Money less youth ministry

The minor league baseball team that I serve as chaplain is doing a promotion this week

“Ball-less” baseball…in celebration and recognition of feminism   (only in New York, right!)

ball-less baseball promotion

But what a clever title…if you get it (i have to stay PG on this blog ladies and gentlemen)

This randomness does have a point which you will see later.

A good friend of mine is a youth pastor about 20 miles down the road from me.  Traditionally his church, like my own, has a good amount of money.  We are both located in bedroom communities of NYC and the majority of our congregants work in the financial district down in Manhattan. Stock brokers, hedge firms, bank CEO’s, etc..

Well, last year his church gave him $35,000 to be used for youth mission trip.  With that kind of cash, he decided to bring a large group to Africa and partner with a denominational missionary.  Awesome stuff.

He was told that another $35,000 would be given to him for this year and naturally he planned a few mission trips and basically his youth ministry around that promise of financial bling.

Then the ball dropped on the US economy and of course our county was one of the hardest hit because everyone worked down in Manhattan.  I estimate that close to 50% of his church lost their jobs, not to mention everyone losing big in their savings and retirements.  People who usually give thousands extra from their stock options couldn’t give.  People had little to no money to tithe. You get the picture.

The church relinquished the money for youth missions and went a step further and took away the yearly youth ministry operating budget.  

Now I am not bashing the church.  They did what they had to do in this tough economic crisis we are in. After all the needed to pay the staff and the heating bill, and I suppose I would rather lose my mission budget then my job or have to work in freezing temps for 8 months of the year.

But can you imagine planning your entire year and mission programs believing that all of this money was at your disposal, only to have the rug pulled out from beneath you months before the trip?

Students went scrambling to raise money to go and unfortunately over half of the students planning to go this summer are not able to as of yet.

But this whole situation got me thinking…what if this happened to me?  What if this happens next year?

What would i do?  How would I react?

Would the youth ministry remain solid and strong?  Would we find ourselves in a crisis situation

I started to realize just how much money plays a vital role in our current structure of youth ministry.  

So, here is my question( which relates in a way back to my opening statement)

Can youth ministry exist in a money-less context?

Can we have $$-less youth group?


If so, what would it look like?


I wonder if we have succumbed so much into the marketing and materialistic side of culture that we have forgotten what youth ministry is all about!

Now, my friend’s initial reaction was that God would find a way to provide.  That is good theology and I believe it….in part.

But how much will God provide?  The entire $35,000?

What if God only provides $12,546.82?

Have we set ourselves up to be completely dependent on the dollar?  

Does our economy dictate our youth ministry structure?  Should it?

Listen, I am to blame on this one.  As I write this, I look at my summer calendar full of days trips, service project weeks, movie nights, mini-golf, etc…

Almost every single event costs money.  Even the activities we do at the church, while they may not cost our students money, take a toll on my youth budget.  But the elders don’t mind because it gets students here and so it is money well spent.   Or is it?

In the course of an average year, if a student were to participate in every event we offer, they would probably have to shell out between $1,000-$2,000.  But parents don’t mind since the price of golf memberships here run $30,000+ with $5,000 annual fees.  Hey, a few grand to keep my kid involved in church is a great deal.

Now for students who cannot afford, we offer scholarships to ensure that every single student can go if they want to.  But again, everything revolves around money (and in a sense entertainment)

I realize this is where our culture is, and I do believe in embracing culture.  But I also believing in the power of Jesus to transform culture in areas that are counter biblical.

It appears to me in the books of Acts that monies collected in the early church went directly to help the widows and orphans and to feed the hungry. At some point, even Paul argues, that those who do the Lord’s work should receive money for it so they don’t have to work elsewhere. But I wonder where in the history of Christianity did the tithe money go towards funding students boat trip on the Seal of Galilee, their ski trip on Sinai, and purchasing the latest lights to trick out the synagogue teen room!

What would it look like to do youth ministry that requires no money?

I also realize that part of this dilemma may be cultural.  I have served briefly in some inner city youth ministries that have no budgets and whose students cannot afford daily meals, let alone weekend retreats. They find a way to have dynamic youth ministries based on community and identity, without having to break open wallets or piggy banks (does anyone have those anymore anyway?)

Perhaps we in the burbs can learn valuable lessons from other contexts.  While their economic situation necessitates no budget ministry, perhaps we will come to realize that it is our spiritual and kingdom situation that requires such an approach and change.

Can meetings really exist without pizza?

Can we do retreats locally at homes and churches and charge nothing and have just the same affect and outcome?

Could we find enough fun and free events and activities to do to keep our students busy but also connected?

I am trying to think of the last time I brought them to our local park.

People’s houses can easily replace restaurants.

Parks and pools can be fun summer outings.

All I am doing now is asking the questions to myself and to you. I would love to hear stories (any stories) of how you have done it or are in the process of this kind of rethinking. 

I realize that in many other ways our society is going “less”







What about a youth ministry that is $$-less

calorie free

fat free

YM Budget free?

Send your thoughts, ideas, dreams, and visions over and let’s share together.

Let me know what has worked and what are some areas that you feel can be $$ less and others that might not be able to.


 32All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. 34There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.


money less


4 thoughts on “Money less youth ministry

  1. Hey I’m a youth worker in the UK and I have to say that I and many of my co-workers in this country only dream of budgets the size of what you have, I have to admit that sometimes I dream of having a budget at all. But that doesn’t stop our youth work – I think in fact at times it makes it more innovative. I love your writings about moving from program centre to relationship centred – and I guess if you take that further it doesn’t really matter about your budget if you are focused on the relationship. At times we have had hundreds of young people coming to our events and at other times we have 20 sat in someones living room or sat around a fire in someones garden – but for the most part it requires very little budget to run – I’d say less that £2000 for the whole year for everything. We have found that most things (and sometimes some of the best things) can be done for free. Having young people meet at your house – or many houses if there are lots is a great way of building group community and building relationships – the young people I work with love to chill out together in my living room, cook meals together in my kitchen and just mess around together in the garden. We have also found that there are people who want to serve young people but don’t feel able to come to youth sessions and so they make meals for us or serve drinks – offering their own resources in support of the young people. Free outings like rounders in the park, going to the beach, visiting art shows – we have also had some really good sessions going to department stores and asking the young people to explore spirituality in the midst of materialism. SLEEPOVERS (or should I call them wake overs) are the staple of our youth’s social calender – even at 19 and 20 when asked what they would like to do at the weekend a sleepover on our church floor is the top priority and it costs next to nothing – just money for breakfast in the morning and the young people love it. For mission events and Christian festivals we connect in with local churches and put something on together, with minimal costs to young people – and we always cover those who can’t afford it, but by working with a network of churches – across a number of denominations we can pool our resources and do something great. We connect with local Christian charities doing mission and we encourgage our young people to get invovled in something in their local vincinity (mission isn’t just about going abroad – and sometimes there can be a bigger lasting impact – for the young people and the community – when they serve close to home) we also do things like community clean up, helping with gardening, shopping, visiting those in old peoples homes – which works well (and when tied in with a sleepover or a row of sleepovers works particularly well). We also run youth church events within our connection of churches – Sunday night we all go to one church for a youth service and then on regular Saturdays there are youth worship events. Everything for free. Sometimes I wonder what we would do with a huge youth budget – I mean it would probably make things easier in one sense – but if we had a huge amount of money to work with would we lose the ingenuity of seeking opportunities and activities for free? Would we have less impact in our local area in favour of the glitsy missions trips and would we lose some of the relational aspect by always meeting out – at restaurants and coffee shops instead of hanging out in homes living and being together and sharing in providing for one another. I don’t know – the big budget is appealing, but for now I’m happy to open my home, others are happy to serve in giving and the young people seem to enjoy what we do. And when we need money – when we want to do something a little bit more crazy – like go to a theme park – then we raise it. But that is the exception to our program rather than the rule and I have to say I love it.

    We have a vision in our church to reach at least 3,000 people – where we are no-where near yet, but it is a vision that is strong – and I don’t know where we will be when we have thousands of young people to work with or what our youth program will look like – although I hope it will maintain some of its best aspects. But for now what we have works well.

    • what a great post and thoughts.
      thank you very much. I am blessed, challenged, and inspired by your thoughts.
      i hope in the near future to venture out there to our sisters and brothers abroad and see what youth ministry is like in the UK
      in many ways, your youth group sounds very similar to my here in NY, but it has taken my 7 years to “downsize” to the place we are at now
      It sounds like your youth ministry has a wonderful sense of community, authenticity, fellowship, networking, social connectivity, and shared sense of vision
      keep up the great work for the kingdom

  2. here are some thoughts and suggestions given to me by many of you and some that I have tried in my own youth ministry:
    beach trip (ocean is usually free~)
    host sports tournament (basketball, dodgeball, etc..)
    town park night (cookout and sports)
    use a local community center (might be free)
    progressive dinners
    hiking and sunset watching
    service projects like feeding the homeless
    soup kitchen
    board game night
    meeting in homes instead of restaurants
    sleepovers and lock ins
    battle of the bands
    scavenger hunt
    guys video game night
    movie nights at your church

    some big picture ideas to help keep costs very low could include:
    partnering with a few other youth groups to host your own youth retreat or conference

    plan a local mission trip in your community and stay at a church. getting rid of the “middle man” organization could cut costs in half and perhaps building supplies and food could be donated. even if you wanted to go somewhere further away, try to find a host church to work with

    I realize that many of these might not work in your particular area or context, but I would love to add to this list so please give us some more suggestions and experiments.

  3. My church offers me no youth ministry budget and very limited access to other resources. Our congregation was hit hard with the recent economic downturn, as we are situated in a small blue collar community in southern California. We now have a section in our prayer requests called “Those looking for employment.” Not to mention, I brought less than half as many kids to summer camp this year than last year.

    I’ve certainly had to think up cheap ways to do ministry, and I certainly think it’s possible. I’ve made a commitment to the parents in my ministry to have only one big expense event this next school year (summer camp, about $350) and I’m committed to making every other event free or as close to free as I can manage.

    What I’ve found to be true is the best kind of ministry events are free: go to a member’s house to play video games and watch a movie. More often than not, the hosts have offered to pay for the snacks and drinks (which has been such a blessing). Also, doing service projects has been a great way to hang out with the kids and provide them practical hands-on experience doing ministry.

    Where I disagree on this point is the impact of “getting away” and going to a week-long camp, which usually carries a large price tag. For some reason, these events really help kids, at least my kids, refocus their lives and get connected to God.
    thanks so much for the response. I am saddened to hear about the economic state of your church, but very encouraged by your actions. I generally do agree with you about retreats and conferences and we still go on a number a year. My only suggestion would be for people who simply could not afford even one, there are other options that potentially can be as effective and transformative. keep up the good work out there on the West Coast!

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