6 Ways to Keep the IRS from Visiting Your Ministry

You need to set healthy financial guidelines and boundaries for your parents in order to secure the long term fiscal viability of your ministry.


Aside from kids growing in their relationship with Jesus Christ, camping and retreat seasons potentially cause two issues in your student ministry: either these events bust your budget and prevent you from doing any other significant events all year or they fit neatly into the overall scheme of your fiscal year.

You need to set healthy fiscal boundaries with your parents in order to secure the long term viability of your ministry.

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If I had to choose which one probably occurs most often in ministries across the board, I would suggest they are more often than not "Budget Busters."

I believe in these events. Retreats and camps are significant catalytic events in the long-term faith formation of students. The value in doing them far outweighs the expense of hosting them. But do they have to become financial siphons that bleed money from our churches?

During my first year in ministry, it seemed impossible for me not to lose money on these events. In fact, in conversations with several youth pastors, I developed a rule of thumb that stated I expected a 10% loss per event, no matter the attendance or size of scope.

My revelation, however, came this summer — two years into my ministry — after leading an oversees trip to India, an out of state middle school camp to Oregon, and a high school camp to the Santa Cruz Mountains, totaling a group of students that amounts to more than 60.

According to my records and the pledged amount of parents to pay, including the campership totals given away to parents, I ended the summer camping season a couple of hundred dollars ahead!

How did I do this? I'm wondering the same thing to some extent, but ate the beginning of my second year of ministry, I put into place 6 core personal fiscal principles to keep me accountable with processing the more than $50,000 that passed through my desk this summer alone:

1. I defined the cancelation policy clearly and communicated it to the parents early. Late cancelations are the biggest contributor of financial loss to my student ministry budget, and I did not believe that I could hold parents accountable with integrity to paying the late fees associated with cancelations if I did not communicate the policy and schedule ahead of time. I learned after my first year that about a half a day's work prevents a loss of sometimes hundreds and even thousands of work. That's worth it!

2. I resolved to myself that I would not let conversations (and potentially difficult ones) about money intimidate me. Let's face it: talking about money in the church is difficult and carries heavy weight. It's intimidating, anxiety inducing, and often frightening because very few know hot to do it with tact and objectivity. Money is emotional. Yet, it is an essential tool for building the Kingdom of God in our community. After I let that thought infiltrate my framework of business and church work, money became a resources to steward, not an emotion to fear.

3. I created an Excel Budget Sheet Template that breaks down every expenditure and income for an event. This puts everything in the light and on paper instead of keeping it inside my wonky and forgetful brain. This may have been the most important move I made in keeping account of my budget besides communicating policies to parents. I have made this sheet available to you on my Archives page. Scroll down all the way to the bottom under "Youth Ministry Resources," then click to download.

4. I ensured that full payments are either completed or payment plans are signed before we leave on our event. For all of our events, we charge a non-refundable deposit and depending on the cost of the event, a schedule for payments. Some parents meet the scheduled requirements, while others need more time and fundraising or scholarship. For those parents who are unable to post payments before the day of our departure, then together, we work out a payment plan that fits their needs and sign onto it together for accountability.

5. I asked parents with more resources to consider paying more for events to assist parents with less resources. I received this idea early on from the one and only Ben Kerns at Average Youth Ministry. Not gonna lie, aside from the community gained during fundraising events, they suck your time and often for little gain. Sometimes, the cost-benefit ratio is greater when others assist each other in the community… kinda sounds like the early church and teachings of Jesus, right? Just make sure to walk closely with your Lead Pastor through this in order to make sure that this does not bump too much into the tithe and daily workings of the church. That does not lead to a healthy cost-benefit for you or the church.

6. I committed to my call as a Pastor that I would not be passive aggressive when collecting money from Parents for the sake of God's Church. Some parents do not check their email. Some do not use calendars. And still some parents — as hard as this truth may be for us youth pastors to swallow — do not consider our ministry a high priority. Events, especially camps and retreats, cost money. Passive aggression enables fringe activity to affect the majority and persist on without consequence. Your passive aggression causes budget losses and impacts your potential ministry to others. As a ministry within God's church, we obviously want to keep our front doors and as wide open as possible… but not at the expense of the majority and those who call your church their home.

Sometimes, even after implementing these principles, you gotta be the tax man, holding parents accountable to maintain their commitment. This is a vital aspect of leading a healthy ministry and building sustainable, worthy parent partnerships. Believe it or not, parents will thank you for doing so.

QUESTION: What other core fiscal principles have you put into place to safe guard your ministry from unnecessary budget losses?