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Making Your Programs Affordable

Christine Yount Jones

  • In the Bronx, a 7-year-old child stares at a wall because he's had a nervous breakdown. He lives at a homeless shelter.
  • The volunteers at a middle-income church in Ohio are concerned about a baby in the nursery who has bruises in areas that would be very unusual for a child to have bruises. The pastor thinks it has an economic relationship.
  • A Christian education director in an upper-income church has heard rumors of families who are living in expensive houses without furniture. They're trying to maintain appearances at all costs.

•••

What do these three scenarios have in common? More than meets the eye. Economics has a direct impact on families-whether they're in a lower-, middle-, or upper-income bracket. And the economic situations of families in your church influence the programs you can and cannot do.

No church has been able to escape the recession. Families are struggling and church budgets are tighter. So how can you make programming affordable for kids in your church?

Keep programs simple. Arizona minister Jody Kranz suggests cutting back. "We do a lot more in-house things than we used to, or we combine events. We're dropping off some of the things we used to do, like say in the past we might have imprinted T-shirts built into the registration fee. We're not doing that now because with the severe recession our families just can't do that."

Cut costs. Don't charge more than $5 for any event kids have to pay for. "We try to do as many extremely inexpensive things as possible," says Sandi Wright, a director of children's ministries in Washington. "And we try not to have the parents furnish anything. We don't ask them to furnish food and stuff for every Sunday. I think we scrounge a lot more, and we're actually better stewards by shopping more carefully. We realize we're spending everybody's money. Believe it or not, we've been able to keep things the same price for the last four years."

Pay for everything. "We try to keep costs low," says Barbara Salveter, a director of educational ministries in Ohio. "We try not to do a whole lot of special events or anything that would require registration fees if we can't pay for them ourselves. Simply because there is a gap in finances between some of the kids."

Make kids work. Avoid encouraging a "give-me" mentality in kids. "When you've come from a cycle of poverty -- a welfare mentality of three to four generations, it's very hard to break that mentality," says Bob Whitt, program coordinator for a Christian center for low-income children in Illinois. "We don't fish for our kids; we teach our kids how to fish. We do what we call a 'sweat-equity' concept. Kids have to do certain things during the school year to earn a scholarship to summer camp."

Kids earn points by coming to Kids Club, bringing their Bible, wearing their camp T-shirt, bringing in a good report card, and cleaning their room at home. Later, they can turn in their points for a food basket, toys, or a scholarship.

"We had a situation where a family got burned out of their apartment and because the kids had been coming to our Kids Club, they were able to turn in their points for clothes, food, and all types of things," Whitt recalls. "So this showed the kids the effort they put in to coming to the Kids Club and what part they played in helping their mom get back on her feet."

Start early. Wright uses a Camp Stamp program for kids to pay for camp. Throughout the year, kids can buy stamps or earn money to buy stamps for camp.

"It's an easy way to save for camp," says Wright. "Instead of saying camp is $89, they have seven months to save $10 to $15 a month. So it's easy for them."

Kids earn money by doing odd jobs around the church such as cleaning rooms or laminating. Other people in the church also buy camp stamps as gifts for the children.

Give scholarships. "As far as outings go, we're real sensitive to the fact that all children will not be able to afford to go on every possible kind of outing that we'd want to imagine or create," says Jeff Scott, a pastor in Ohio. "We have a good partnership with our senior adult class in that somehow money is always provided if there are children who may not get to go. Then we sort of provide a quiet scholarship for them, so nobody needs to stay home."

Raise money. "Eighty-one percent of our kids are on welfare; we have the classic ghetto situation here," says Bill Wilson, pastor of 13,000 children in a Brooklyn ghetto. "Many of our 13- and 14-year-olds have never been to a mall or had an ice cream cone."

Kids' basic needs go unmet. According to Wilson, "Some kids sleep on the floor. A normal diet for them is soda and potato chips. Kids pass out in Sunday school class."

Wilson seeks outside funding for his church. He travels across the country each week, speaking to churches and asking for donations to finance his church for children. Raising money from outside sources enables lower-income churches to provide programs for children who can't afford them.

Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of CHILDREN'S MINISTRY Magazine.


The Money Slump

Jody Kranz, a minister of counseling and youth in Arizona, talks about the recession's effects on children.

CM: How has the economic downturn affected children?

Jody: The children are more troubled and afraid.

I've been in ministry for 11 years in this congregation, and for the first time I hear children saying, "We can't afford that," "We would get that but we can't because my daddy's out of work," or "My mommy's lost her job." They seem to know about money and what they can and can't do. And they struggle with that and are in touch with a lot of the fears their parents have.

CM: How have you responded?

Jody: We now have a support group for out-of-work adults. They have a time of prayer and are supportive of each other. We're looking at putting together a workshop that speaks to that. We're also trying to be very sensitive in how we approach the congregation right now because many families are hurting and afraid.

CM: What specific needs do you think kids have because of financial difficulties?

Jody: I'd say kids are afraid. That's my #1 thought. They're afraid because of the economy; they're afraid because of the breakup of families; they're afraid because of violence. Fear just kind of rolls from level to level in the different areas of their lives. It's a scary time for kids.


Please keep in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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