For many churches fundraising is a necessary part of a sustainable youth ministry. The philosophy of how fundraising is used and how often one should fundraise varies. Life would be easier if every church member gave their tithe and parents made enough to sustain an active teenager in youth ministry. But, sadly, neither is the case. In our request for funds, we need to be God-honoring with our time and resources.

Student Service

In three of the four gospels, (Matthew 21:12-17; Mark 15:15-17; John 2:13-17), the narrative is told of Jesus driving out merchants who were selling in the temple courts. There were two main reasons Jesus drove them out: poor products and profiteering. The animals they sold did not meet the specifications for sacrifice. Secondly, the exchange rate to buy the animals for sacrifice allowed the money exchangers and those selling the animals to exploit those coming for worship.

Jesus’ challenge in two of those passages was that the house of the Lord was to be a house of prayer. The focus of coming to church should be to worship the risen Savior, not to hear a sales pitch to buy fruit, popcorn, cookie dough, wrapping paper, posters, mugs, recipe books, or discount cards. I’m sure I left something out.

I will discourage students from selling stuff for school in the sanctuary and will not sell products as fundraisers. Honestly, most of those fundraising ideas are poor quality products, and the profit margin for the youth ministry is less than the profit margin for the company. If you ask parents, most of them will tell you that they loathe the idea of their students having to ask every family member and close friend to buy something. In light of the discomfort, most parents take it to work and do it on behalf of the student; therefore, the student does not “earn” the money. Fundraisers often have “quotas” that have to be met, which can be stressful. Not to mention the strain if someone orders but does not pay. The “profit” becomes an expense.

Instead, create opportunities for students to serve. It gives them the opportunity to learn life skills such as sacrifice, sweating, and the value of hard work. It’s important to learn some things do not come easy. Students also need to learn the value of doing things right under supervision. As a result, parents and adults will need to be part of the process, but isn’t that what ministry is about? Doing life together? Give students opportunities to clean yards, cook and serve meals, and wash cars. Activities like these allow students to take meaningful ownership of youth ministry participation and learn it is more about service than money.

Keep Accurate Records

The ability to handle money well is more important in youth ministry than even the pastorate. Think about it:  How often does someone hand the pastor a tithe check? Hardly ever. It is placed in the offering plate. Do people pay the pastor for their Wednesday night meal? Not usually. It is paid to someone who puts it in a money bag and hands it to the financial secretary. In some cases, they take it directly to the bank. The youth pastor, however, receives camp payments, snack bar money, day trip money, scholarship funds, and fundraising money over the course of a given year. He will eventually hand it to someone to be counted and deposited, but it is usually his responsibility to give an account for it. If funds are given in cash, they could easily be mismanaged or credited inappropriately since multiple people handle the money.  Thus, how will we make sure payments are accurately recorded?

Some church accounting programs will help you keep track of who gave what. The difficult task is remembering who gave what when you give it to the secretary. One way is to have a policy not to accept any money yourself. It must be paid online or to the church office. The benefit for you is that you lessen the confusion of someone handing you money in the midst of youth ministry “chaos.” In other words, you are busy interacting with students and engaging them on a Wednesday night, and someone tries to give you $50 cash for his/her camp deposit. You think, “I can remember one student who gave me a deposit.” But what will you do when ten more do the same thing?

Fundraising is another place you will need accurate records. There are a variety of methods to give students credit for earning money. You could choose to give them all equal credit, regardless of how much time or effort they contributed. (Matthew 20:1-16) However, I preferred to give credit for work earned, usually in 15 to 30-minute increments. For example, we would spend all day doing a car wash. Some students would stay all 6 hours we worked. Others would stay 2 hours and then leave for a sporting event. I would have students sign in and sign out. At the end of the day, I would create a spreadsheet detailing how many 30 minute increments everybody worked and the amount of money raised. I would then divide the amount of money by the total number of increments. This would give me an “amount of money earned per 30 minutes per person.” I would then know how much each person earned, based on the number of 30-minute increments he/she worked. This allowed the person who worked 6 hours to earn more than the person who worked 2.

Additional bonus credit was earned by encouraging parents to serve with us on our fundraisers. I gave students financial credit for their parents working (1 hour for a parent = 30 minute for the student). In other words, for every hour their parents worked, students earned one 30-minute increment. This was included in the overall 30-minute increment total. This incentive all but guaranteed parent participation and having enough adult help.

In addition to keeping track of student work credits, the spreadsheet also allowed me to show verification to others that the money earned was fair and justified. I then transferred these totals to another spreadsheet showing the totals from all the fundraising done for the year. Most churches’ financial accounting only allows for the totals of money paid in by individual families, such as deposits or final payments or a grand total of money deposited for fundraising. Thus, you will need an additional method for accounting for each student’s fundraising money earned.

I know I’m stretching hermeneutically, but twice in the New Testament, it did not end well when the money was not accurately accounted for. Judas (John 12:6) helped himself to the money instead of accurately accounting for it. In Acts 5:1-11, Ananias and Sapphira gave money but did not give an honest account of the money given to the church. Regardless of the size of your church, there will be large amounts of cash passing through your hands when fundraising. It is important to protect yourself from temptation and mismanagement.

Live Within the Youth Ministry Budget

I know some of you will say, “I have no budget.” I’m sorry to hear that. I hope your church will see the value of investing in students and add a line item to the church budget for youth programming and discipleship. Even with no budget, it does not mean that your entire ministry calendar should be focused on fundraising.

Biblically, you could argue from a ministry practice standpoint, the church should fully fund the youth ministry programming. Fundraising, then, would be used to help students lower costs to attend major events. Whatever the church decides, it needs to be clearly communicated to the families.

Regardless, there is a line that can be crossed where too much fundraising is happening. Where is that line? It’s not a number of fundraisers; it’s evaluation of your ministry?

1. Could we fundraise less if we did cheaper events such as a lower priced youth camp or a church wide mission trip (no need to pay for sponsors) instead of a youth mission trip? Stay closer to home and save the beach for every 3rd year.

2. Can we do fewer events that require an expense? Find creative ways to spend time together in youth ministry. There are free parks, families with pools, game ideas to do at the church, local service projects, and free Bible study resources available to you if you will look. Your parents will appreciate not having to spend money all the time.

You do not have to be the students’ activity director and plan something every month. Remember you see them every week on Sunday and Wednesday. Plus, you have the opportunity to engage them on their turf through their sporting events and at the school cafeteria. Answering these questions can help create a healthier youth ministry that is not so reliant upon fundraising.

Wrap Up

Fundraising is helpful, but it should not be what consumes our time. Our task is to minister to students and guide them toward adulthood. Money is not entirely necessary to make this happen. It’s not the events that matter, but about the quality of the relationships that are created by being together.

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