Designing An Effective Youth Ministry Budget

Designing An Effective Youth Ministry Budget
Paul Borthwick

I gathered my student leaders together for a vision-and-planning meeting for our youth ministry. I came late, and found them in full discussion. They already had several hot ideas cooking: a river-rafting trip, a “super” concert with two or three top Christian musicians, and a gala retreat to Colorado. The room was buzzing with excitement.

As they reviewed their ideas with me, I tried to join in their enthusiasm, but my facial expressions gave away my inner tensions. “What’s wrong?” asked one student. “Don’t you like our ideas?”

“The ideas are great,” I said, “but how much will all this cost? Where’s the money going to come from?”

The buzzing stopped. No one had given much thought to money. “We were sorta hoping,” muttered one student, “that the church would pay for it.”


The question of cost has flattened creative planning and discouraged many youth groups from starting anything new. Our heightened awareness of expenses and the cost of living, combined with the trends toward decreased giving and a “let’s-tighten-our-belts” attitude in churches and organizations, can be discouraging to youth workers.

And no wonder. With Christian concerts costing $10 to $12 per person, retreat weekends at $45 or more per person, and film rentals at a minimum of $50 each, the financial picture for a youth group can be bleak. When the normal costs of youth ministry programs (refreshments, speakers, films, etc.) are combined with extraordinary costs (special functions, emergency needs), the youth leader is left flustered and dismayed. Where will the money come from? How much will it cost?

Although Christian organizations and churches will vary widely in the amount of money available and the methods for allocating funds, an effective youth ministry budget is one of the best possible answers to the financial dilemmas and tensions in the youth program. How can such a budget be started or improved? The “youthfulness” of many of us in youth ministry leadership often means that we have little or no training or experience in administration. We need help.


We need to ask ourselves four critical questions as we begin our budget planning. The answers to these questions should help direct our efforts to be more effective in our management of money.

1. What is the budget history of our church? Explore the history of the youth ministry in which we are serving.

a. What has the youth ministry budget been in the past? $100? $1,000? Knowing this past amount will help us modify our dreams and expectations. A newly appointed seminary graduate may have 1,001 new ideas for the youth group, but he or she may be dismayed after presenting a budget in a church where nothing has been spent in the past on the youth ministry. The response may be, “We are already sticking our necks out by hiring and paying you, and now you want more money?”

b. What has the youth budget covered in the past? Sunday school curricula? Guest speakers? Refreshments? A youth worker who discovers that the youth budget is $12,000 may get very excited—until he or she finds out that this covers his or her salary, youth mailing, two retreats, and other ministry-related expenses.

c. Who controls the youth budget? An elder? The senior pastor? A parent? The youth minister? When the youth ministry budget is controlled by someone outside the youth ministry (or by someone who has a hidden agenda for the youth ministry), there may be some hidden costs in the budget. If we want to show a film to the group, do we need to get clearance from the entire board of deacons? Will we find ourselves spending money only to have the budget controller tell us that the budget won’t cover such an item? Discovering the red tape associated with the budget may not save us any frustration, but it will at least help us be prepared for budget-related tensions.

Knowing the history of the youth ministry budget will enable us to plan with realistic expectations and awareness of our constraints.

2. When should I begin to plan? One day in May I received a call from a colleague. “Paul, we’re starting to plan our summer program. Do you have any ideas you think could help us?” He was starting to plan for the summer four weeks before the summer began!

Lack of planning or poor planning hampers many youth workers in creating summer programs or budgets. A few weeks before Jim’s supervisor needed his proposed youth ministry budget for the next year, he reminded himself to set aside some time to think about the budget. Then he got involved in planning the Friday-night meeting, and one of the students had a crisis. Then at ten o’clock on the night before the budget was due, Jim remembered he hadn’t even begun the final statement. He jotted some figures on a memo pad and handed them in.

If you’ve experienced a similar situation, then perhaps some suggestions will help you prepare next year’s budget.

a. Maintain an ongoing file for ideas or needs that should be put into the next year’s budget. The money we needed to fix a tire on the August bike trip is hard to remember when we establish the budget in January. When you return from the bike trip, write down your idea and throw it into the file.
b. Review your budget two or three months before the budget proposal is due. Use a checklist like this one to review the youth budget:

What will our expenses be for:

-Educational Resources
-Capital equipment (overhead projectors, etc.)
-Bus or vehicle rental
-Mission trip expenses
-Honorariums for speakers/musicians
-Film rental
-Subsidies or scholarships for retreats
-Gifts or prizes
-Advertising and youth group mailings
-Musical supplies/songbooks
-Mileage reimbursement (for leaders who drive)
-Decorations or holiday-related supplies
-Athletic equipment
-Film development for youth group use
-Miscellaneous contingency fund

c. Break down the budget by month. This helps the treasurer anticipate cash flow and helps the youth leader envision a basic outline of the program.

d. After deciding on the approximate amount of money needed for the next year, prioritize! It’s unrealistic to assume that the church leadership will rubber stamp whatever budget is proposed. If our budget-review committee comes back me with a request that we cut our budget by twenty percent, we need to know the essential and the nonessential items. Prioritizing the budget will enable us to make our own cuts according to ministry goals, which is much better than having an uninvolved committee cut our budgets randomly.

e. Decide how our budgeted monies will be accounted for. Will a youth group treasurer manage the checking account? Will all money need to go through the church treasurer? Planning ahead for proper management of the funds can save hundreds of headaches later.

3. What are alternative means of financing? The financial stresses of our age require that we be flexible and innovative in financing our youth group activities and needs. Consider these six ideas for paying for the program in ways other than a conventional budget.

a. Let the students pay for themselves. Statistics show that students on the high school campus today have twenty dollars per week (or more) discretionary spending money. Sadly enough, students are seldom challenged to spend their personal money on service to God or even on fun activities at the church. They spend it on themselves.

Challenging students to pay for themselves doesn’t mean we make them pay for everything, but students should be allowed to “own” their own program by being involved financially. When students are responsible to raise their own money for an activity, they have an opportunity to see the power of God at work in people’s lives. Students pay hundreds of their own dollars each year in our youth group for the opportunity to work in some missions setting. When people are astounded that our students pay for the chance to work, our young people are able to share about how God provided for them in some unusual ways. In our materialistic culture, the willingness to spend money in God’s work or in his service is one of the greatest expressions of our commitment to live out the lordship of Christ.

b.Subsidies. Before we drain the church budget of more money, we might try to find other people who would subsidize student scholarships. The most effective subsidies are gifts from other students. Some young people have jobs that provide them with substantial extra money. If we challenge these students to assist those who have little or no money, the atmosphere of community can be enriched.

Accepting money from others has its pitfalls, however. First, the person who gives the money may have a hidden agenda for how the money should be used. Parents may give a gift with the hope of their child getting more attention from the youth leader. Others who subsidize may want some authority in making decisions about the youth group. Even students helping other students can be indebted in some way to them. A second potential pitfall is the effect the subsidy approach have on the youth worker’s reputation. If subsidies are sought a often, people may avoid the youth leader because they fear he she only will want more money.

c. Low-cost/no-cost activities. Marilyn and Dennis Benson book Hard Times Catalog (Group Books, 1982) contains hundreds of ideas for inexpensive youth activities. Realizing that “mo. people are discovering a lack of ‘fat’ in budgets and wallets” and noting the increased media conditioning of teenagers to “desire things of the affluent society just as these times are passing awe forever,” the Bensons offer constructive and creative ways fl youth leaders to work toward “zero budgeting.”

d.”Youth funding.” In an article entitled “Financing the Youth Program” (Working With Youth: A Handbook for the Eighties [Victor Books, 1982]), Leland Hamby suggests that young people can be directly involved in the budget in a way he calls “you: funding.” Through regular offerings taken at their activities ar. Sunday school classes, students can create their own reserves to 1 used as needed in the ministry. “The guiding principle behind youth funding,” he writes, “is that 50 to 100 percent of all offering collected in the youth division go into a special youth fund. The remaining percentage, if any, goes into the regular church budget.”

“Youth Funding” can be an excellent tool for teaching your people the disciplines of consistent giving and the tithe. The on drawback is that if 100 percent of the money collected goes back into youth group expenses, students develop a “giving to ourselves” mentality and are isolated in their giving from the rest the church body.

e.Fund raisers. Although fund raisers are usually devoted needs and projects outside our youth groups, there are times when fund raisers can be used to benefit people within the group. family in special need, a ministry in which some of the students a involved, or a mission project on which students from the grog will serve all can be the legitimate recipients of money raised by t] group. The leader must be cautious to monitor the use of ti money, however, to make sure that fund raisers don’t become an easy way for students to finance activities or things that they should pay for themselves.

f. Other budgets. In some church settings, there may be more than one budget out of which the youth ministry can function. Some churches have separate budgets for the Sunday school, for example. Rather than taking money for youth curriculum supplies out of the youth budget, perhaps the Sunday school budget can cover this need. Missions budgets may help in providing scholar-ships for service projects. Transportation budgets may be the source of money needed to rent vans or buses for activities and retreats.

4. Does the budget represent actual needs? Inexperience in planning a budget can lead us to two extremes. On the one hand, we might fail to anticipate all the expenses and find ourselves out of money five months into a twelve-month budget. To prevent this extreme, we need to ask these questions to evaluate thoroughness:

a. Does the budget allow for price increases? The cost of renting a film in April (when the budget is presented) may increase by ten percent or more by the next February when we actually rent it.

b. Does the budget reflect the entire ministry, not just the portion in which we are involved? We will be inclined to skew the budget in favor of the ministries in which we are most involved. But overlooking aspects of the ministry in which we are not primarily involved can cause financial and relational tensions.

On the other hand, inexperience makes us prey to “wish-list” budgeting, which lists nonessentials and hopes that the finance committee will approve them. Does the youth group need video games? Do the volunteer staff need to go to Honolulu for training?

The wish-list budget is destructive because it diminishes the credibility and integrity of the youth leader, and it operates as a poor excuse for responsible planning. Remembering that we are stewards for God’s money can help prevent this second extreme.

Responsible budget planning asks this question: What does our youth ministry need this year to accomplish our God-given purposes? We must be careful neither to overlook aspects of the “wants” as needs.


When we step into the world of budget planning succumb to the temptation to leave behind a spiritual perspective of administrative expertise. But both are needed, should be sacrificed for the other. Three biblical theme direct us as we plan our youth ministry budgets.
Prayer. God owns everything. Budgets are merely h to help us channel and manage the resources he has entrusted to us. We use budgets to help us to be responsible steward; wisdom in establishing the budget. Ask God for the ability to think with vision and thoroughness about financial needs. Trust God to be the supplier of all that is needed.

When our budget meetings evolve into fights of details on the budget or when our youth group is depress the budget got trimmed, the problem is rooted in o toward God. Our anger or frustration is at times an indication that we have forgotten who is in charge. Prayer about the 1 keep the Provider in the forefront of our perspective Integrity. In light of the dishonesty and greed often with organized religion, it’s essential that we approach the handling of money with a healthy respect. Being “above re essential if we are to glorify God in our use of money.

Work for the Lord. It may sound trite, but keeping n God has called us to our ministry can help us plan budget. This is especially true if we find budgeting to 1 or tedious. If Jesus is our ultimate boss, if the youth where he has assigned us, and if a budget is necessary for our ministry, then we should try to establish that budget both for the ministry and to please him. If reviewed correctly, careful planning of the youth group budget can be seen for what it truly is an act of obedience to the Lord.

The above article, “Designing An Effective Youth Ministry Budget” was written by Paul Borthwick. The article was excerpted from Borthwick’s book Organizing Your Youth Ministry.

The material is copyrighted and should not be reprinted under any other name or author. However, this material may be freely used for personal study or research purposes.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”