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How to run an effective youth ministry for $1.99 a week (plus tax)

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

No, this is not a joke.

Effective youth ministry doesn’t take that much money. It takes manpower. It takes prayer. It takes creativity. It may even take blood, sweat and a few tears. But, when you come down to the bare essentials, effective youth ministry doesn’t take that much money.


Think about it this way. Since most of the disciples were most likely teenagers* when they began to follow Jesus he was, in essence, the original youth leader. And it was his youth group that went on after they “graduated” to change the world.

And how much money did Jesus operate his youth ministry on? That’s right nada. As a matter of fact he was homeless during this time and, apart from a brief stint on a donkey, was without any form of transportation. The money he did have in his youth ministry budget was most likely most often used to help the poor (John 12:5,6.)

If you think of Jesus as a youth leader we would consider him the best youth leader ever who led the most effective youth ministry in the history of youth ministries. And he did it all with next to nothing. Because all he needed in his budget was the person and the power of the Holy Spirit.

Okay, you may be thinking “Well, if I could multiply pizza and soda like Jesus whipped up loaves and fishes I wouldn’t need much money either.

Good point.

But, when you think about it, that was more for the crowd than his actual youth group. And, man doesn’t live on bread alone just like teenagers dont’ live off of pizza crust.

The ministry of Jesus was driven, not by earthly priorities, but by eternal values. He spent more time praying for impact than planning for impact. He didn’t worry about advancing a program but was intensely considered about advancing his Father’s business…making and multiplying disciples!

All this didn’t cost him a drachma. But it did cost him everything. He sacrificed his own life to secure it’s success.

This brand of Gospel Advancing, disciple-multiplying ministry will cost you too.

It will cost you time because, although a Wednesday night youth group meeting can be prepared in a few hours, preparing our teenagers for a life of passionate service to God (in whatever vocation God leads them to) takes years.

It will cost you effort because it takes far more work to build a disciple than it does to build a program.

It will cost you comfort because, if you’re going to call your teenagers to “fish for people” (Matthew 4:19), then you must set the example with your own life.

It may even cost you your job.

Gospel Advancing leaders can get fired from time to time because they refuse to settle for the status quo. They won’t stop until every teenager within their reach has every last chance to put their faith in Jesus. Sometimes, as a result of their relentless focus, “those teens” start attending youth group and church. As a  result a few of the power players may get nervous about “the bad influence” they are bringing into the youth group. Strings can be pulled, meetings can be called and youth leaders can get fired.

A few years back I wrote a book called Firing Jesus that was inspired by a great youth leader I know who was fired for building his youth group with new and raw disciples. The pastor didn’t like the “bad element” in his church so he fired him under the pretense of a “different philosophy of ministry.

Today, that same youth leader is killing it as a church planter in Orlando. He is a lead pastor who is relentlessly focused on mobilizing old people and young people alike for the Gospel!

And he still doesn’t have much of a budget! But he has all the budget he needs (the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, the power of the Gospel and a ton of willing people in his church!)

This low budget approach to youth ministry is both exhausting and exhilarating. It comes with extreme highs and shockingly low lows.

But it’s worth the investment of effort. It’s worth the frustration. It’s worth every long day and short night. 

Why? Becuase lives will be changed and souls will be saved in the process!

You may be thinking, “Where does the $1.99 a week (plus tax) come in?”

That’s for your weekly shot of Red Bull. Adopt this approach and you’re gonna need every sip of it…at least once a week!

Now God have may blessed you with an actual youth ministry budget. Praise God!

Use it to buy games (by the way have you checked out the cool new Sidekick app by DYM? It’s awesome!), get the music you need to create the setting for your youth group meeting (great stuff like YLO), stock up on the best discipleship curriculum you can find and take your teens to that camp, retreat and/or conference!

Just know that ultimately you already have all the budget you need in the Holy Spirit, the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Every extra dime is a bonus blessing.

*All the disciples were in Capernaum in Matthew 17:24-27 but only Jesus and Peter paid the Temple Tax. According to Exodus 30:14 the Temple Tax was only for those 20 years old and older. If I’m reading this right Jesus was a youth leader with only one adult sponsor (Peter) and one really rotten kid (Judas.) And with that youth group he changed the world!

Unlikely Fighter

#1 new release in Evangelism on Amazon

The story of how a fatherless street kid overcame violence, chaos, and confusion to become a radical Christ follower.

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