Make new budgets, but keep the old

I’m facing an end-of-year crisis that’s so regular I should just go ahead and put it on my calendar.

I’ve got lots of youth budget money left. I have lots left because all year I’ve been encouraged to only spend what I absolutely need, which is a bit of a trap because everybody knows you can do youth ministry without money. You just can’t do youth ministry that has a lot of expectations tied to it. So I ease up all year, not buying new curricula, not updating anything, and passing the true cost of events along to the youth families. But inevitably in December I’m looking at a line item that has a ton of potential. And when two weeks ago they used the word “gashed” in reference to next year’s ministry budgets, it’s tempting to go all-in and spend that budget line down to zero.

Sound familiar?

It’s also easy to use this as an opportunity to get all hot-headed about the importance of youth ministry and the lives that would be transformed by the purchase of a GoPro helmet cam for your next dive off the steeple into a tapioca tank at the Fall Carnival. And your very real problem is that you’re right; if they slowly take away your money each year, your youth ministry will dwindle. You will eventually be blamed for the dwindling, even though you’re working harder than ever. And then you’ll be fired.

Merry Christmas everybody!




Just kidding. All of that is true if you’re working alone, which you shouldn’t be. Odds are that you’re not also an excellent accountant; you sure as hell don’t need to be the only person looking at your books anyway. And if you’re suffering from IBS (iffy budget situation) you’d better turn your spending decision-making “I” into a “we.” DO NOT be the only person that makes decisions about where the money goes. That’s just going to come back and bite you. Make sure as well that you’re communicating what your budget is each year to your youth families. Most families aren’t thinking about how much money you have or don’t have to do ministry. Show them. Show them what it takes financially to do good ministry in your church so that they can understand what a crunch looks like and what effect long-term underfunding will have in the youth room.

We’ve probably talked about this here before, but don’t go off and do something brash this December that will tick off your church’s finance committee. You can bet that at least one of them only sees youth ministry dollars as a loss for the church. There’s another one in the room that’s never even met you and probably thinks the person before you is still running things. It’s just not a room you need to make waves in. And particularly if your church is having a tough year financially, remember that your budget money isn’t real. It doesn’t exist. A budget is just an intention of how you’ll spend money as it comes in through gifts and offerings. If your church is behind budget in its giving and you go and buy the new inflatable worship velcro wall, you’re actually eating into your church’s reserves–the van fund, the roof fund, the fund where the gas money for the little old ladies’ apple festival trip is. You’re making a mess and being an idiot if you do that. Hell hath no fury like a little old lady that didn’t get to go to the apple festival.

I’m making light of it, but you really need to be in conversation with your finance team more than you probably want to. If you’ve got free rein on your finances, give yourself some boundaries. Give someone oversight on all of your spending. Check with your finance team before making any single purchase over $200. Or $100. Whatever. Ask them what they’d prefer.

Yes, you’re creating headaches for yourself. Yes, you will find yourself in arguments about how to spend the budget. Yes, you’ll get shot down on certain purchases. But they’re all minor headaches, and I’d rather do minor-headache ministry for years than headache free ministry for just months before getting fired over a pile of misunderstandings.

So there. And I do hope you have a great Christmas.


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