General Ministry
Josh Griffin

Like many of you, when I signed up to be a youth pastor, I signed up to help students do life with God. I also believed then, and still do today, that there is no shortcut. It simply takes time. I also know that there is no greater way to spend big chunks of quantity time with students than the retreat setting.

So far, so good.

But what I didn’t know was that in order to do those retreats, I’d have to sign contracts that would cause me countless nights of stress leading up to them. I had no idea that 12 months out I’d be asking my church to leverage thousands of dollar on the belief that students will eventually express interest and sign up. And for me, times have been a changin’…

  • Gone are the days where if a student went last year, had a great time, and even connected with God on the trip that they’d automatically sign up and bring a friend next year.
  • Gone are the days where families could afford to send students to special retreats and functions with relative ease.
  • Gone are the days where I am willing to roll the dice and sign random contracts based on faith and my “guesstimations”.

So what am I to do?

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I still believe the same basic premises that started this post. I still believe in retreats and life change. But I no longer believe that camp contracts (or even doing contract-free retreats) is the only way, and certainly not the best way to get this done. I’d like to propose that youth ministries can learn a lesson from places like coupon based websites. If you’re unfamiliar, coupon websites that offers services that become active once a minimum number of people buy in. For example, someone offers a deal on tourist attraction or something for 50% off. If you’re interested, you sign up and give your credit card and then once 15 people buy it, the “coupon” is on and they charge your card.

So, in youth ministry, this might look like:

  • Summer camp brochure is made months earlier than normal. We promote the trip and encourage students in the same ways we always have.
  • But now, students are told 2 things. #1. The cost for the first “x” number people is “$$$”. Maybe we could offer some kinda early buy in discount. All prices could be refundable and the trip is tentative until we have ______ people going. Once we have ______ people going and maybe by a certain date, then the trip is on and a deposit of “$$” is non-refundable, but is transferable.
  • Here, if you need a minimum of 10 to do the trip, the onus is on the participant to invite friends and push the retreat. They want to go, so they’ll encourage friends that if they don’t go, he or she can’t go either.
  • As a youth pastor, I don’t have to pay now, and pray like crazy later. Or at least I can do way less of that.
  • I can spend more time encouraging students and less time being a travel agent.

Brian is a youth ministry veteran of 16 years, currently the student ministries pastor at Journey Community Church near San Diego, CA. And he blogs!

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  • Greg says:

    Good idea…definitely something to consider. It would cause us to actually PLAN and not throw something together 2 months before we do it…I’m guilty, but am getting better.

  • Kevin A says:

    Several years ago I started using a graduating fee scale, so the sooner you signed up the cheaper it was. I also use a $25.00 or $50.00 non-refundable deposit at the time of registration. It seems to bring a “good start” to the registration process, because students always want to know who else is going. This gives me a list of names to toss their way. However, the last two weeks is always crunch time. I have no idea how to get around that issue.

  • Brian says:

    Kevin, we do the non-refundable deposit and have done the late fees, but in terms of contracts, if I’m strapped and have a certain number of spots left, I often find myself stuck having to lower the rate to the “early bird” price anyway just to fill my spaces. I can’t afford to say, “it’s $50 more for you” if the spaces are going to go unfilled. Do you find you’re able to “stick to your guns” and charge a higher price later when you’re stuck in a contract paying for empty spaces?

  • Kevin A says:

    We had one particlular winter retreat that we ‘ate it” two years in a row. This caused us to to totally reevaluate the retreat. We decided to go a different direction. I find if I drop the rate then I lose any teeth I have for future registration policies. It turns out to be kinda costly either way you go.

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