives. Kids communicate the vulnerability of adolescent development. Adults recognize this and support it, which is exactly as it should be. That’s the role of adults – to watch over the young until they themselves are equipped as adults. Don’t lose sight of this.

These tips are adapted from YOUthwork: 99 Practical Ideas for Youthworkers, Parents & Volunteers, co-authored by Don Pearson. Don’s groups have been stranded, evicted, rescued by helicopters, surrounded by sharks, and held at gunpoint…and have enjoyed God’s blessing while growing from six students in the ’80s to over 600 today. Don lives with his wife Julie and three grown children near Grand Rapids, Michigan.