The Habits That We Make – Fundraising

We all have habits, some intentionally developed and others not. Looking closely at both intentional and unintentional habits for Christians and the church helps us to see both helpful and harmful consequences for youth and their families. This series is designed to explore habits that need to be reconsidered or broken entirely and provide encouragement and recommendations for churches and adults who work with youth. In this article, we are talking about fundraising within a congregation.

Stop me if you have heard this or experienced this before. 

A youth group plans on serving an Easter breakfast meal for their congregation as a fundraiser for their upcoming summer youth trip, and after weeks of planning, Easter morning finally arrives.  The youth and their leaders are ready to serve their congregation.  The food is ready after early morning cooking, the money collection basket is ready, the youth are still waking up, but they are ready, and people are starting to arrive. 

Everyone is excited!  There are so many people attending the Easter breakfast; this fundraiser is going to be a great success!  However, after all the people have been served and all the cleaning is done, the youth leaders now go and find a quiet spot to count the fundraising donations.  The excitement that was present earlier now turns into disappointment and even frustration, because the amount of money that was raised will barely contribute to the overall cost of the trip.  In fact, after the youth leaders review the costs for the fundraiser and the amount of time and effort that went into it, they ask themselves, “Was this even worth it?” 

The youth leaders now in their disappointment ask, “What are we going to do?  How can we make enough money so that we can take the youth on a ministry trip that will allow them the opportunity to grow in their faith?” 

Then one of the youth leaders looks up and smiles and says, “I got it!  We will do a pink flamingo yard fundraiser!”

It is a common habit that congregations and youth leaders expect to rely heavily on fundraising to support their ministry activities.  The question is: Should youth ministry, or any other ministry for that matter, rely on fundraising to significantly support their ministry functions?  In my opinion, the answer is generally no!  There are a couple reasons why I am of that opinion.

First, and most importantly, God has given His church the responsibility and honor of sharing the good news of Jesus and the redemption that He has earned for all humanity.  “‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). Youth ministry is about sharing and teaching God’s Word!  Through this teaching and sharing of God’s Word, youth grow in the knowledge of the truth.  Especially in the knowledge that their true value is found in Christ who died on the cross for not only their sins, but also for the sins of every single person! 

However, the stress (anxiety), time, and effort it takes to properly fundraise for youth ministry events and activities can lead a youth ministry to start focusing more on creating and implementing fundraising plans and goals over actually doing the ministry that God has entrusted to the church.  Instead, it is important that fundraising does not become a distraction so that youth can continue to grow in God’s Word, whether it be in youth group or in worship.  To prevent fundraising from becoming a distraction, it may be helpful for the individuals of the congregation to share their treasures, that is their offering, with the youth ministry, so that the youth group may attend youth events and activities that are primarily focused on God’s Word, such as the LCMS Youth Gathering and Higher Things Conference.

This leads me to another concern with fundraising, but first it is important to remember that God the Father, by His grace and mercy, sent Jesus to be the servant for us poor miserable sinners.  Jesus is a perfect example of servanthood.  Jesus served humanity out of love, not looking for us to give Him something in return.  Fundraising over time can create an exchange mentality; that is, you give me something, then I will give you something in return.  Now, that mentality is good and helpful when conducting business within the world, but should it be the mentality for the church when it comes to its different ministries, including youth ministry?  I do not think so.

Members may feel as though youth are always taking, and youth believe they have to work in order to receive the ability to do any activities or events.  Neither is the most helpful within the church.  In fact, generally speaking, when it comes to a congregation’s overall Word and Sacrament ministry, how much of that cost comes from fundraising?  I would imagine not very much.  I would imagine a significant part of funding the overall ministry of the congregation is done by offering.  Why should youth ministry, a ministry that is centered around teaching and proclaiming God’s Word, be any different?  My opinion is it shouldn’t.

This leads to my encouragement: Jesus first served us poor miserable sinners so that we can serve Him and others with our time, talents, and treasures.  So if a congregation exists with the mission of teaching and proclaiming God’s Word and a congregation is looking at sending a youth group on a youth trip that would meet its congregational mission, then the congregation should try to serve those youth by providing significant funding for the trip.

It should be noted that there is nothing wrong with fundraising, and for some smaller congregations fundraising might be the best way to fund youth ministry, but even then, I would ask, how do you fund the rest of your congregation’s ministry?  And if it is not by fundraising, then why should youth ministry be any different?

However, moving away from fundraising, especially if it has been a long-time habit, may be very hard to do.  It requires that the whole congregation, not just youth leadership, be on board with such a shift.  It also means that youth leaders need to be clear communicators about the amount and usage of funds.  Such a shift may take some time.  One place to start is by evaluating fundraisers and strategically limiting their number.  

My overall encouragement is this: Congregations, their workers, and youth leaders should try to remember why youth ministry exists in the first place, and when congregations and their ministries start losing sight of sharing God’s Word, then they start to turn themselves away from God’s business and into another business of this world.

About the author

Josh is the Director of Christian Education at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Yankton, SD. He received his DCE Certification and Master’s Degree in Theology from Concordia-Irvine. He is married to his wonderful wife, Ellen, and they’ve been blessed with amazing children.
View more from Joshua

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