During my first year as a student pastor, I was given an annual ministry budget of $500.
Yes, you read that correctly. Just $500 for the entire year.
That amount was for 52 weeks of both middle school and high school ministry. So for those of you doing the math at home, that works out to be about $9.60 a week.
Yes, you also read that correctly.
Given the extremely limited funds, I knew I had to be very strategic on how this money was going to be spent.
How much should go toward programming?
How much toward special events?
How much toward the youth ministry essentials like pizza and shaving cream?
Needless to say, it was difficult to figure out the most effective use of such a limited budget. But after thinking it through, I knew where the budget money needed to go.
I ended up not spending a single dime of it on the student ministry. Thankfully, I had two college interns who helped me pull off an entire year of student ministry without spending any money (a lead pastor’s dream, but not necessarily a strategy I recommend). Why? Because I knew the greatest investment I could make was to take the entire budget and spend it on the two people who actually made the ministry happen.
At the end of the year, I took those two college interns out and blew the entire budget on one single meal. To this day, it’s still one of the best meals I’ve ever had. All these years later, those two people are still some of the best people I know. Even better? They’ve continued to make a huge difference in this world.
Best $500 I ever spent!
The truth is that we’re all tempted to want to spend our ministry dollars on the types of things we think will help us grow our ministry. For most of us, this usually includes things like the programming, the band, the buses, the food, the marketing, and the big events that we hope will draw a crowd. And the truth is, each of those things is important. They deserve our dollars! But truth be told, I would cut every one of those things out of my budget long before I cut the dollars I spent on developing and appreciating my staff and my volunteers.
Growing our ministry is important. Growing people is more important.
Think about this! What percentage of your budget is set aside to develop your team? How much of your budget is used to buy them books, to send them to conferences, to pay for growth or personality assessments?
How much is set aside to show your appreciation? Do you have the budget to buy them their favorite candy or a gift card to their favorite restaurant? (I would suggest less than a $500 gift card, though.)
I’ve seen firsthand the huge return on making an intentional investment in people. They get better. And in return, the ministry gets better. And most importantly, God’s Kingdom gets better.
Remember, new projectors will eventually fail, and the emotion of an event will eventually wear off, but the people you invest in will (hopefully) go on to make a difference in the world wherever they go. I’m still watching those two former college interns who I spent my entire budget on that year change the world!
There are a lot of places you can cut your budget, but I would never cut the dollars you spend on staff or volunteer development. You will never regret the budget dollars you spend investing in the people who are on your team.