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In this tough economy, don't even think about proposing your children's ministry budget without first listening to these experts.

As you plan your 2010 children's ministry budget, no doubt the current dour economy weighs on you. Ministries everywhere are feeling the crunch -- whether through budget cuts, salary reductions, lower giving, or the general sense of worry from the families in your church. But regardless of the economic situation, planning and budgeting must go on.

Facing a potentially tough financial year requires that you adjust your money awareness. Your creativity, flexibility, and ingenuity must expand in exactly the way the economy has contracted. We asked three budgeting pros for their advice on how to prepare for -- and pass -- the budgeting test.

Stepping Stones to a Workable Budget

By Bob Hahn, children's pastor and budgeting writer

Sadly, many children's ministries may face the brunt of a tough economy. But there are multiple ways leaders can develop good ministry programs, trim costs, and still pass a budget that provides for the necessities. My advice is to start with creativity and accountability when it comes to funding-before you ever put pencil to paper on a budget. Find ways to economize, and then tout areas where you're successful. Follow these pointers for getting your ministry's money in the best possible fiscal condition before you petition for a new budget.

• Find ways to self-fund. Many events for kids -- lock-ins, vacation Bible school, and summer camp -- can be self-funding. One fall we hosted a free spaghetti supper as an outreach. We took a completely optional offering that ended up more than paying for the meal. Our ministry charges a minimal registration fee for supplies, and outings and special events are on a "pay-as-you go" basis. Most families willingly pay these small fees knowing they make the events and programs possible. Whenever a child is unable to pay, our ministry assumes the cost.

• Identify predictable costs for families. Parents will hold your ministry in higher favor if you help them budget for bigger expenses. Plus, you and your leaders are less likely to hear grumbling about the cost of special events when you give people advance notice. You likely know well in advance what summer camp will cost. So if you let families know on March 1 that by saving $10 per week through May they'll save enough money for their child to attend camp, you'll have a happier, paid-in-full group of parents. Our church takes a special offering to help kids whose families can't afford those costs.

• Partner with other ministries to co-sponsor events. You may have other ministry areas in your church with bigger budgets. Or you may know of another ministry in your church that's struggling far more than yours. Consider partnering with these ministries to co-sponsor your programming and events. One ministry can "adopt" another to help subsidize expenses and assist with responsibilities. In our church, the women's ministry departments have co-sponsored our events for girls, and men's ministry sponsors have done the same for the boys. Our adult education budget supplemented the children's Sunday school expenses one year. In another church I'm familiar with, the women's ministry buys diapers, toys, disposable gloves, and cleaning supplies for the nursery. Together, you and other ministry leaders can find ways to help each other and cover costs.

• Go small. If you're facing a serious budget crunch, you're also facing tough decisions. That's why it's important to identify the bare essentials in your ministry prior to making any decision or asking for any funding. Knowing those essentials will help you make decisions down the road because you always know the core of what keeps your ministry going. Fund the essentials first; when you have sustainable amounts left over, then build in extras.

Budget Footprints to Follow

by Barbara Price, veteran children's ministry director and professor of children's ministry management

When you begin developing your budget, start by taking a walk through your ministry while it's in progress. What do you see that's extra and not directly contributing to spiritual education? Make notes of items that are used once and then discarded and those that are simply time fillers. Make the motto coined in World War II your new motto: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do."

As you create your budget, begin with a simple worksheet penciling in essential needs such as curriculum, basic supplies, appreciation gifts, special events, and security and facility needs. Don't neglect to factor in the number of children in your ministry and whether you predict growth in the next year (if you're unsure whether your ministry will grow, most experts recommend assuming 10 to 15 percent growth). Once your necessities are covered in the budget, you'll still need to justify it to your governing body. Make no mistake -- this is as important as the time you've spent calculating numbers.

As you prepare your presentation don't forget these three important points.

• Never present a lump sum. Though this is obviously the bottom line, the smartest (and more palatable) way to begin your budget presentation is by demonstrating how much you're budgeting per child, per week. So rather than saying, "Our ministry needs $5,200," say, "Our ministry needs just $4 per week for each of the 25 children who'll attend in the coming year."

• If your budget has increased from the previous year, explain why. Be very prepared if this is your situation. Your budget may have increased for justifiable reasons, but in this economic atmosphere, you'll need to be able to explain -- and prove that the money is necessary.

• Prepare to compromise. There's always the possibility that your budget must be cut. Go into your proposal knowing which items you can eliminate or reduce, and be ready to talk about the effects of the sacrifice on your ministry (without sounding like you're whining).

Watch Your Step

by Bob Wild, director of finance, Christ's Church of the Valley

Churches aren't immune from declining revenues, and our current economy has caused all of us to re-evaluate budgets and rethink priorities as we attempt to make the numbers balance. Looking ahead to 2010, relief may not be in sight. But rather than taking a pessimistic view, look at the situation as an opportunity to narrow your focus and draw a line in the sand for absolute priorities to make ministry happen.

One of the more interesting budget proposals I sat through a few years ago was when our children's ministry department invited me to a budget presentation using puppets -- yes, puppets! Even with a loose script, I must admit that the presentation was interesting and creative; after all, that's what they do. Even though I laughed as I was schmoozed, in the end I sent the team back to the drawing board. From my money "gatekeeping" perspective, I could see they'd put more effort into a creative presentation than hard numbers. The takeaway: You have to be careful around us bean counters; our sense of humor revolves around noncreative forms, and we aren't likely to be won over by a cute presentation if the numbers don't add up.

To get your budget approved, take these steps.

• Realistic Steps-A well-thought-out, realistic budget takes time, hard work, and digging. By this I mean you must incorporate a three-pronged approach, which means you (1) look at the past, (2) look around you today, and (3) look at the future. Start by taking a hard look at the historical data you have available. This data offers a wealth of information on how this year's money was spent. Using this information, look for areas you can adjust, downsize, or indentify as needing more resources. Ask yourself what's working in your ministry and should continue and what isn't and should stop. Take the approach that there are no sacred cows -- no matter what. All too often I hear, "We do that because we've always done it." Presenting hard data, results from previous years, and an honest, well-thought-out evaluation will gain traction with finance types. Loose facts and excitement for unproven methods really won't get you anywhere.

• Forward Steps-Ask yourself what it'll take for your ministry to remain relevant and innovative. It never ceases to amaze me how our children's ministry is able to quickly and effectively try something new to keep things fresh and innovative. This, of course, takes funding to succeed, along with time and energy. If your ministry is ready to try something new, spell out your plan with reason and conviction. I remember one fall getting the children's ministry budget and seeing a request for a budget to increase the size of the summer kids' camp. The projected attendance was considerably more then I felt was appropriate given the economic climate. I stubbornly resisted, claiming reliable data about job losses and the fact that moms and dads just wouldn't have the cash to send their kids to camp. The children's ministry staff came back with conviction and purpose and made a strong argument to counter my resistance. We gave them the amount they requested, and in the end the camps sold out and parents were actually begging to get their kids in. What a testament to sticking to your convictions and listening to what God had planned rather than what the director of finance saw.

• Integrity Steps-Make a public pledge to live by your budget, and expect your team to do the same. Don't whine when you see other departments spending foolishly. Don't point fingers; instead, work as a team to provide solutions to budget blunders and shortfalls. You created the numbers, so stick to them.

In all you do, be a good steward of the finances God has allowed you to control. If you weave good stewardship, a conservative approach, accountability, and of course, prayer for wisdom about money, there'll be nothing in the way of getting your budget approved. cm


by Danielle Bell, veteran children's minister

I was overwhelmed and desperate. I could no longer keep all my ministry plates spinning, and without help, my children's ministry and I were both about to crash. It was budget time, and I was convinced my presentation needed to include more than numbers on paper. I longed for the governing committee to grasp the importance of our ministry. So, in an attempt to communicate our growing need for staff and resources…I'll admit my dramatic side took over in the budget process.

As I searched for the most impactful way to illustrate my point to a room full of non-children's ministry leaders, I labeled paper plates with ministry responsibilities such as recruitment, training, and safety. My list went on and on, and soon I had quite an impressive stack of plates.

The big meeting was scheduled for the end of a long Wednesday night. I was already tired and stressed, but I tromped into the meeting armed with my plates and message. Soon I was up.

I began with an impassioned plea -- and then I began throwing plates. One by one, I loudly read each plate and threw it on the floor at the committee members' feet to demonstrate how all my plates were crashing down. Then, standing in a sea of plates, I attempted to explain how each one symbolized an aspect of ministry I was trying desperately to keep afloat. Sure, the plates were paper, but the words written on them represented ministry and lives.

I was prepared for the different expressions on the committee members' faces; after all, mine was a different sort of approach. What I wasn't prepared for was the emotions boiling inside me. I'm not typically a crier, but in the midst of frustration, passion, and weariness, the tears flowed. I only made it halfway through my explanation of the plates that night (for which I'm sure the committee was grateful), before my emotions took over…and the committee members and I became increasing uncomfortable.

I'm not even sure how the meeting ended. I do know that my attempt at the creative budgeting process was a flop. I longed for the committee to grasp the importance of Jesus working in children's lives, but I'm afraid all they really saw was a pile of plates hurled on the floor.

I missed a key communication point: Understand your audience and speak their language. Tears and passion weren't the currency of communication this finance committee needed. Next time, I'll have this new "asset" to draw from as I approach my committee.

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