A church's budget is direct evidence of where their priorities lie. In most cases, the lion's share of the budget is the master pastor's compensation package, expenses related to the building, and adult ministries. Children's ministry gets enough to provide a safe place for kids to be while their parents are attending the service. In short, churches tend to cater to adults.
In a financial climate such as this I'm surprised any youth ministry gets accomplished at all. Even a simple task like replacing the outdated DVD player seems like a major fiscal ordeal. Trying to pull off a mission trip is nearly impossible. Kids are frequently sent peddling goods door to door or collecting discarded items for a yard sale. In the end, while a trip of some sort may be provided, very little in the area of actual Biblical teaching or discipleship has been accomplished. The enormous effort required for such an event actually cuts into the precious little time you have for real youth ministry.
Mission trips are touted as "life-changing" by the companies that facilitate them. Short of a solid case of PTSD for the leaders, however, I really haven't seen the amount of life-changing spiritual growth I would expect for the huge investment required. Even the annual trek to the Dare-To-Share convention produces only a poor return of spiritual growth for the large amount of resources and effort needed.
This year, before you are startled and disappointed but the lack of funds your ministry will actually receive, take a few moments to reflect on the real purpose of youth ministry. Why are you really here? For me, the goal is to make sure every child I come into contact with can make an informed decision to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, then to help them grow a strong faith that will withstand life's trials. Group-building is also an important aspect of youth ministry. The kids need to like, trust, and care about each other if any deep sharing is going to happen. In fact, the camaraderie and support of true Christian friends can be the strongest impetus for long-term church attendance and the fellowship needed to support a deep and abiding Christian faith.
Youth ministry must boil down to faith-building and fellowship. Everything else is superfluous. My experience over the last decade has shown that a consistent time of Bible study, whether it's Sunday morning or during the week, produces the deep, vital, "life-changing" faith-building growth we seek. Here's the best part: It doesn't cost a lot!
Even in the most affluent church in which I served, my budget was only $30.00 per week. Most of that I spent on snacks. Yet I have never, and hopefully never will, do a fundraiser. But, I still managed to pull off what I feel was a successful youth ministry.
Here are some suggestions that might help you do it too:
Adjust your core ideas of youth ministry:
- A youth minister's job is not to take full responsibility for the spiritual training of the youngsters in their church. That's the parents' job. You should focus on helping parents disciple their kids. Resist the urge to take this responsibility on yourself. Leave it squarely on the parents' shoulders. You may, however, augment the parents' discipleship efforts with competent Bible teaching at every opportunity.
- Helping parents parent well is often the best thing you can do for kids. If you are younger than most of the kids' parents you can still be effective by employing older volunteers to teach parenting classes.
- All of your activities must support your efforts towards Bible teaching and group building. Sometimes I think youth ministers do fun events just to gain the acceptance and adoration of the kids and seem successful in the eyes of the church. These are self-centered attitudes. "Search your feelings, Luke."
- Fundraising has no place in youth ministry. Children should never be coerced or expected to be money makers. We occasionally hear of some bright young person who starts their own company and, of course, we'll all have to make money as an adult, but you'll never convince me that fundraising is a proper activity for this age group. If the parents and church want a certain type of youth ministry it's their responsibility to provide the funding.
I usually fund my youth ministry efforts with my own money. If they give me any kind of a budget, it's gravy. I do only what I can with what I have. Teaching and group building have the highest priority. If I do get the gumption to do a retreat, camping trip, or day activity the cost is within the parents ability to pay.
By sticking to the essentials I have been able to give many teenagers a solid Biblical understanding and a long lasting faith. So, bring on your anemic ministry budgets. I'll stick to the tactics I've spelled out in my website and quietly keep pushing the youth ministry cart down the road without doing a fundraiser. Join me as we continue to grow our kids with what the Lord provides.