Four Strategies to Budget for Youth Ministry

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It’s that time of year for many of us. Pledge campaigns are under way and budgets for the new year are due any day now (or are past due!). For a lot of youth ministers, budgets can seem like one of those mundane tasks of ministry – at best, it’s something you have to do; at worst, it can seem overwhelming, confusing, and frustrating.

But budgeting for the year doesn’t have to be either of those things. In fact, when done right, your budget can become the engine that powers your mission and vision. Here are four strategic ways to look at budgeting, and some practical tips for accomplishing your vision of ministry for next year.

Budgeting is Hard and Holy Work

The first thing to realize about budgeting for your ministry is that you can’t do it well in an afternoon. You need to set aside intentional time for prayer, reflection, listening, and planning for how God wants you and the church to wisely spend God’s money. Even if your youth ministry is subsisting on nickels, dimes, and duck tape, the more time you give towards careful reflection and planning, the better you will steward those gifts.

I’ve heard stories of youth budgets thrown together at the last minute. Don’t be thoughtless in your budgeting! Doing the hard and holy work of budgeting is a way to show your congregation that you care about the ministry of the church. The trust built between you and the congregation during the process is priceless.

Budget and Vision Go Hand in Hand

I recently talked with a long tenured youth minister who was struggling with plateauing group numbers. When we dug into the nuts and bolts of the ministry, I learned that his budget had effectively not increased at all in over eight years, and that he had not pushed for an increase in that time. He trusted that the church’s finance committee would know what was needed to do effective ministry.

While it is certainly the case that many churches cannot always afford to increase budgets each year, it’s a mistake to think that you shouldn’t ask for an increase or to assume that the church knows best in how to allocate funds for each ministry area. The worst case scenario is that you are told no; the best case is that the church better understands the vision and needs of the youth ministry and provides the support that is needed for a healthy and growing program.

The next time you are asked to talk about financial needs, don’t just show a number – tell a story and cast a vision for what could be if the right resources are given.

Find Someone You Trust to Teach You

It was somewhere around the time I started learning long division in elementary school that I realized I probably wouldn’t be a CPA when I grew up. It’s not that I don’t think numbers are important, but I’m very glad to have professionals that help me out with my personal finances. There are also probably people in your church or community that have skills in finance that would be more than willing to help your ministry succeed by helping you.

Ministry is one of the last generalized professions – a profession in which a person is expected to know a great deal about a great deal of knowledge. But when it comes to the day-in-and-day-out task of organizational finance and making budgets, I’m constantly asking questions of people that know this stuff better than me.

Zero Based Budgeting and Your Calendar

Churches have different ways of budgeting, but zero based budgeting is a very effective way to plan your ministry year.

Zero based budgeting assumes that you take your previous year’s budget and erase it. Start from zero every time. Then, build in funding for the program or ministry areas you know you want for the year. Maybe last year you did a local mission project and spent $1,000. This year, however, you want to take an international trip and you’d like to spend $10,000. Zero based budgeting allows you to be flexible with these amounts and explain why you’re requesting such a big increase in your mission account.

Budgeting this way takes a lot more time than just writing down numbers from the previous year. The side benefit, however, is that it makes you plan your calendar out a year in advance. It’s a really great feeling to start the new year knowing what kind of ministry you want to do and that the funds are there to do.

 

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Lane is the Pastor of Discipleship at Brentwood United Methodist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee. He’s a graduate of Huntingdon College and Harvard Divinity School and is an elder in the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. Lane has a passion for making disciples for Jesus and for Auburn football! Follow him on Twitter: @RevLaneDavis.

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