Thinking Out Loud

March 29, 2011

When Youth Ministry is Priced Out of Reach

Youth Pastor: …So guys, thanks for coming out tonight, I think we all had a great night, and don’t forget to bring five dollars with you next week. I can’t tell you what it’s for, but don’t forget… five dollars. Goodnight.


[30 Minutes later]

Student Youth Intern: So can you tell me what the five dollars is for?

Youth Pastor: Actually, I haven’t decided yet. But these kids all come from wealthy families and we’ll do something off-budget that we wouldn’t have done. Maybe we’ll just order pizza.

Youth ministry is pricey.

Or maybe it’s just that ministry is pricey.

A piece at this blog a few weeks ago about camp ministry ended up generating some comments about the costs of sending kids to summer camp, comments which were heartfelt, but a little bit of an aside to the intended main topic of that article.

Then last week, my review of the Passion 2011 Conference music CD resulted in some off-blog discussion urging me to tackle the subject of the cost of youth ministry.

There are three ways to look at this, the first of which I’ve hinted at in the introductory ‘skit’ for this blog post, which is to consider all the “extras” parents are expected to dig deep into their pockets for, both at church and school.

In the state province where I live, the Governor Premier has just ordered the Department Ministry of Education to follow a new set of guidelines with respect to what parents can be asked to shell out for their children’s education.

There are various articles online about this, like this one, which notes:

Fifty-three per cent of Ontario high schools charge fees for art classes, 41 per cent charge fees for physical education and 26 per cent impose extra costs for music courses…

This results in the new directive:

Ontario’s Ministry of Education has released new guidelines clarifying when a school can ask students for extra cash.

Under the guidelines, released Friday, schools cannot charge for textbooks, science lab materials, art supplies or musical instruments.

Schools cannot apply a fee to anything that is mandatory, essential for classroom learning, or the completion of a course, including a student registration fee.

“There should be absolutely no fee associated with any requirement for course completion for graduation,” Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky said.

It is in this type of environment that youth pastors have felt no hesitation in asking the kids — most of whom turn around and ask their parents — to bring money for this, that, and the other thing.

But there’s a second concern here: On budget, youth ministry can be staff intensive.  In a somewhat smaller church we attended a few years back, there were five staff positions.  Two were the senior pastor and the secretary.  The other three were for a children’s ministry director, a youth ministry director, and a youth intern.  In a town where many college-aged kids left town eight months of the year, it was not lost on the older people in the church that 60% of the church staff were ministering to the needs of people under age 18.

The third area where youth ministry gets expensive has to do with the costs of print materials and curriculum.   As someone who is employed in a business that sells youth ministry materials, you’d expect me not to bite the hand that feeds.  In truth however, the cynic in me sees a few hungry publishers simply trying to carve out their piece of the pie.  Sorry, but someone needs to say that.

Everyone is tripping over everyone else trying to be first in line for a piece of the action.  After all, the churches have the money, right?

The pastor’s wife had rarely not been at his side in their nearly 40 years of ministry, but bedridden with the flu, he trudged the walkway from the manse to the church alone that Sunday night.

When he returned two hours later, she asked him, “Did you give an invitation?”

He smiled and replied, “Yes, and I had two-and-a-half people come forward.”

She stared at him for a few seconds, and then said, “You mean two adults and a child?”

He winked at her and responded, “Nope.  Two kids and an adult.”

The above story is meant to convey that, with their whole lives stretched out before them, the faith steps of a child or teen are vitally important.  And many people who espouse this will say that you can’t put a price on reaching a young person with the saving message of Jesus Christ.

But somewhere along the line, that evolved into a thinking that ministry can take place on a fee-for-service basis. And it’s further complicated when the fees have to be paid “up front” before a child or teen can attend or participate in the event in question.  And it’s even further complicated when the group is a mix of “have” and “have not” families; wealthier families mixing with people who have had to deal with foreclosures or evictions.

So it’s not surprising that some people are concerned about the effect of all this on the poorer kids on the fringes.

I’m concerned about the message that it sends to all the kids.

…Last time I checked, the gospel was supposed to be free.

(NLT) III John 1:7 For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers.


  1. Firstly I have to state that I consider children’s and youth ministry to be among the most important ministries of a Church.
    I have been devastated to phone pastors about their children’s ministry and be told “Oh we’re not interested in children. We’re only interested in the adults” What message does THAT send to kids?

    Children’s ministry does not need to be costly. I am involved with one very structured, deliberately evangelistic and discipleship weekly club program which centres on Scripture memory in systematic theology, and the Gospel presentation – and having FUN! It costs a little to set up but very little to maintain. A contribution of $2 week from clubbers is sufficient to cover costs and allow for treats.

    With a little more work and preparation by the leaders, a weekly youth meeting does not have to involve costs. A youth meeting run by the Church should offer UNIQUE activities – not things like ten pin bowling which they can do anytime.

    Because of government regulations and insurance costs we have had to abandon camps, but a five day holiday club for primary school children in the holidays costs very little (a fraction of the cost of child minding) and is spiritually a harvest field.

    IF children’s and youth ministry WAS expensive it should be an expense welcomed and paid for by the believers in the Church – but the fact is that it doesn’t have to be expensive.

    The most important fact is that it IS a fruitful ministry and if we do NOT instill in our children a Biblical worldview while they are still young, we will lose them when they reach high school.

    Comment by meetingintheclouds — March 30, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

    • You’ve reminded me of a quote by Andy Stanley: “we are not just babysitting children; we are planting an anchor very deep in their hearts so that when they drift, they will not drift far”

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — March 30, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

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