Youth Ministry on a “tiny” budget: The Pineapple Soda Principle

August 11th, 2017

Having been in ministry for over 17 years, I remember having zero money for programming to now overseeing a program that spends well over $1.6 million dollars for a national gathering. For those of you just starting out, you might think, “Boy! I wish I had that type of budget. We could do some fantastic things.”

I say, don’t sell yourself short. As a young pastor, I remember reading Purpose Driven Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields. Doug shared a story about building a dog house. I guess Doug probably had a tiny budget at the time. He thought buying one would be too expensive, so he decided to build one. Doug invited a student from the youth group over to help him. After they had finished, the student’s mom told Doug that her son was more excited about Christ than ever before. That was an AHA moment for Doug and one for me. Ultimately, ministry is about connecting people to Christ and equipping them to answer God’s call in their life. Again I have reached students with chips and pineapple soda while playing music on a boom box (yes, it has been that long). I have reached students spending $5,000 on concerts, lights and fancy flyers. The only difference between a $50 youth ministry budget and a $5,000 is better lighting and maybe a little less sweat equity.

[bctt tweet=”Ministry is about connecting people to Christ and equipping them to answer God’s call in their life.” username=”ys_scoop”]

Stop looking at the size of your budget and think about your resources differently.

Pineapple Soda Principle

Would this program still work if it was just me, a student, tea cakes and a bottle of pineapple soda? No amount of money replaces spending time with students and understanding their needs. All the bells and whistles will not lead a student to Christ. Ultimately the written Word and the Word you live will be what keeps students connected. Relationships trumps hype every time. Some 17 years later the students that hung out at our house, the ones I watched at football games, the ones I pranked are the ones that still call me to this day. Never once do they talk about the expensive programs that I put on. They talk about the intimate times, when I encouraged them, when I visited them in the hospital and when I celebrated their achievements.

[bctt tweet=”No amount of money replaces spending time with students and understanding their needs. ” username=”ys_scoop”]

Cost Per Student

Think about your budget on a per student basis. How much is your budget per student? If ministry Alpha has 20 students and $2000 ($100/student) and ministry Omega has 70 students and $4,000 ($57.14/student), then your budget of $600 for eight students ($75/student) isn’t that bad.

Go Where Students Are

Instead of sponsoring expensive programs and events trying to draw students into your building, show up where the students are (preferably with large quantities of pineapple soda). Show up at football games. Camp out at the local coffee shop. Hang out near the basketball courts. Go to the chess club. Your school district or local club has already done the work. See if you can piggy back on what they have done. Ask if you can do cheap giveaways, volunteer or set-up a shaded area if you live in a hot climate like Texas or Arizona.

Creative Fundraising

Don’t just ask for money, but create a partnership between students and donors. I had a strict no car wash policy (too much work and little return), but family movie nights, community dinners, and Christmas cookie parties not only added money to my youth ministry budget, but it helped build community with our church family and the friends they invited. Youth Specialties has great resources to help you.


People are always willing to donate something. If your parents won’t, check with church leaders, business owners and your community resources. There is a ton of free stuff and deals out there. You just have to know where to look.

In the end, your budget is only as tiny as your imagination and the amount of work you want to put in. Always remember the tenth commandment, “Don’t covet.” Don’t worry about what others are doing in ministry. Don’t worry about the fancy mega budgets. Do you. Reach the students that are closest to you. Create memories. Encourage your students. Demonstrate the love of Christ. Be an enriching part of their lives. All it will cost you is a little time and maybe a couple of glasses of pineapple soda.

Glen Guyton is the Chief Operating Officer for Mennonite Church USA, but got his start in youth ministry. He is an advocate for bringing intercultural competency and innovative leadership practices to ministry so that people can find practical and meaningful ways to engage the world. You can connect with Glen on FACEBOOKINSTAGRAMTWITTERLINKEDIN, his BLOGEMAIL or WEBSITE.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.