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Tips for writing a youth ministry budget

Tips for writing a youth ministry budgetAlthough most youth ministries don’t really have a budget that requires more than 5 minutes of, “Hmm… should we spend it all on a large pizza or save it for Advil after the lockin?”, I have received several emails from people asking if I know of a resource that gives any tips for putting together a budget. I don’t know of one online, so in the past I would often send them my own youth ministry budget and let them go from there. Since the end of the year is coming up, though, here is a sample of what my budget line item structure looks like and some tips for developing your own.

Tip #1: Carefully think through curriculum

You should do this anyway, not just from a financial standpoint, but for the sake of your teenagers’ spiritual development. Are you kinda just hopping from one topic to whatever else they wanna learn about? If so, you must develop a plan and a vision for where you want to take your kids through scripture and how you’re going to do it. Otherwise, you will waste a lot of money on curriculum that really isn’t taking your students in any particular direction.

Also think through your need to purchase it all or if you can write a lot of it in-house (and then donate it as a Freebie Friday, of course). Curriculum is expensive, and honestly, most of it isn’t worth your money. Taking an extra 30 minutes a week to put your own Bible study together is not only free, but may be about 10 times more impactful than a generic, canned, one-size-fits-all, discussion sheet. Try this method of using your own life as a small group curriculum as you develop a plan instead of buying into someone else’s.

Tip #2: Invest into leaders

The best use of any size youth ministry budget is to invest it into your adult leaders. In fact, at my previous church, I saved my entire annual budget each year so I could spend 100% of it in one chunk every year on training and appreciation gifts. A team of adult leaders who are passionate for teens, are well trained, mature, and equipped to be effective tools of the Holy Spirit is by far the greatest blessing your budget can provide for teens. That goes so much farther than a couple free pizzas and some cool youth events.

If you’re the only youth worker in your church, don’t be bashful in using the entire budget on yourself! Use it to buy ministry books, attend youth ministry seminars, and whatever else you can to do train yourself. It may feel selfish, but honestly it will allow you to put so much more back into the ministry. It also will give you a sense of hope, confidence, and direction.

And, as much as possible, plan the budget so that leaders can go on trips and events for free. Adult youth leaders should always go for free.

Tip #3: Plan out expenses for each month

If you only plan an annual budget, that’s a good start, but make sure you designate certain funds in each category for each month of the year so you don’t hit August and realize you’re out of funds until January.

Tip #4: Keep it flexible

For me, the trick has always been to make the budget categories specific enough that expenses clearly have a label, but flexible enough that if I run out of cash in one category I can still fit items into another. Here’s a breakdown of my budget’s categories.

  • Local outreach (Allies, service projects)
  • Food, drinks, serving supplies, lunch w/ students
  • Volunteer appreciation
  • Training (National Youth Ministry Conference)
  • Graduation gifts
  • Curriculum/Resources/Teaching aids/ParentLink
  • Promotions/Supplies/Website
  • Special Events (Planet Wisdom, CHIC, missions, MUUUCE)

Tip #5: Plan for an income

Most youth ministries take in an income when they do significant events like a student conference or missions trip. Don’t forget to take that into consideration as you put your budget together. For example, let’s say that I estimate that our trip to Planet Wisdom is going to cost us $3,000 total. I put that number in the budget, but I also make a notation that I expect $2,200 to come in from kids paying for the trip. That leaves $800 that has to cover the cost of the adult leaders. Why not just put $800 in the budget and leave it at that? Because very rarely will your actual cost be spot on $3,000 or your income be exactly $2,200. If one of those numbers is different, you budgeted money will obviously not be exactly $800, meaning you have to compensate appropriately. Having a rough estimate to work with at the beginning of the year can help you make sure the funds are flexible by the time Planet Wisdom comes around because you planned ahead for it.

Tip #6: Prioritize the funds

To make sure you don’t spend budget money on something that’s not very important only to find out later that you don’t have money left for what is critical, assign a priority value to each of your categories. In my case, I rank food, volunteer appreciation and training all as a high priority; resources and teaching aids as a medium priority; and local outreach, graduation gifts and promotions as a low priority.

Tip #7: Run it by a couple adult youth leaders

They’re serving in this ministry with you, so let a couple of them look it over and see what they think. Do they recommend that you cut back in one category to add to another? Do they remember an event you need to plan for that was accidentally left out? (If they tell you to pull some money out of the volunteer appreciation category, tell them, “No WAY!” and explain that, without them, nothing else could take place.)

Tip #8: Be careful about mixing your own finances

I know almost every church handles expenses by reimbursing people after they’ve made the purchase from their own pocket, but I feel very strongly against it. I am not the bankroll for the youth expenses. The church’s finances do not have to run through my own. It’s not a big deal for a church to get a debit card for youth expenses. In fact, it’s less paperwork in the long run and it leaves my personal finances intact. The exception, unfortunately, is for my youth leaders. Since it’s not very prudent to give each of them a youth debit card, expenses they incur are submitted for reimbursement. As the youth pastor, though, my personal finances remain my own. I do not keep extra cash in my checking account just to fund youth group purchases. (This issue was actually a prerequisite of mine as I was going through the youth ministry job interviewing process with churches a couple years ago.)

What other tips can you add to this list? Comment below.


Posted on December 17, 2008

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  • Ricky

    Great post. Needed it like 3 weeks ago!! lol, I do appreciate it though. I just put together a general budget and submitted it a few weeks ago; but I’m going to refine it before the new year and make sure it is prioritzed and this does help. Much appreciated.

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  • TIM! WOW. We're in the middle of the budget projections for 2010 and I was going to turn mine in today and then I thought…I should check out Ministry Questions and find out if I'm forgetting anything! Apparently I was :)
    Great post! I'm actually now going to turn mine in by tomorrow and rethink my budget. I think I'm pretty much on target but as I look at Volunteer Appreciation/Training category it seems wickedly thin compared to other items.

    • Glad you find it helpful, Connor! Thanks for the comment. :)

  • Tim,
    Very good article. I was cruising the web because I was looking for some help as I write up my first youth budget. Thanks for the tips! I would not have thought of volunteer appreciation (which is a sad commentary on my part).

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  • Scholtz van der Walt

    Great article. A very good guide to use in by first budget. Thanks very much

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