General Ministry
Josh Griffin

You love working with students and despise working with money. That’s why you’re a youth minister and not an investment banker. But you also know the fastest way to lose your job is to mismanage your church’s money. You’re doing the best job you can with the funds you’ve been given, but it’s easy to mess up without even thinking about it. These are the four most common money mistakes I see when I help youth workers manage their budgets:

1. Paying sales tax sometimes or all of the time. Depending on your state, as much as 7% of your budget could go to sales taxes if you’re not careful. It takes just a little bit of work on the front end to figure out tax-exempt systems, but after that, it’s a no-brainer to make sure you don’t pay what you don’t have to pay.

2. Being too optimistic when paying deposits or buying tickets. I know, it would be awesome if 80 students showed up for the Switchfoot concert, but if that’s never happened before, you can’t count on it. Don’t get stuck with forty extra tickets – that’s like setting $1,200 on fire.

3. Failing to negotiate totally negotiable prices. Imagine you ran a retreat center that was running far below capacity during the off-season. Would you rather rent your space at discounted price or not rent it at all? Can you imagine how many fundraisers you could cut if you asked for and received a 20% discount on your next big rental?

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4. Focusing on saving pennies instead of making a few big wins. I know a guy who would call his volunteers to ask them to cut pizza coupons from the Sunday paper. It saved him a few dollars, but he would have saved hundreds of dollars and hours of time if he’d just called the pizza place and asked for a church, non-profit, or large group discount.

Now it’s your chance to be the teacher. What is one of the money mistakes you’ve made? How did you fix it?

Aaron Helman is on a mission to help end the epidemic of youth worker burnout. He writes Smarter Youth Ministry to help youth workers with their biggest frustrations – things like managing money. He is also the youth minister at Firehouse Youth Ministries in South Bend, Indiana.

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  • Here are two:

    1) Being disorganized and buying stuff you don’t need. I used to have a really bad habit of waiting until hours before an event to buy supplies. When I’m organized, I a) don’t buy too much stuff and more importantly b) don’t buy a bunch of stuff that we already have in our storage closet.

    2) Failing to estimate a budget for each event. Whether it’s a week-long mission trip or a simple three-hour event, there are always expenses that we overlook (tolls for your vans, leader thank-you gifts, etc.), making the even far more expensive than we expected. It doesn’t have to be a super complicated budget; just writing out expected expenses can keep you from being surprised.

  • Neb Milbourn says:

    In my previous church, we didn’t have a budget for student ministries. So everything we did had to be paid for from the students or from fundraising. The first few years we did all kinds of crazy fundraisers, but usually only got to keep at most 50 percent of the money raised. The rest went to expenses for the fundraiser.
    I finally figured out that people wanted to give us money not for the crap we were selling or for a clean car, but they gave us money because they believed in what our student ministries was doing and they wanted to invest in our students. From then on, I just asked people for donations right out. We raised way more money that way and people had a sense of ownership in the ministry instead of a candybar, a halfway clean car, or a doodad on their shelf.

  • Matt Reno says:

    I make our youth group t-shirts very year. I always seem to order more than teens buy. I have a ton of old t-shirts from throughout the years…next time I will get orders ahead of timeandmoney

  • […] Student Ministers: Ever been too optimistic in your conference/camp registrations? I’ve made that financial mistake along with some of these others. […]

  • Aaron Helman says:


    Usually T-shirt places will tell you they need a few weeks of lead time. This usually isn’t true, and if you ask, you can usually get an order done in less than a week.

    This is important because it gives you more time to figure out the *right* number of T-shirts to order and means less wasted cost for you. Here’s the whole post I wrote about it:


  • Kevin Allen says:

    For our mission trips I have the students write and send appeal letters. This is how real missionaries do it, so they gain that experience. It also does away with traditional fund raisers, which usually means a lot of work for me with a small return. We find that most of our students are able to raise their full support and some even do better. We ask that the extra money raised goes into the general budget for that trip.

    • I tried to have our students do this and so far, from what I can tell, none of the students have written letters or, if they have, the letters fell on deaf ears. Can you offer any suggestions on how to make this more effective for next time?

  • We have an amazing group of parents who help out with food (which is a huge expense for the ministry). One parent donates pizza from her shop for events, one helps organize other parents who prepare or bring food for the evening. Others donate to offset costs of drinks and ice. Its a partnership and the kids really feel the parents care and it gives us an opportunity for one or two youth each night to be proud of their family. Has been a great thing for our ministry.

  • Aaron Helman says:

    I’m glad to see that YM is getting over its infatuation with fundraisers. In my first year of ministry, I was given a more significant budget than I could have possibly spent, but I still did fundraisers just because that seemed like something I was supposed to do.

  • Joel Lund says:

    These are great tactical suggestions, Aaron. Planning for big events and even “normal” expenses has its challenges, often without any training or much support. Good stuff!

    However, I believe the biggest money mistake youth ministers make is strategic, and has to do with their compensation. Too often, it is received without any negotiation or question. It is a take-it-or-leave-it package. Too often there is a large disparity between what the youth minister is paid and what the “senior” minister is paid, even when the educational background is similar. Most problematic: the freshly minted (graduated) Youth Ministry professional, eager to begin their passionate work with kids, delighted to finally be receiving an income…and clueless about what it really costs to live off campus, in the real world. The dismay that comes, too late, with the realization that the church hiring committee was actually focused on getting a great budgetary deal, well, that can be a bitter pill, and sour their ministry right at the outset.

    • Aaron Helman says:

      I’ve spoken with several youth workers who are frustrated with their salaries, but when I ask them if they’ve asked for a raise, I get a blank stare. I suppose that might be another post for another day.

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