Preparing a Youth Ministry Budget

As a youth pastor, one of the trickiest parts of organizing a healthy youth ministry is figuring out how to disperse your budget. Youth pastors have a reputation as people who are less organized and like to wing-it with stuff, but make no mistake – having a plan in place for your budget is part of your job and is a demonstration of good stewardship.

The Bible simply talks too much about money and planning and wisdom to have a see-as-we-go kind of mindset. We need to be faithful with what God has given us, especially considering that the money comes generously from the hands of hard-working people in our congregations.

Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed. (Proverbs 16:3)

Keeping this in mind, here are some important things to consider when setting your youth ministry budget.

Set aside funds for major expenses. At the start of the year, look ahead over the next twelve months of your calendar and determine if there are any large expenditures coming. Is there a mission trip or retreat you are gearing up for? Will you be needing some new equipment – a projector, pool table, stereo, or Bibles to give away? Is there a new program starting that will require renting a facility or intense advertising? It’s important to plan ahead so that you have the funds necessary when the time comes. It would be mighty crappy to spend liberally and then realize suddenly that you are way short for a big purchase.

Consider your mission and values.  Your budget should be a reflection of your ministry purpose. Jesus said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”. Ask, what is the heartbeat of our youth ministry? Then, invest there. Our budget is divided simply into five basic categories:

  • discipleship
  • outreach
  • leadership
  • supplies
  • advertising

Sometimes an expense can fit into more than one category, but this system seems to work fairly well. About 70% of our budget fits into discipleship and outreach, because we consider those to be the two main focuses of our ministry. Leadership comes next, and supplies and advertising last.

Think about your own church’s or youth ministry’s mission, vision, and values statements. Your budget should be set up to drive resources in the right direction to meet your stated objectives.

Think in terms of dollars per student. I learned this one from Mark Devries in Sustainable Youth Ministry. Some youth pastors are frustrated with a small budget, but if you do the math in terms of dollars per student, you might be surprised at how solid your budget actually is.

For example, imagine a mega-church youth ministry with a budget of $20,000. Meanwhile, a small rural church has a budget of $1,000. It’s possible that the smaller church has more dollars available per student. If the mega-church has 500 students, they only have $40 to spend per student. Yet the small church might have 12 students, which is $83 per student.

When setting up your budget, ask “how can I best spend my $83 this year?” Maybe even jot down on paper some ideas of what a breakdown might look like:

  • $20 for one-on-one coffee shop time
  • $15 devotional as a gift
  • $40 for food and special youth events over the year
  • $8 for a movie

It can look however you want. Plus, you don’t need to lock in exactly how you’ll spend every dollar for every student. It will be different with any given student’s needs. But the point is to stretch your imagination to see what kinds of things are possible.

Be proud of your spending. You should be keeping track of your spending – I hope that is a given. Wether it is turning in receipts or recording expenses in a spreadsheet, or whatever system your church uses, you need to keep track diligently.

One thing to consider is this – would I be proud to show my expense reports to members of the congregation? Imagine (hypothetically of course…at least I hope) that you were required to stand before the church and go through your yearly expenses on a slideshow. Would there be purchases you’d be ashamed to share? Would your people feel confident in how you handled the money? Or would they see you as an irresponsible spender? Would there be stuff that screams “impulse buy”? It’s an intimidating thought, but it ought to encourage us to be better stewards with the resources given to us.

Maximize ever dollar. There is a difference between being stingy and being cost-effective. Youth ministries can trim their expenses in a number of ways: cutting deals with local pizza joints, doing the occasional fundraiser, buying ministry resources when they are on sale, sharing stuff with other churches, borrowing one-time items from church members…the possibilities are endless. All it takes is a little patience, diligence, and careful planning.

These tips should set you in a good direction. What might you add to this list?

Happy serving!

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