Great Ministries Don't Need Great Budgets

Don’t tell my church treasurer I said this, because I’ll be asking for an increase in my budget this year. But, it’s true. Your youth ministry (or any ministry for that matter) doesn’t need a big budget to be great.

In my first church I had a budget of $1000 and the church treasurer made it clear that I should try not to spend any of it. He also wouldn't seal the envelope he put my pay cheque in so that it could be reused. 
No, that’s not a joke.
Even little purchases like buying chips and pop for a movie night were scrutinized. It was challenging to say the least. When I asked about increasing the budget… let’s just say that idea wasn’t received with enthusiasm.
In my second church I was handed a budget of about 20x what I had previously with seemingly free reign to spend it all. I asked for increases every year and almost always got what I asked for. There’s no doubt, having more money to play with allowed us to do some things that just wouldn’t have been possible at my previous church. Even then, the strength of our ministry wasn’t in the budget, it was in the relationships that leaders built with students.
In my current church, which has the largest youth ministry of any the churches I’ve served in, I started with a budget of about $6000. For a while here, budget increases just weren’t possible. The church was in a tight spot so we had to make due with what we had. We’ve been able to increase it steadily for several years now, but we also had to get creative to find ways to get what we wanted.

I’ve learned a few lessons, mostly the hard way, from these different experiences.

Commit to Excellence with what you have.
There have been plenty of times I’ve looked at the facilities/budgets/whatever that another youth group had and been extremely jealous. It still happens sometimes. But, that won’t change what I’ve got to work with. Start by taking inventory of everything you have access to for your ministry: money, buildings, green space, dodge balls, whatever. How can you use those things in the absolute best way? 

Look for Untapped Resources
There may be other ways to get what you need.

  1. Is there a fundraiser you can do to make an event possible? If you’re allowed to fundraise (not all churches will let you) than take advantage. Find 1 or 2 ideas that you can do each year to generate income. We’ve done everything from carwashes (which are terrible, by the way) to BBQ’s (not bad) to discount cards (quite good!) and lots of other stuff in between. 
  2. Are there are people in your congregation who are willing to help? I’ve had people loan us cars/vans/boats for youth events, refinish youth room furniture, install sound systems, run fundraisers, and tons more. Get in the habit of making your needs known to your congregation and of asking people individually if they'd be willing to help out. A face to face ask is far more likely to get a yes than a generic ask through an announcement.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for More
When it comes to your actual youth budget - don’t be afraid to ask for more. But, when you do make the ask, do it right. When asking for more money, be sure to do three things:

  1. Show clearly what you’re accomplishing with what you have now. If you’re not spending your current budget well, why should you be given more? If your board is anything like the one’s I’ve had at my churches, there will be a number of business minded people on there. They will expect professionalism out of your proposal. Be sure to deliver it.
  2. Explain what you would do with more. If you just ask for more money “cuz we need it” that’s not exactly compelling. Tell your leadership exactly how you plan to spend that money and how you expect it would advance the ministry.
  3. Ask for things in 3’s. A mentor of mine, Dr Roy Lawson, gave me this advice years ago. His reasoning went like this: Go in hoping to get one, if you get more - bonus! Asking for three gives the board a chance to show restraint by turning down a request and still encourage you by saying yes to something. 

Whatever your budget situation, use it as best you can. If that means you can’t seal envelopes so they can be re-used, so be it. Ultimately, know that God will give you everything you need to accomplish the task he has set before you. 

This is the 4th of 5 posts that expand on the original  "The 5 Building Blocks of a Strong Ministry"