Our “Wired Ministry” columnist Brandon Early is a longtime youth pastor who’s collected a few pet peeves along the way. Here’s one that’s focused on financial frustrations that orbit typical youth ministry trips—we asked youth workers who serve on our “In the Trenches” team to take a whack at answering Brandon’s question, below:
“What’s the system you use to help students pay for trips and retreats? We’ve offered scholarships in the past, but I’ve seen kids and their parents really abuse this (for example, when they say their parents can only afford $10 for a $135 camp and then I see them in the camp shop buying T-shirts and $20 or $30 worth of food). What creative ways do you have for dealing with the financial issues that surround your trips?”
I had a kid plead with me to pay for his camp registration fee (which I did) and then he came to camp in a brand new pair of $200 sneakers—and proudly proclaimed that his parents bought them because they didn’t have to pay for camp! I knew things had to change. Now, all my students have to pay their own deposit…period. Any “scholarship” money we offer is now earned. So, after they pay their deposit, if they need help with the rest of the trip fee they have to work it off at church.
Besides the financial benefits, we’ve seen other good fruit from this change:
- Kids follow through with camp more often now that they are required to pay the deposit.
- The group bonds more closely when everyone is helping with fund-raisers.
- Lazy kids either develop a work ethic or find a way to pay for themselves.
- Parents love that we are trying to help kids become more responsible.
- Our limited funds really go to the kids who are willing to work the hardest—not just those “in need”—so the playing field is leveled. And kids whose families can pay for the trip do so without apology.
We struggle with this, as I think most ministries do. First, we try to create a great balance between paid and unpaid ministry events—to diminish the money factor with our trips and activities. We also do year-round fund-raising projects—each student has an account that one of our leaders monitors. If they participate in everything we do, students can raise about $1,000 each year. Some of our kids don’t pay a dime for any of our events because they’ve worked all our fund-raisers. And we just started a new practice this year for our mission trips that we call the “One-Third Principle.” Teenagers must pay one-third, the parents pay one-third, and the church pays one-third. This spreads out the financial burden for our ministry events.
Often church members will let me know they’re willing to help if a teenager needs scholarship help for a trip or retreat. I ask those who need financial help to write a thank-you note “To Whom It May Concern,” and then I get the note to the donor. This helps students to see the value and sacrifice that someone has made so they could participate, and it blesses the giver.
I’ve tried for years to figure out the best way to deal with money issues in our ministry. In the past, we’ve mostly just handed it out to kids on a “need” basis, but this has led to lost deposits and an entitlement attitude. So now we require every person attending a trip to pay a deposit, then fill out a scholarship form if need financial help with the remaining balance. I meet with each person who fills out a form, and then we ask those families to participate in our annual spaghetti dinner/dessert auction. That simply means they have to prepare and bring a dessert for the silent auction.
I worked at a VERY affluent church, and I got way more applications for financial assistance than you’d expect. So I got a bit shrewd. On my trip flyers I always included a note that “Scholarships are available upon request.” So I changed the wording to “Financial assistance is available on an as-needed basis—please see Melissa is you would like to receive help.— After I changed the wording, the number of requested scholarships reduced drastically. Scholarships today are awarded based on merit. So, the minute you dangle an “award” in front of an over-achiever it becomes something to win or earn, regardless of need.
We ask our kids to earn their trip scholarships. We have a SCORE Card (Spiritual Champions Rewarded for Excellence) with points that convert into dollars. Then it’s up to the student to earn their way to our destination.
I get to know the parents of kids who need help coming up with the finances for a trip. I offer to put them on a payment plan that requires them to pay a small amount each month, leading up to our departure. It might be as little as $5 a month, but that still represents some level of ownership for families. Also, to help these needy parents, we provide ways for them to gather and fill out the forms together.
Looking to make a difference in a community, and in the life of your students? Check out Group’s Lifetree Adventures mission trips! Click here for more information, or you can call us at 800-385-4545. We’d love to talk!