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Youth Ministry and the Economy: Chris Folmsbee

posted by Scot McKnight

Dollar.jpgThis post, by Chris Folmsbee about Youth Ministry and the Challenging Economy, is suggestive and we’d love to generate a conversation about his suggestions and questions. Chris sent me this post last week and, because of our travel to the DC area, I couldn’t get it posted… so here it is … there are some big questions here…

 Last week I took a call from a youth pastor in the greater
Portland area who, for lack of a better word, was very frustrated with
his church’s decision to cut one of his fellow youth pastors from a
full-time position to a quarter-time position.  Although frustrated
this particular youth worker accepted the reason for the staff cut –
economic challenges.

A second youth worker emailed me and told me that her youth budget was
cut in half for her summer ministry and said that in the 14 years she
as been a full-time youth worker she’s never had a more paired back
summer programming schedule.

A youth worker here in the greater Kansas City area emailed me to see if I knew of any good fundraisers that didn’t require a ton of time.  Not because this youth worker didn’t want to make and take the time – he just can’t take the time… he’s recently had to get a second job in order to offset the fact that his wife lost her job.
Still, another youth worker here in Kansas City said that they have about 18 students who wanted to go to camp this summer.  The church usually subsidizes the cost of camp for any student that wants to go but this year cannot afford to do so.  For the first time in over a decade this church has had to tell students ‘we can’t send you to camp this year.’

Are the economic challenges that so many are facing in our country hitting your church and community?  If so, how is it changing the way that you are doing youth ministry?

Some of the youth workers I speak with see this time of economic uncertainty as an opportunity – a time to purge and get lean in favor of a more simple and streamlined approach to youth ministry.  Is this you?  Do you see this time as an opportunity to purge our youth ministries, cutting away the fat?  Are you having to get back to “what really matters?”

One of the youth workers I know in New York State was let go by his church for financial reasons and was fortunate enough to get a job working for the state highway department.  The amazing thing (even more than finding a job in his towns skyrocketing unemployment rate) is that this youth worker decided to volunteer all of his free time and has kept leading the very same youth ministry!  If youth ministry were an unpaid profession, would you do it?
I mean, I know that many of you are volunteers and serve youth and their families without pay.  However, for those of you who are professional youth workers, if youth ministry were an unpaid profession, would you still be giving your time (or a portion of it, anyway) to youth ministry?

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posted June 24, 2009 at 9:19 am

I think that the last two questions are really key.
If ________ ministry were an unpaid profession would you still be giving your time (or a portion of it, anyway) to _________ ministry?
Any professional – paid for “church work” or ministry – who says no is in it for the wrong reason.
On top of this – any professional who says no is basically telling those in the congregation who do volunteer time and effort that they are chumps for doing so – and deserve to be taken advantage of for their naivet?.
If the economy tanked to the point where no one could pay you to preach and teach the gospel or to advocate for the importance of ministry to 18-35 year-olds would you still put time and effort into the project?

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Scot McKnight

posted June 24, 2009 at 9:28 am

RJS, I agree that the questions you mention are the big ones.
Yes, I’d keep it up.
But as you ask that question I realize it is answered from a context: I have a job and we have income etc.. I answer on that assumption. We’d have to make a living somehow.

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Scot McKnight

posted June 24, 2009 at 9:29 am

RJS, and frankly for years I spoke and taught in churches and camps etc and made very little money doing it. I once traveled 100 miles every weekend for 13 weeks and taught SS class and preached the Sunday sermon at a church, and got paid 25 dollars. (We also paid for our own gas and travel.)

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posted June 24, 2009 at 9:45 am

My church hasn’t had to put a freeze on spending yet, but we’re getting very close to that. I’ve decided to operate our ministry out of actual monies (our accounts that aren’t dependent on line item budget) rather than hoping money comes in and our line item is met and available, at least for the summer. We’ve been very fortunate to offer many or our trips, particularly the ones that are service oriented, at low cost or even sometimes for free and I’m trying really hard to help that continue to be the case.
I’m not so sure I agree with RJS, though. That seems a bit of a hasty approach. If I lost my job would I continue doing ministry? Yes, undoubtedly. Would I continue at my current post? I would have to pray long and hard about it before I decide. With student loans, I can’t afford to even do this part time so I would have to find an alternative income. If it didn’t cost so much to be trained to do ministry, fluidity and availability in ministry would be a whole lot easier. Unfortunately when you enter college at 18 it’s hard to have enough foresight to see how debt will affect your availability to do ministry, or much of anything for that matter.

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Julie Clawson

posted June 24, 2009 at 9:48 am

“If ________ ministry were an unpaid profession would you still be giving your time (or a portion of it, anyway) to _________ ministry?
Any professional – paid for “church work” or ministry – who says no is in it for the wrong reason.”
Really? Needing to make a living is a wrong reason? And while Scot might give up his paycheck to do what he does, honestly how many people would just go to work out of the goodness of their hearts? Kindergarten teachers? Doctors? Lawyers? Janitors? They all serve others, minister to them even, do we point the finger at them and accuse them of wrong reasons if they would not willingly do the work for no pay at all?
I understand the importance of volunteer work, I’ve done the more than full time church job for very part time pay. And volunteering 40+ hours a week is a far cry from squeezing in an hour to teach sunday school every couple of weeks. I think the naivete lies with the people who don’t realize how much time ministry really takes when. And in all truth I think those who support ministry as a side job (volunteer) want to sell ministry short. That might work if you are a program based person – show up, host an event, then leave. But if you really want to minister to people – be in their lives, be available to them, be missional together, giving what is left over just doesn’t cut it. Something has to give – be it true ministry, your “real” job, or as it almost always goes one’s family. So if we want to look at the whole picture, the question should be –
“If ________ ministry were an unpaid profession would you still be giving your time (or a portion of it, anyway) and be willing to sacrifice your family and marriage for _________ ministry?”
Would you still say – “Any professional – paid for “church work” or ministry – who says no is in it for the wrong reason.”

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posted June 24, 2009 at 9:50 am

You are right – it is from a context. Everyone must make a living some way. I think that most churches should have “professional” ministers and pay a reasonable wage for the effort expected. This includes youth ministers and college ministries. I also think that in general a speaker, teacher, musician should be recompensed for the time, effort, and expense involved in preaching, teaching, performing – among other things this ensures that future audiences will also have the opportunity to hear and benefit from the work of this person.
But ministry is first and foremost for the church and out of call from God and commitment to the kingdom of God.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 10:00 am

I, too, was a full time youth pastor and was let go for economic reasons. Admittedly, I was too hurt to think about doing it for free. Also, I think if the living expenses of the area were more affordable, I may have thought about sticking around instead of having to commute 30-45 minutes from a more affordable area. Frankly, I’m not even sure the church wanted to keep me around paid or unpaid since they gave my job to an assistant pastor (who is now doing double duty). However, I think if my heart was truly involved in that ministry I would have done it for free. The hurt was too much to bear at the time. Since that time eight months ago, I’ve been doing multiple part-time jobs in order to help pay the bills. It sucks, but it must be done. For me, it often seems that youth ministry takes a greater hit than the ministries being done for those in “big church.” I’m sure all churches out there say they really care about their youth, but it would just be nice if the budgets backed it up.

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William Cheriegate

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:10 am

Un unpaid shepherd and his/her friends who labor for the sake of others are largely unconcerned with economic troubles their church may face. There’s no buildings to pay for, no salaries to maintain, no need to force tithing. Their home or rented facility meetings are no cost or low cost and they can walk away any time.
Those who have help those who don’t have and their lives move forward. Their lives are mutually shared.
From Jesus to Christianity … The Way has turned ugly …

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Greg Smith-Young

posted June 24, 2009 at 10:19 am

Great question. I was once asked if, supposing I had no financial worries, I would continue doing the same ministry as I do now. (I’m a senior pastor.) The answer is yes . . . most days. Some days I’m not so sure, but that is probably the same for every calling.
My wife is also a pastor, and we serve the same church. She is responsible for children and youth ministries, and there is some worry that her position will be reduced or eliminated for financial reasons. If that happens, we face a dilemma. Does she continue doing the work on a volunteer basis? Do I pick up some of the work? The work is very important, and I can’t imagine it not being done.
This raises questions for me about how ministry is done and shared in a church. Will all congregational members be asked to volunteer more and give more financially to make the ministry work? Or is it just the pastor who has to give (in terms of time and lost income)?
Similarly, what if my Board asks me to take a pay cut as our offerings drop? That would be a fair request, and I might agree as part of my ongoing contribution to the importance of our congregation’s ministry. Yet would I be right to insist that each of them raise their offerings by an equal amount? If the ministry is shared, so too must be the sacrifice.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 10:20 am

Actually I do think that anyone who is in ministry to make a living is in it for the wrong reason. But I also think that those who are called to ministry should be able to make a living at it. It furthers the mission of the church when they can devote full time to the effort. No one can devote full time to the effort if they can’t make a living at it.
But this I firmly believe – we are all, every single one of us, called to a full time commitment to God and to his church. This is the big rock – the one that we consider first. We are all called to be involved in the ministry of His church. This isn’t voluntary and it isn’t part time. It should work its way out in the priorities we set and in everything that we do – whether raising kids, teaching at a University, working in a hospital, volunteering in a church, paid ministry in a church, or working as a janitor.
If someone feels a passion and call for _____ ministry – but feels it is not worth heeding unless they are paid for the effort, something is wrong.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 10:46 am

And volunteering 40+ hours a week is a far cry from squeezing in an hour to teach sunday school every couple of weeks.
Perhaps this attitude actually reflects part of the problem. First – I never said anyone should volunteer 40+ hours a week. Second – it undervalues and demeans the effort “volunteers” put into church ministry.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 11:47 am

Our area has been impacted by the economy. GM is closing here and has been laying off since November. I am blessed in that the church has not cut our budgets but we have cut ours to be able to help more students do the things we do. We are doing more events that cost no money, we found ways to cut the cost of mission trips and other events we have done, and the money we save we are able to pass on to help students who need financial help to go to camp and mission trips. In an economic down turn there are great deals. We have become a little more creative and done a lot more shopping around to save money in many areas.

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Julie Clawson

posted June 24, 2009 at 11:58 am

My point was that the people who are committed to doing ministry well will end up volunteering 40+ hours a week. That doesn’t demean anything else, its just a fact that I think goes largely unrecognized in these sorts of discussions. There is a difference between a teacher who scans over a pre-printed Sunday school curriculum on the drive to church and then just reads it verbatim and a pastor who gives every evening to “counseling,” late nights to sermon prep, and all weekend to church/missional activities all fit around her “real job.” Admitting there is a difference doesn’t undervalue anything, just allows for the realities of the situation to simply be.
And you are right – people go into the ministry to serve God not to make money. But I am not so much of an idealist to think that factors like feeding and providing shelter for one’s family don’t figure into the decision to heed the call to ministry. I think assuming that only the independent wealthy or dual income families can make the choice to serve in churches is unfair and keeps some of the most passionate away from ministry. And like I said – this was my experience. I worked full time as a children’s pastor for a very part time wage. And I worked three years as an assistant pastor for no money at all. I’ve never made more than $12,000 a year doing anything because what I like to do and am passionate about doesn’t pay. And now of course I’m a full time mom who can’t make enough doing anything to even pay for childcare. I made those choices and don’t regret them. But I also have a really hard time hearing people who are getting a steady paycheck criticize other people for making a living by doing the work the are good at. I don’t think the solution to valuing volunteers is to destroy the livelihood of others, or making them feel guilty for wanting to put food on the tables for their families.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 12:16 pm

There is a difference between a teacher who scans over a pre-printed Sunday school curriculum on the drive to church and then just reads it verbatim …
Julie, This is what I mean by demeans volunteers. While I am sure that some put in as little effort as you suggest – many, most don’t. My husband and I worked a Wed. night children’s program for some 7 years. I averaged 6 hour a week prep plus the 2.5 hours each Wednesday.
Most people I know who volunteer to lead youth and children SS (my friends do it regularly, I did for several years) put in several hours a week preparation.
When I teach adult SS it has never involved less than 4 hours prep per 1 hour class and often has involved much more.
Give us a break.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Our church has issued new contracts to each staff member, and all pastors (except the Sr Pastor) clearly stating our church is an “At Will Employer”. These contracts are 1-year contracts – the staff is reevaluated at the end of the calendar year, and are either given a 1-year stay of execution, or given a “Happy New Year, and by the way – you’re fired”. Our church did this to protect herself from any fallout as the result of an untimely staff cut.
This has been a challenge for me as a pastor on at least two fronts: 1. It sends a message that economy trumps calling (This makes an all-volunteer church leadership/staff model look most accurate and effective, and even fail-safe) and, 2. Staff morale is at an all-time low, as people feel they’re on the chopping block. With families at home to provide for, this uncertainty becomes a big distraction.
The word of wisdom spoken to me in this season is “Unto the Lord”. Everything we do is done unto the Lord, so in both lean and fat economic times (at all times) I have been reminded that my commitment to ministry and people, and the focus of my faithfulness to all forms of Christian ministry is “unto the Lord”.

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Julie Clawson

posted June 24, 2009 at 12:36 pm

RJS – in all honesty my experience has been different. When I was in a leadership position the teachers would get really mad at me and complain to the head pastor and the board if I asked them to do anything that required prep work, or come to a planning/training meeting, or show up early (or on time). Same thing with VBS recently at a new church, the other leaders made fun of me and called me an overachiever for prepping the curriculum and not just reading it from the packet. I’ve just gotten used to that being the level of commitment that the average person is willing to give. Is it demeaning to therefore have realistic expectations? I would have loved to have worked with volunteers as committed as you, but that just hasn’t been my experience.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 12:56 pm

I think it is the blanket statement that is a problem.
Realistically… my use of “most” was probably an overstatement.
In the churches I have been involved with there has certainly been a group of people willing to show up and help, and that is about it, if you ask for more you won’t even get them to show up and help.
But there has also been another group of volunteers (people with day jobs) who actually make the program work and who invest a great deal of time and energy into it. This group isn’t “most” but it also isn’t small. I’ve read comments here using a 80-20 breakdown, and perhaps this is correct, but I think it is more of a continuum.

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posted June 24, 2009 at 1:39 pm

The mission is to carry forth Christ. Employment is another matter. But the debilitating factor is not knowing when (or how) to say, “No.” I do find it interesting how many churches keep hiring young, just out of college, soon-to-be pastors under the guise of “Intern.” Which now seems to mean, “Paying your dues while starving and becoming divorced and debt burdened.”
The fine line is a very thick book. And one we can lean on.

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youth ministry

posted June 25, 2009 at 4:42 am

Work hard at the youth stage,later can’t do that.thank you.

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posted June 25, 2009 at 6:23 pm

I have been working with a non-profit ministry group to college students in the state of Washington for the past three years. Things have been tough as of late, but I am committed to this calling and will continue to be a part of it as long as it is what God has for me and my wife.
With that in mind, earlier this spring we began helping to start a company in which part of the company’s goal is to help non-profits raise funds. We saw this as an opportunity to start doing some “tent-making” and create sustainability for the work we will do among college students. Since all of us within the company have been in non-profits and have had to fundraise, we are working on developing the best models to help groups fundraise. Our company is called Living Photo and we print people’s digital pictures onto canvas and wrap the picture around the side creating a framless work of art. People can upload whatever picture they want (wedding, kids, vacation, scenery) and we’ll print it and create the picture by hand. We use the highest quality printing products and canvas and each picture looks incredible. partnering with non-profits, the non-profit will get a code in which when they have people order a picture and use the code, the person buying receives a 15% discount and the non-profit receives 25% of the sale price. It’s great because people are getting a discount on a very personal and quality picture that they will really enjoy and are supporting a great cause at the same time. It’s an easy process and we work with the non-profits to customize how they want to go about selling pictures. The groups don’t have to invest anything into it and we’ll handle the inventory and the money. We are just starting out now and would love to help any groups looking to raise some extra funds for something like a summer mission trip or camp.
The website is
I hope this helps.

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