Churches today are struggling financially.

Oh, I know that’s not true of ALL of them.

But I know it’s true of a lot of them.

As a result, it’s entirely possible for you to do the hard work of crafting a budget proposal only to be told, “We’d love to fund everything you proposed but we just can’t. The money is just not there so you need to cut your proposed budget by 10% (or 30% or 50%).” What do you do then?

First, let me tell you what not to do.

Don’t compare. It doesn’t matter how well-funded (or not) the music, children’s, or outreach ministries in your church are. You won’t win friends by whining about why another ministry gets more money than yours does. Instead, remember that you’re ALL part of the same team. You’re all necessary and good parts of God’s kingdom work.

With that in mind, let’s get to the tough work of cutting your budget.

Before you cut anything, consider: What’s your ministry’s mission?

Knowing your answer to that question will help you make difficult cuts. Instead of cutting the most or least expensive thing from your ministry’s budget, think instead about how each line item impacts your ministry’s mission. The more crucial a line item is to fulfilling your ministry’s mission, the less likely you should be to cut that line item.

With that as a guiding principle, there are two approaches you can take to cutting your budget.

Option 1: Nickel and Dime It

In this approach, which I typically reserve for smaller budget cuts, go back through and nickel and dime every part of your budget. Trim small amounts of money from lots of line items. In this way, no one aspect of your ministry will suffer greatly. What’s more, most people will remain largely unaware of your budget cuts. 

Option 2: Cut entire programs

In this more drastic approach, which I typically reserve for large budget cuts, instead of trimming small amounts of money from lots of line items, you cut entire line items. In this way, you preserve the quality of your most important programs by simply eliminating new or less important programs. The key to this approach is that if you choose to eliminate a line item, you have to be committed to actually eliminating that program or aspect of your ministry. For example, one year when I did this, I eliminated my ministry’s winter retreat. Once eliminated, I refused to let anyone talk me into figuring out how to do it for next to nothing. I refused to fundraise, increase the amount I charged families beyond what I knew they could reasonably afford, or hold the retreat at our church, where we could have held it for a fraction of the cost. Instead, when people asked why we weren’t having the winter retreat that year, I explained that our budget had been cut and that we didn’t have the funding for it. Rather than try to do the same level and quality of programming with a fraction of the funding, making significant program cuts forced families to pay attention to budget cuts, increase their giving, and advocate on behalf of our youth ministry.

Regardless of how you make cuts, don’t do it alone. If you nickel and dime things, run your cuts by a trusted stakeholder. If you choose to cut entire programs, do so with key stakeholders and your pastors so that they’ll support you when questions are raised about the missing programs. 

Additionally, don’t let budget cuts discourage you from crafting a thoughtful budget proposal and continuing to ask for more money in the future.

Finally, regardless of how much or how little you receive in your youth ministry’s budget, be a good steward of whatever you’re entrusted with. Doing so honors your congregation and ultimately, God.

Other posts in this series: 

Dream Big 

Translating Dreams into Numbers 

Revenue Streams 

Crafting Your Budget Proposal 

Educating People About Your Budget