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The Edge

Youth Ministry Finances

by Graeme Codrington


Youth ministry has not always been associated with local churches. In fact, up until the middle of the 19th century, there was no specialised youth ministry at all. Young people at the age of about 13 were considered old enough to join the church proper, and were expected to simply be a part of what the adult congregation did. Movements such as the YMCA, Sunday School, Bible Clubs and other organisations did a lot to change this between 1850 and 1950. These ministries were, however, not directly related to the local church (in most cases), but acted as "parachurch" organisations.

The real parachurch groups began around the time of the ending of the Second World War, with Young Life, YfC and others starting up and making a real impact in the 1950s and 60s. There was a shift in the 1970s, however, to church's becoming the primary focus of youth ministry. Today, most parachurch youth organisations see their function as supporting local church youth ministry.

In the few decades where youth ministry has been in the domain of the local church, there have been two overriding frustrations for youth workers: (1) the lack of dedicated and competent adult volunteer leaders, and (2) the budget allocated for youth ministry. It is the latter problem I wish to address in this EDGE ISSUE.

If you minister in one of the few churches where the youth ministry is well supported financially, and is seen as a priority in the budgeting process, then count yourself really blessed. Most churches allocate an absolute pittance to youth ministry. It may be an interesting exercise to calculate what percentage of total income your church spends on its youth. In making such a calculation, it is important to total up all expenditure on youth: including Sunday School materials, youth group budgets, youth pastor's salaries, allocations for youth mission's events, etc. The calculation is therefore:

Total expenditure on youth / Total church income * 100

Most churches I am familiar with allocate less than 5% of their overall budget to youth ministry, if there is no youth minister's salary to pay. For churches with youth pastors, this percentage may be higher, as salaries account for a large portion of most church's budgets.

There are two important facts to consider when trying to analyse the church's financial commitment to youth:

  1. The Age Groupings in the Church
  2. One would expect a church to allocate the funds set aside for local ministry purposes (i.e. excluding funds for foreign missions, administration and salaries) on an equitable basis, roughly proportional to the age split within the church. An average suburban church would probably have about 25 - 30% young people (defined for the sake of this paper as those under the age of 21). Therefore, one would expect that about 25 - 30% of such a church's ministry budget would be allocated to youth ministry, in all its various forms.

    Many churches would argue against this, saying that only official church members should be taken into account when doing such a calculation. This is obviously ridiculous. Firstly, most young people are not church members simply because most churches have a minimum age requirement for membership. Secondly, churches do not exist for the comfort of their members. Churches exist for the sake of their non-members.

    Another argument I have personally experienced is that it is the older people who give money to the church, and therefore it is their right to receive the benefits of that money. The argument goes further to say that if they do not receive the benefit, they may stop giving, and since young people don't give much, the church will ultimately go broke. However, it goes without saying that the older generations have a responsibility to the younger ones, and that this responsibility extends to making funds available for suitable ministry. Once again, it must be stated that the church exists not for the comfort of its members.


  3. The Purpose of the Church

Prov. 22:6 and Matt 18:3 are among many verses that seem to indicate that children are much more open and receptive to the Gospel. It is a well documented fact that most people who are Christians, first made a commitment to Christ before the age of 21. In fact, upwards of 75% of all Christians made some form of profession of faith before the age of 16. You may find it interesting to do a snap survey of your own church to find out how true this is in your community. Simply hand out small squares of blank paper, and, during the service, ask each person who is a Christian to write down the age at which they first made a profession of faith in Christ. Average these out, and you will probably find that the above data is true for your church as well.

If the primary purpose of the church is to reach out to unbelievers with the Gospel, and if the proven track record is that the best chance of success in this endeavour is to reach out to young people under the age of 21 (or even 16), then surely it makes the most sense to target our energy and resources into youth evangelism, through the church's youth ministry. Therefore, we should be spending 75% of our budget on the youth ministry!


Assuming that your church does not already allocate this level of funding to your youth ministry, here are some practical suggestions as to how you can improve your church's financial support for your youth:

Ensure that your youth ministry is worth supporting - you need to ensure that your youth ministry is effective, and that it is achieving the purposes of the church, especially in evangelism and discipleship. This must be your starting point. It is better not to ask for more money if the ministry itself is floundering. Don't fool yourself into thinking that effective ministry can only happen when you have the money. This is not a "chicken and egg" dilemma. There is no doubt that effective ministry always precedes good finances.
Ensure that church knows your youth ministry is worth supporting - it is not good enough to simply run an effective youth ministry. You need to "sell" that ministry to the church, through constant feedback, reports and exposure of the church to the young people. Be creative in how this is done. The raising of awareness of the youth ministry is the first step in getting support for additional finances.
Submit a professionally presented budget - Even if your church has never requested departmental budgets, that should not deter you from submitting one anyway when the church leadership meet to plan for the next year. Your budget should be presented in a clear and striking format, with each proposed expenditure clearly itemised and detailed explanations given.
Use the budget proposal as an additional opportunity to explain your youth ministry strategy to your church leaders - People need to know why you have budgeted to purchase 1,000 raw eggs, or buy milkshakes for all the leaders, or reimburse leader's petrol money, or buy a video camera, or set up a youth group webpage, or subsidise the purchase of Bibles for a children's home, or whatever crazy scheme you might have to do more effective youth ministry. Let people know that you are not wasting money, but rather using it wisely to have the maximum impact on your community's young people. Also let them know that you have a plan, and that youth ministry is not done in a haphazard way.
Don't pay for youth ministry expenses out of your own money - this is something that most youth workers have done. In fact, many youth workers feel it less painful to use their regular giving (tithe) to pay for youth ministry expenses than to put it in the offering, and draw money from the church's funds (if any are even available). In the long run, this is very unhealthy for two main reasons: (1) The church is most likely unaware that this is happening, and therefore does not realise how much the youth ministry actually costs; (2) when the youth worker who can afford to personally fund the youth ministry leaves, someone else may take over leadership who is not in this financial situation. The resultant requests to the church to "maintain" current levels of youth expenditure result in the church having to suddenly find cash it never thought it was spending. Normally, this request for "additional" funding is denied, and the youth ministry actually suffers. Rather than funding out of your own pocket, give your money to the church and designate it for youth ministry. That way, the church knows what it is actually costing to sustain their youth ministry.
Try to steer away from raising your own funds - Fund raising has become an easy escape route for churches, as they "allow" youth ministries to beg for money. This is demeaning, and tacitly shows the unimportance of the youth ministry to the church. A youth ministry should never need to fund raise in order to obtain money for their ongoing operations. Fund raising should always be for specific projects, and those nice-to-have "extras".
Give an account of your use of the finances you have been given - Even if it is not asked for, give regular detailed accounts of your expenditure to your church leaders. This will give them confidence that the church's money is being well used. Since most youth leaders are not gifted accountants, it is wise to enlist the help of someone who understands basic bookkeeping and accounting.


For some reason that is not quite clear to me, finances in churches are normally shrouded with mystery and are very often never discussed, or only discussed with great discomfort. I trust that youth workers will become better equipped to handle and use financial resources as we head into the next millennium.



Graeme Codrington is a full-time youth culture researcher in South Africa. He has a Bachelor of Commerce degree (majoring in Accounting and Business Economics), as well as a Theological degree (Systematic theology, Biblical studies and Practical theology majors) and an Honours degree in Youth Ministry. He is currently involved in researching, teaching and writing about the future of youth culture and youth ministry. He has been married to Jane since 1991, and has been the proud father of Amy since 15 March 1999.

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copyright 1999

Copyright Paul Surbey 2000 Youth Pastor Holy Trinity Anglican Winnipeg Manitoba

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