Creative Ministry on an Ice Cream Cone Budget

Youth Specialties
March 16th, 2015

Having started out in youth ministry in a very small church with a very small budget, I had the opportunity (yes, I said opportunity) to learn about doing ministry inexpensively. My first youth budget was built, actually, on a simple formula set forth by one of the church trustees, when he asked: “How much would it cost to buy all the kids in the youth group an ice cream cone each week?” The answer they came up with, by the way, was $1 per student.

While this may not have been the most sophisticated approach to developing a youth ministry budget, this experience represents life as a youth worker in a small rural church quite well. You have to learn to do things well while also learning to do things on the cheap. And while at the time I certainly didn’t see this as an opportunity (especially when looking around at my friends with larger budgets and larger programs), I now see that my early experience in a very small rural church made me much more resourceful and able to do more with a little.

So, with that in mind, here are a few things I learned in regards to how to do things well and on the cheap.


One of the first (and very few) purchases I made as a youth worker was a YS Ideas Library: Games for Youth Groups book. This was a relatively inexpensive purchase which carried with it a wealth of knowledge. Of the many, MANY games in that book, most of them could be done with a small budget. Through the use of household supplies, items that can be found in most churches, and relatively inexpensive items like Frisbees and kick-balls, a whole host of games were opened up to my group.

In addition, when games were too expensive, I was often able to drive down the cost by using supplies I had in the building. For instance, there was a time where we setup an American Gladiator style gauntlet. But, I didn’t have the money to buy the foam dart guns to run the game as it was prescribed. So, I raided the church nursery and used the stuffed animals in lieu of foam dart guns. They were free. They were there. And, my students loved the game anyway!

The point is this: You can do a lot of fun stuff with your youth group without spending a whole lot of money. 


While working with an “ice cream cone” budget, I also found that I rarely had enough money for a lot of the curriculum that was out there for youth groups. This was hard, as I really wanted to put good stuff in my students’ hands. This often left me discount shopping and writing my own stuff.

There were times I was able to buy good curriculum that was out there, and I did so by simply being wise in my purchases. First of all, I often worked to write my own curriculum for months at a time, simply so I could invest in something that looked really good, but might be expensive. Additionally, I sometimes saved money by just purchasing a leader guide with no student books, if a particular curriculum offered both. I know that this can be hard and require extra time. But, when you’re working on an “ice cream cone” budget, sometimes the extra effort reaps quality results.

Just Hanging Out

The final thing is this: Just hanging out with your students is both free and a quality investment of time. I learned very quickly that time spent just hanging out with my students was some of the most fruitful time I could spend. In talking to some of my early students now, I find that the Wal-Mart trip where we bought that weird Bionicles board game and then just hung out, trying to figure out how to play it was more memorable than a lot of the things I invested far more time and money into. Those were the times where we were often able to really go deeper. Also, as a side benefit, that simple time of hanging out often gave me more time to invest in creative ways of being cheap.

The Point

Really, there are a lot ways to be a great youth worker without spending a lot of money. You don’t have to compete with the big churches for students to grow in their faith and have a good time doing it. You can have an “ice cream cone” budget and still make big kingdom impact.


MATT LARKIN serves as the Coordinator of Student & Kids’ Ministries for the Advent Christian General Conference (WWW.ACGC.US). In that role, he serves as a resource and consultant to youth workers and college students all around the United States and globally. You can connect with Matt on Twitter via @MATTWLARKIN.

Youth Specialties

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