Why The Fiscal Cliff is a Good Thing for Youth Ministry

How to Do Youth Ministry When There is NO Money

This week you do not have to listen to the news for very long to hear talk about the government going over the ‘fiscal cliff‘. Chances are we have all in some way professionally or personally been affected by an economy that is recessing and finding that balance point again. Church budgets are shrinking, staff are being laid off, salaries cut, and the end of all of this does not look to be around for quite a few years.

So How Can this Be a Good Thing for Youth Ministry?

A number of years ago I lived the life of the full-time youth pastor with a budget that was exponentially more than what I had ever dealt with before. Years later I find myself in a part-time youth position with a zero youth budget. The funny thing is, we are doing just as great youth ministry and I am enjoying this ministry experience even more.

I might be alone is saying that the fiscal cliff is a good thing for youth ministry. But I am not the only seeing this trend on our doorstep.

Here are five reasons the fiscal cliff is a good thing for youth ministry

  1. Get Away from Youth Ministry Stuff: Somewhere along the line the profession and practice of youth ministry became about the latest and greatest ‘stuff’. When you cannot afford to buy stuff, we return back to the core of ministry in relationships, mission, prayer, mentoring. These are those things we have at our ready, and do not cost a monetary price. But since they are not as eye popping as the icing on the cake we often neglect or put aside as a cool by-product of ‘stuff’.
  2. Empowers More in Ministry: When you cannot afford to pay a lot of staff, or any staff, then you leave gaps in ministry that HAVE TO be filled with others in the church body that need meaningful ministry outlets. Many times we ’empower’ other leaders to do work of the ministry by giving them meaningless jobs that we do not care to do. Now, since you or I cannot devote all our time to the ministry there is meaningful ministry opportunities that someone has to do. And they are going to love doing them.
  3. Makes You a Better Youth Minister: In my personal transition from big time to part-time, big money to no money, there was a learning curve to figure out. Through that curve was a great realization. The realization that I was a better youth minister because I understood the financial crisis of each of my families. I understood more of what 90% of the churches in America (and a lot of the world) situations are regarding resources and staffing. The norm of youth ministry and churches are not mega-church programs, but smaller intimate groups of youth and adults living life together as best they can.
  4. More Creative Youth Ministry: Without money to help me make something happen in youth ministry I am now figuring out how to creatively bring about youth experiences without huge costs. Need a spring retreat? We contacted a local camp offering to clean up around camp so that they could get ready for summer in exchange for staying for free. We just paid for our food. The youth get a full retreat experience, mission experience, we do not end up spending money we do not have, and the camp saves money on prep costs. It is a win. All something that never would have come about if I had money to just throw at a place.
  5. You Are Not a Slave to the Church: Being a staff person on a few churches over the last two decades I had this saying that went a bit like “I have 300/700/2500 bosses.” (you can insert your own number). The idea being that every member of the church has an idea of what the youth ministry should be like, or was like. And because they tithe to the church they feel some ownership over you as an employee. Consequently there is always some pressure to fulfill every parishioners wishes. I could also throw in some of the American over-work ethic we are wrought with, but that’s a whole other article. Without guarding your time diligently we can easily find ourselves burned out and enslaved by the church. Doing youth ministry without a salary, or even part-time, gives a concrete reason to say “NO” and draw lines in the sand as to what we will be responsible for.

My hope in sharing these few realizations from my own experience is to give us all hope that as money and staff positions whittle away, we can do even better ministry. My hope is that we can stop using the lack of monetary resources as an excuse for doing good youth ministry. You can do youth ministry better & so can I.


  1. Dearest Gavin,

    I echo the sentiments of your position, only in reverse. I’ve been a “part time” “paid” youth minister at a UM Church for 3 years. I turned in my 2 weeks as of Monday… Each of the 2 illustrations has ups and downs, but I can say for sure that working with ZERO budget and ZERO administrative support forces one to be all those things you listed and more.
    As I drafted a resume’ and emailed it to a large and successful UM Church in my area, my mind raced with the possibilities and responsibilities that a full time position could create! 3 years of urban youth ministry has taught me how to be very creative with ministry funding and teaching. However, at the end of the day when snack supper is over and activities are all wrapped up, it’s still the ‘life on life’ moments when God really shows up. Great article!

  2. Youth Ministry and its intentions should be independent of monetary matters. Maybe this fiscal cliff is a good time for youth ministries to introspect.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *