Lions and Tigers and Budgets, OH MY!
It is the season for most churches where we as youth workers are asked to do something that the large majority of us dislike and an even greater majority of us struggle with: preparing a youth ministry budget. Creating a budget for youth ministry typically creates anxiety within at best and at worst, downright fear. This happens because, as a wise friend once told me, “there always seems to be a tension between money and ministry.”
Most of us would love to have the freedom to do whatever we wanted to do in ministry and let someone else figure out how to pay for it. That however is not the reality in most cases and therefore, that strategy will most often find you looking for a new position at another church. I hope to help calm the fears and alleviate some of your anxieties about budgeting by offering a few helpful tips that have been gleaned from my experience with budgeting.
Start with looking ahead, not looking behind. I distinctly remember as a young youth worker preparing my yearly budget and my first step consisting of looking at the numbers from the previous year. If I had a youth ministry budget of $7500 last year then I needed to figure out what the best way to spend $7500 next year would be and make that my budget. The money was dictating my ministry. Instead of looking back, start the process by looking ahead. Think about your youth ministry vision, values, or goals and budget in order to fund accomplishing what you hope to accomplish in the future. Let ministry dictate the money not the other way around.
That leads me to a second tip: START EARLY! Every church functions in cycles and my hunch is that no matter what church you serve, if you have served there more than a year, you have a good idea what the “budget cycle” looks like. I have found it rare that a church deviates from the norm of requesting, setting, and approving the budget.
With that in mind, in order to look ahead as we mentioned, we need to start early so that we can spend some time thinking on the macro level about the values, vision, and goals of our youth ministry. This work cannot be done well when it is done quickly. As an inexperienced youth worker, and because of my natural slant towards procrastination, there were numerous times when I put off the work of the budget until it was “crunch time” and what resulted was a quick, “non-thought-through” budget that was based on last year’s numbers. Avoid this mistake by starting earlier.
Don’t plan your budget alone! When we start early and look ahead to create a budget, we are then able to include others in the budget process. Talk about your values, vision, and goals with your youth ministry team. Maybe that is a group of volunteers, or maybe with a group of parents, or maybe with the church staff or pastor. Sharing the vision, values, and goals with others accomplishes two things.
First, it creates a healthy dynamic in your team as everyone feels ownership in charting the course for the future. Secondly, it creates opportunities for others to to offer input about other resources that may be needed that you didn’t consider on your own. An additional benefit is that as your share the “behind-the-scenes” view of your budgeting process, you gain more support for the budget from leaders and stakeholders in your church that might “go to bat” for you when your budget is being considered.
Lastly, do your homework! In other words, rather than just arbitrarily assigning values to certain parts of your budget, do some digging about the cost of certain items. For example if you rent vehicles to take your group on a trip, rather than just “guessing” what it will cost to rent the vehicles, call a couple of rental car companies and get a quote, or go online and get an estimate. The more information you have to “support” your budget requests, the more likely the budget is to be approved.
Tell your story… YEAR ROUND! Finally, one of the most important things you can do to help during “budget time” is to be consistent in telling the story of your youth ministry throughout the year. Whether that is sharing about a retreat in a worship service, or sharing a story of the impact of youth small groups with an online video, or sharing pictures on the church website and social media, the more that the entire congregation sees the effectiveness of the youth ministry throughout the year in a positive light, the more likely the powers that be will be to approve your request for financial resources come budget time. So tell the story at every opportunity you have.
I won’t go so far as to say that if you follow these steps that you are guaranteed to have your budget requests approve, but I do firmly believe that following these steps drastically improves your chances of receiving approval. Perhaps even more importantly, these steps should help alleviate most (not all) of the anxiety that most youth workers experience when it comes to the budget process. May you face the lions, the tigers, and your budget with confidence this year.