Lesson 1: How do I advocate for my program’s budgets and resources?
How to Advocate for Programs and Budgets
By Betsy Zarzour
The 1980 USA Olympic Hockey Team beat their opponent, the Soviet Union, in the semi-final round of the Olympics. The call made by the famous sports broadcaster, Al Michaels, was “Do you believe in miracles?!” When Team USA, made up entirely of amateurs, beat the stronger and more talented Soviets, 4-3, the nation exploded into unbridled pride, optimism and excitement. This contagious enthusiasm extended beyond a floor of ice. The USA Hockey Team became hope givers to a nation; their victory becoming a beacon for limitless possibilities.
They did not start as shoo-ins to win. They did not start with the best resources and the best talent. They started with a clear vision, contagious enthusiasm, and passion for the task at hand – regardless of what bumps came along the way.
When advocating for programs and budgets, youth workers must be hope givers. With a clear vision for parents, volunteers, and leadership to become a part of, there can be a contagious enthusiasm in youth ministry. Being an advocate entails more than just asking for additional staff, space, programming or funding; it involves casting a vision and maintaining a ministry that people find enriching.
It has been proven time and time again that money does not translate to meaningfulness; more programs do not render more people; and growth stems from collaboration, not compartments.
There are three areas that are important to keep in mind when advocating for programs and budgets.
Build a base: In order to earn the right to experiment in youth ministry, there are some key factors that must be established:
First, a critical mass must be involved in the weekly life of the ministry. Having a core group of invested families in the church is foundational. Sometimes this can be a large investment in relational work before “dream programs” ever get a foothold, but without engaging a core group on a relational level, larger programs are difficult to develop.
Second, some consistent programs must be in place and attended on a regular basis. To establish a healthy climate for ministry, joy-filled consistency is a key to progress. As unswerving programs are maintained, communication is paramount. Communications serves two functions: the first is measured details that are clear and correct. The second is highlighting the contagious spirit among those in the ministry that can serve as hope givers for the larger church body. The gospel translated is “good news”, so it is ministry.
Third, there must be an expectation of grace and goodness in what is offered. Without “baited-breath” excitement for what is happening by leaders and volunteers, a program can quickly turn into a “have to” instead of a hope giving ministry. Cultivating a climate of joy, fun, and transformation is essential in the life of the church.
Groups translate into gusto, so be a listener: To be intentional about creating a clear vision takes time, collaboration, and plenty of compromise. Keep in mind a thought from Abraham Lincoln, “Give me six hours to cut down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. It is important to establish consensus and clarity about what is needed before meetings take place to advocate for changes in budgets and programming. Creating clarity in vision involves patience, practice, and widespread participation.
Keeping in mind that God knows how to spell g-o-o-d better than we do, be a willing and active listener. Those in leadership, and those in church programs, are passionate in cultivating a hope-giving ministry. To work as a team both internally within youth ministry and externally in the larger life of the church are vital in equipping stable, long term, transformative growth.
Dream big, build bit by bit: As youth workers, there is not one right model to ascribe to as far as programs and budgets. There are some base numbers that have been established that can serve as norms to gauge how much money is needed to sufficiently fund a program, what ratio of staff to students has been found to best nurture growth, and how many volunteers are needed to adequately support the ministry. (An example of norms can be found in Sustainable Youth Ministry, written by Mark DeVries, pp. 35 – 39)
In building anything, it is important to dream big, then build piece by piece. When sharing a hope-giving dream, there must be benchmarks along the way, measurable markers of effectiveness that ensure progress is being made.
In conversations about budgets and programs, begin with asking for what is needed to be poised for growth. Grow the ministry towards a clear vision, then fund it some more. Consider the image of pencil lines up the wall of a door in an old home. A child may never even notice that they are growing leaps and bounds in a single year, but as a parent makes a little line above their head every few months, growth is well-measured.
Without establishing yardsticks along a vision, it is difficult to establish how well something is growing. Set aside time and make marks on the wall to observe a ministry’s growth. It serves a system well to record and celebrate success.
Approaching a conversation
In advocating for youth ministry, budgets, and programs, it is imperative to be a hope-giver. This includes being prepared with what needs to be said and how to say it. In churches where advocating for particular programs are difficult, it may be helpful to have a practice conversation with a friend or mentor to gauge how an internal monologue sounds in real conversation. Youth workers who are prone to emotional reactions when speaking may find it helpful to run through the conversation a few times so that the vision and benchmarks that are being cast are heard and understood by church leadership.
Having clarity in a vision and casting that vision in a way that is meaningful is imperative to the larger church. Listening is a part of the conversation. Hear questions as clarity, not as criticism. If a youth worker is trying to build something new, it is helpful to keep in mind that some people are getting a first glance at something that you have been drawing for months.
Be a hope-giver. Dream dreams that are larger than can be built immediately… and work at them bit by bit.
Betsy Zarzour is the Director of Youth Ministry at Christ Church Charlotte. She also serves as a lead consultant for Ministry Architects.
Gathering and Opening Prayer (5 minutes)
Logistics and Organizational Topics (5-10 minutes)
Training Time (20 minutes)
- When have you been caught up in the excitement of an event, even if you started out apathetic towards it? (For example, watching Team USA in the World Cup in 2014)
- Watch Video together
- Who are the cheerleaders for your ministry?
- Is there an end goal for your ministry? If not, how might you set one?
- What kinds of benchmarks do you use to measure success in your ministry?
- What opportunities do you have for telling stories about the good news of your ministry?
Take aways (10 minutes)
- How will this impact our church, our youth, or our team?
- Hand out essay for further reading
Close in Prayer (5 minutes)