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Ministry on a Shoestring

Lynda Freeman

Summer break, vacation Bible school, summer vacation, family camp -- you've had a busy summer! Why, it feels like just yesterday you were selecting VBS and checking volunteers' vacation schedules, and now the new school year is beginning.

When you think of your ministry dreams this year, are there things on your "wish list" you'd love to include that just aren't possible with your budget realities? A nice new playground, puppets, or a TV, and DVD player would be wonderful additions -- but if your budget is so tight it squeaks, you know you'll have to pick and choose how you spend those precious funds.

When budgets are thin, you have to deal with the reality that what you'd like may not match what you can actually do. You may wonder if it's possible to generate kids' enthusiasm and provide the needed resources when you're operating on a shoestring budget. The answer is yes, absolutely! Take a look at some pocketbook-friendly possibilities.

Stock Up on Supplies

You can stock your supply closets and brighten your classrooms for less than you think. Check out these penny-pinching possibilities.

Cost-Conscious Crafts -- Fall is prime time to stock up on your craft supplies. Check out the savings on staples such as construction paper, chenille wire, crayons, glue, and more at S&S Worldwide (www.ssww.com) and Oriental Trading Company (www.orientaltrading.com). Check with local craft supply, office supply, and membership warehouse stores to see whether they'll give your ministry a discount. Explore www.christianfreebies.com -- a Web site with free resources for children's ministry.

Supply Savings -- Send invitations to your congregation members inviting them to a Supply Party. Ask each person or family to bring a needed supply from a list of items. Include time for attendees to make decorations for your classrooms and offer simple refreshments, music, and great conversation in exchange.

Dollar-Wise Decorating -- Decorating doesn't have to be costly. Ask families to provide pictures of their children and then cover a door, or use clothesline and clothespins to hang pictures of children along a wall. (As new children attend, add their pictures.) Ask kids to create posters of their favorite Bible lessons, and decorate your classroom with their artwork. Contact missionary families for pictures of their family, a map of where they serve, and simple items you could hang in your room to help your kids learn about them. Include a space to write missionaries' prayer requests along with answers to prayer.

Penny-Pinch Puppets -- Add new puppets to your ministry with the help of creative teen-agers. Enlist older kids' help in making fun and unique puppets for your children's ministry. Easy-to-Make Puppets (Gospel Light) is an excellent resource filled with ideas for creating your own puppets. Simply provide popcorn, music, and puppet-making supplies, and set your teenagers loose!

Rich Relationships

While it's a wonderful thing for a church to be able to provide playgrounds, rooms decorated in unique and fun ways, and the latest media, the most important, absolutely crucial component of effective children's ministry is relationships. Build and encourage strong relationships at all levels among your volunteers, church members, children, and God. If your ministry successfully builds and encourages these relationships, nobody will notice whether you're using a VCR or a DVD player. So let's look at inexpensive ideas to build vital relationships this year.

Frugal Training
-- Before classes begin, plan a teacher training for your volunteers. Arrange for your local bookstore seller or curriculum publisher to provide a curriculum trainer, and provide ample time for your volunteers to get to know one another and pray for each other. For low-cost training ideas, go to www.childrens ministry.com and click on Web Extras.

No-Cost News -- Provide a monthly newsletter just for your volunteers that keeps them updated on important events, accomplishments, and birthdays or anniversaries. Encourage your volunteers to send e-cards. Or print cards from the Internet and have church members sign them -- then present the cards to your volunteers in person. My Card Maker (www.mycardmaker.com) and Printfree (www.printfree.com) let you print cards for many occasions for free.

Pair volunteers so they can pray for one another through the coming year. Ask volunteers to complete information cards with their birthdays, anniversaries, children's birthdays, and email addresses. When important dates arrive, send e-cards to let your volunteers know they're loved. DaySpring (www.dayspring.com) offers wonderful e-cards. For more e-card sites, go to www.childrensministry.com and click on Web Extras.

Free Adoption -- Find out which adult Sunday school class your volunteers would attend if they weren't teaching children. Then visit each adult class mentioned and ask for class members to "adopt" corresponding volunteers. Class members will take notes or record each class for the volunteer. An "adoptive" class member also communicates prayer requests and keeps the volunteer informed of planned parties or events.

Cost-Effective Connections -- It's vital to make genuine connections with kids. Volunteers can use the free Web sites mentioned previously to track birthdays and send e-cards when kids are absent, ill, or needing encouragement. Ask your volunteers to send a card at least once per month to each child in their group.

Two for One -- With parent permission, encourage children to connect with each other online. Have kids exchange email addresses and give them lists of free, kid-friendly Web sites they can visit. For a starter list, go to www.childrensministry.com and click on Web Extras.

Events Money Can't Buy

You can provide events that'll knock kids' socks off for next to nothing. All you need is a little creativity and a little sleuthing instinct. Here are ideas we've sniffed out for you.

No Service Charge -- You can find budget-friendly service projects kids will love by doing a bit of searching. Get started with these ideas:

  • www.biblesfortheworld.com -- Children send Bibles to people around the world.
  • www.ok2k.org -- Operation Kid-to-Kid provides hands-on service projects for kids that reach other kids on a global scale.
  • www.worldvision.com -- Children raise money to buy chickens, goats, and more for needy families around the world.
  • The Big Book of Service Projects (Gospel Light) -- This book is filled with ideas that won't crunch your budget.
  • Give-It-Away Crafts for Kids (Group) -- Kids will get hooked on making wonderful, inexpensive crafts as gifts.

Serving together is a terrific way for children to connect with each other, and it doesn't need to cost a lot of money. Volunteers can select a project to get kids serving together at least once or twice a year.

Frugal Fun -- Plan a fall kickoff event that's unique and fun. Check out Steve Spangler's Web site at www.stevespanglerscience.com or Funology at www.funology.com for simple but awesome science projects and food recipes. Ask families to sign up for science or food stations and provide a list of supplies they'll need to bring. Allow families to rotate among the stations, arrange for time to sing, introduce the teachers, and announce any special events you may have planned for the coming year. Encourage families to invite friends and neighbors and generate some enthusiasm for your children's ministry!

Budget Barbecue -- Plan a Back-to-Sunday-School Barbeque for volunteers and their families. Determine your menu and ask people from your church who don't volunteer to bring ingredients. Consider hosting the barbeque at your home or a local park and plan for games, relays, and a campfire sing-along. Start the year on a high note with the message that your volunteers are valued.

Priceless Impact

The entire purpose of your ministry is to connect children with God and help them develop a personal relationship with him. Here are cost-effective ways to help kids make that vital connection.

No-Toll Highway -- With parent permission and supervision, provide children with Web sites where they'll find Bible stories, devotions, games, crafts, recipes, and more.

Pennies for Thoughts -- Encourage volunteers to share weekly how they personally grew closer to God by reading the Bible, praying, or coming to church. Post these stories for all to see how people are growing.

• • •

Sure, there are lots of things we'd like to do if money weren't an issue. But a shoestring budget means you have to get creative.

You can stock your classrooms, decorate, train and support volunteers, and encourage relationships at all levels for a bargain. But forget cold, hard cash -- all you need is a welcoming, relational ministry to impact kids for God! cm


Lynda Freeman is a freelance writer in Comstock Park, Michigan.

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