Balancing Your Youth Minstry: Budget

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In the past few months, I have been talking about balance in the youth ministry. I wrote about balance in assessment, implementation, and evaluation.  This is the last of the “balance” articles, and maybe the one where the word “balance” connects the best.

I remember as a youth minister having an event that featured a man who could spin basketballs on fingers and toes and knees and head…he could keep them all spinning and I watched–waiting for one to run out of steam. He was very systematic. He organized his basketballs by placing them in a way he could get to them, get them spinning and maintain their rotation–he had over 20 basketballs spinning at the same time!

Budgets are like that.

They represent a constant effort to watch everything at once, paying attention to areas that look like they need a tweak or a spin–all the while working from a systematic plan. While I am going to get to the ministry budget in a minute, I feel like I have to start with your personal budget. William Feather said, “A budget tells us what we can’t afford, but it doesn’t keep us from buying it.”1  Too many of us have that philosophy in our personal financial management. 

We know that a budget is a good idea, that we should be disciplined, and that we don’t want to feel absolutely desperate if the transmission in our car has a heart attack and dies. We also know that there is a spiritual connection with financial discipline. Jesus talked about money more than anything else except for the kingdom of God. 11 of 39 parables dealt with it in some way, so there might be something there.

I am going to stay very generic with a few bullet points.  If you find yourself making excuses in response to any of them or rationalizing your financial discipline that is opposite of these suggestions, you might want to talk to someone or take a Christian financial management seminar in the very near future.

  • Tithe to yourself. I hope that all of you already set aside at least 10% of your total gross income to give to your church.  In addition, what about setting aside another 10% to your retirement and living on 80% of your income?  Time is your best friend when it comes to saving towards retirement and if you can learn to live on 80%, you will be able to watch your investment in your future grow.
  • Use cash. Many financial seminars suggest an envelope system–take out enough cash to last one week at a time. Don’t even have a credit card unless you can (for the most part) pay it off at the end of every month.
  • Make a plan to pay down debt. I get really sad when a youth minister in one of my seminary classes tells me that his ability to go wherever he thinks God is sending him are limited because of a lot of college or credit card debt. College is expensive and it is common to graduate with some debt.  Immediately make a plan to pay it down by continuing to drive an older car or wearing last year’s fashions for a little while longer. Eat out less and cut corners where you can until you get to a manageable place with debt.
  • Keep your receipts. Many of us are in denial as to what we actually spend money on. It might surprise you to see the type and amount of purchases that just add up.
  • Never forget “What’s Mine is Mine and What’s Thine is Thine” with regard to keeping church money and personal money separate. I have heard many stories about youth ministers who bought a set of tires for their car with a church credit card using the excuse that “I haul kids around all the time–it is like a ministry expense.” It is a slippery slope when you start justifying personal use of money that other people gave for the ministry of the church.

I don’t know that I meant to talk that much about your personal finances, but if we cannot handle our personal money, it is a reasonable question for church members to ask as to whether we can handle church resources.  It is increasingly important that we understand good financial practices so we can “balance the budget.”

There are two basic approaches to a budget. We can start with what we have or we can start with what we think we need. If the church has a set amount of money that they have set aside for youth ministry, the task of budgeting is to divide it up in a way that will be effective and will last all year. If the church asks you to suggest a budget and few if any guidelines are given, the task of budgeting is to dream of activities that will be effective, reasonable and responsible.

Whichever approach you find yourself needing, the first step is the same: Establish a system that will guide your budget.  Suggest categories like Bible study, fellowship, discipleship, retreats and camps, leadership development, etc. List the categories and allocate the resources you have been given or that you think you might request. Sample youth budgets are available through your state office or through most youth ministry publications.

The second step is to envision a paper trail when money is spent.  Each time you plan to spend or actually spend money, categorize the expense item according to your budget categories.  Let your experiences year to year modify the amounts you assign to each category–if the price of a pizza or a gallon of gas rises dramatically, your budget has to reflect reality.  Your paper trail flows from the amount budgeted to the request for the funds to the receipts from the expenditure to the accounting program that the church uses to monitor the budget.

Track revenues and show how they will offset expenses. If you have to charge registration for an event, retreat or camp, don’t forget to show on your budget how the money that is paid will be spent. You might need to charge enough to pay for transportation or additional insurance, but remember to request budget funds for anything you anticipate that will not be covered by registration.

Keep track of the financial health of the total church budget–if offerings are behind, you can expect to be asked to cut back in some areas. Know and use the financial systems that your church uses. If the church requires that you request a check by a certain date, honor the system. If your church allows or expects you to conduct fund raisers for additional resources, learn how to work within the system. Research the most effective fundraisers for your particular area.

Don’t handle money by yourself.  If you are collecting money for an event, set up a table and enlist a couple (not one) volunteer to collect and record the registration and proper paperwork.  Many youth ministers have put on a jacket for church that they haven’t worn for awhile and found cash in the pocket that they know that somebody paid for something the last time they wore that coat…but they cannot quite remember who it was or what it was for.

Finally, when you feel like you have a good system, pray over it. Challenge each item that you plan to spend money on. How will this advance the Gospel? How will this help a student mature in faith? How will this attract students? Will this point attention to Jesus or to technology?  Is this merely an imitation of the secular culture or will this allow you to speak truth into the life of one or more students?

Chuck Swindoll said, “When a church is spending more of its budget on media than shepherding, something is out of whack. We have gotten things twisted around.”2

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