by Mike Kupferer
It’s time for many youth ministries to turn in their budgets for the next year. The economy is tough, and churches are feeling the crunch, too.
The most important thing to remember when working on your youth ministry budget is that the money is not your own personal spending money. It is God’s money, and your youth ministry is a steward of it. The money has been given to the church (or directly to the youth ministry) by other people as an offering for the furthering of God’s Kingdom. Before you spend any of that money, make sure you remember the reason people gave it. Also remember the fact that people have sacrificed to give that money to your ministry.
Think about the value and necessity of the things you are adding to the budget. It is crucial in this part of the process to stop and refocus yourself on being a good steward. Ask yourself questions like, What is necessary? Can we find something equivalent for less? Is that a good use of our money? Is the money better spent on something else? Taking extra time on this step can help you avoid regret down the road.

Elements of Financial Stewardship

Don’t allow yourself to get caught up in spending money just because you have money to spend. You are a steward of this money, and people trust you to spend it wisely. Making quick decisions is not being a good steward. Throwing money into something you do not need is not being a good steward. Buying something just to look cool is not being a good steward.
Being a good steward of your youth ministry budget will look different for your ministry than it will for mine or for the ministry down the street. Only your youth ministry team knows what is truly needed and what is just a “want.” Spend time in prayer asking God to give you wisdom with your budget. Talk about your budget with your team, allowing each person the chance to voice his opinion about how to be the best stewards of the youth budget. (Each person will have her own personal bias as to where the money is spent, and it is the youth minister’s responsibility to discern what is best for the ministry as a whole.)
Being a good steward can also mean you “reduce/reuse/recycle” within your ministry. Is there curriculum you can rework and use again? Can you rearrange classes to better use the space you have? Does food have to be served at each event? Where can you reduce your spending? What materials can you reuse? What materials/ideas can you give away to other ministries?
As you begin thinking about your budget and what it means to be a good steward, keep in mind these Scriptures:

  • Psalms 24:1—”The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it.”
  • Leviticus 25:23—”The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants.”
  • Deuteronomy 6:10-12—”When the Lord your God has brought you into the land that he swore to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—a land with fine, large cities that you did not build, houses filled with all sorts of goods that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant—and when you have eaten your fill, take care that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

Categorizing the Budget

Take the time to put the budget together—don’t rush it, or you might leave out something important. There are the obvious categories, like food for your gatherings, the costs associated with events, camps, and retreats throughout the year, and the mundane things like classroom materials—pens, markers, crayons, paper, etc. But what about these…?
Curriculum includes books and materials, for both teachers and students, for any learning environment your ministry offers. If you buy curriculum, don’t let the curriculum determine what you teach—let your lesson scope and sequence determine your curriculum. Know what topic or Scripture you want to cover and look for curriculum that matches that topic. Once you have found an assortment of choices, take the time to look over each one. Evaluate, compare, and determine which one works best for your situation. Be mindful of the students and the teachers; don’t just pick the one you like best or the one that happens to be the newest material available.
There are advantages and disadvantages to buying curriculum. You save time by not researching and writing the lesson yourself, the material is written by someone who is more knowledgeable about the topic than you, and it usually comes with classroom helps and handouts. However, the author of the material doesn’t know your class structure, students, or your teaching style.
One of the biggest continuous expenses that any youth ministry will incur is teaching material. Not only do companies offer the teacher material, but you can also buy student booklets. If you use books for small groups, then you have to buy every student a book so they can read it. When it’s time to reorder your lesson material for next quarter, think twice about just ordering like you always have. Maybe the youth ministry needs to spend its money in a different area for now.
When you’re thinking about what curriculum to order/create, don’t limit yourself to just a 13-week set of material. It goes against a lot of what is commonly offered, but the best way to present material is to cover the topic as best as you can. So if you only need three weeks, don’t stretch it to four for the sake of filling an entire month. If you need five months, then plan for five months. Finally, don’t forget to include resources like movie clips, videos, books, and CDs when you are budgeting for curriculum.
This category encompasses money to send students to camps, retreats, or conferences—not Six Flags or the beach. Every church handles scholarships differently, and it’s really an “all or nothing” category when it comes to budgeting—either you include scholarships in your budget or you don’t. Some churches rely on money to be donated for each specific event; some have half of the youth ministry budget allotted to scholarships. Helping a student attend a week of camp is a better use of money than buying a new video projector.
Volunteer Appreciation
This is huge! You can’t have a healthy youth ministry without quality adults. As the director of the youth program, show appreciation to those who put so much time, energy, and money into student ministry—and don’t get paid for it. Set aside money in your budget for books, gift cards, movie tickets, gas cards, or baby sitting money. Know your volunteers well enough to be able to know what they would appreciate.
Staff Training
Staff training should include attending a youth ministry conference. There are multiple options across the country: Youth Specialties’ NYWC, SYM/Group’s NYMC, and Lifeway’s LNYWC. Staff training should also include material for ongoing training within your ministry setting. If you want to go through a youth ministry book with your volunteers, buy each of them a copy. Don’t make your volunteers buy their own copies unless there is absolutely no way your ministry can afford it. Ongoing training will help everyone stay on the same page and help them feel better prepared to minister to the students.
This covers any expense you incur to “market” your youth ministry. Be creative with this category, and use methods that will reach the students you want to reach. Don’t get stuck in a pattern of marketing the same way every year or even the same way the congregation markets itself as a whole. Your marketing budget could include items like t-shirts, Google ads, yard signs, yearbook ads, banners, coffee mugs, temporary tattoos, buttons, backpacks, notebooks, and shoes.
Regardless of what you spend your marketing money on, remember that your ultimate goal is to tell people about Jesus Christ, not about your youth ministry. Don’t spend a high percentage of your total budget on this category; rather, let your ministry speak for itself and have your students market via word-of-mouth.
This is one of the fun categories where you have to be careful to spend wisely…and this it where you remember that you’re a steward of this budget. Budget for all costs associated with your website, any software you will need, digital and/or video camera equipment, iPods or mp3 players, televisions and DVD players. You might even be able to include a laptop or projector in this budget category. Just remember that you don’t need the latest technology in order to have an effective youth ministry.
Yes, you can still communicate information about your ministry without using the internet or sending a text message. Shocking, I know! In this tech-driven world that our students live in, a hand-written note is the most powerful tool you can use. Think about it; how many written notes do your students get during an average month? Unless it’s a note passed during science class, the answer is probably zero. Most people don’t stop to hand write anything; even invitations to parties are done online.
When you take time to write a note to a student, it shows them you care. It only takes a few minutes out of your day, but its impact is greater than 10 e-mails. Start the habit of writing a note to each student during a month—if you have more than 20 or so, divide the students among your volunteers and then rotate your recipients from month to month. Watch how getting mail affects your students’ attitudes toward you and the youth ministry.
Buying a bunch of blank notes and postcards is the easiest thing to do. You don’t have room to write much more than a few sentences, so you don’t feel like you have to write to fill space. Pictures work well, too. Print off some extra pictures and send them to the students with a little note on the back. Make sure you have enough postage, too. Buy first class stamps by the roll and postcard stamps a couple of sheets at a time.

Budgeting Process

Pray for wisdom
As you begin the budget process, take time to pray for wisdom. Pray for God to guide you and the other leaders as you budget for the coming year. Pray that the youth ministry will be a good steward of its resources. Pray for God to provide the ministry with the right people and supplies to reach students with the gospel.
Start early!
Give yourself plenty of time to complete the budget and don’t rush the process. Start about a month before it’s due. This will give you time to go through this process without being negligent. The budget is not usually the part of ministry that youth ministers enjoy, but it is a necessary part of ministry.
Pick your team
You shouldn’t be the only person determining the youth ministry budget for your ministry. Involve other people in this process. First, doing the same things each year is a quick way to get your ministry in a rut. Second, the ministry should be diverse—it can’t all be playing Halo and eating pizza. Third, don’t take on the pressure of doing it all by yourself. Assign parts of the budget to your team and then compare notes.
Small ministries may want to include the whole team in the budgeting process, as it gives your volunteers ownership in the ministry. In a larger church, you might just want to include the paid staff in the process, at least until you have a first draft in place.
Review last year’s budget
Don’t skip this step. What did you spend your money on last year? Were there one-time purchases that aren’t necessary for this year? What categories can still survive and still be effective with less money allotted?
To save time, you may be tempted to just add a percentage to each category from last year’s budget, or worse, just copy, paste, and stick a new date on your old budget. Taking this “easy” route does not make you a good steward of your money or resources. Starting the budgeting process early will take away some of the pressure of simply submitting a budget, and you’ll be a lot happier with your new budget.
Determine categories
What categories form last year will be carried over into this year’s budget? Can you drop categories to save money? This probably seems like an obvious step, but check your calendar! What events are coming up that you might need to add another category for? Is it your youth ministry’s year to host a community gathering for local youth groups? That category likely wasn’t in the budget last year, so remember to plan ahead.
Remember that your youth ministry’s budget will not look like the youth ministry budget for the congregation down the street, or for the high profile ministry in your town. You can’t compare the resources God has given your ministry with the resources God has given another ministry.
Calculate the first draft of the budget
Okay, your budget categories are set, and you know which events to budget for and which to leave out. Now to calculate how much you’ll spend. There are two main ways to calculate your budget. One is to estimate your costs based on the previous year, adding a percentage to last year’s budget, which as previously discussed, is not the best idea. The other is to research all of the items needed, looking for discounts where available and carefully calculating the total cost.
As you calculate your budget, keep in mind the cost of some items will increase throughout the year. For instance, the cost to rent a van this year will likely have increased from last year. Other items are set by your ministry, for example, you decide how much to pay a band or a speaker for an event. There will also be budget items that will fluctuate constantly throughout the year, like the price of gasoline.
Evaluate your stewardship
After you calculate a first draft of the budget, stop and reevaluate the budget based on stewardship. How can your youth ministry be a better steward of its resources? Did you include items that are not really necessary? Are you wasting money or ignoring potential resources you have access to?
Get together with other stakeholders
Now that you have your version of the budget complete, it is time to meet with the other leaders who were working on their versions. Compare the budgets and look for category differences first. Allow every person to discuss why they included or omitted certain categories, and then as a group decide what’s best for the ministry. After the categories are finalized, finalize the dollar amounts. This may take longer, but it needs to be agreed upon by the entire team. As you finalize numbers, remind everyone that you want the budget to be the best overall use of your money and resources—it cannot simply reflect an individual preference by any one leader.
Budgeting is probably not the most rewarding thing you do as a youth minister, but creating a solid budget allows your ministry to function smoothly. Taking the time to structure your budget will pay off in the end.