Let’s be honest, sometimes funds get a little low. That’s right, there are times in ministry when our church budget isn’t as robust as it was, or we’d like it to be, and our checking account resembles more of a nutritional intake calendar given to you by your doctor after she tells you that you need to lose 30 pounds over the next two months. Basically, you’ve got nothing to work with!
However, you’ve also been in the youth ministry game long enough to know ministry still has to take place, and event calendars still need to be planned out. But how do you pull it off? How can you execute a comprehensive youth ministry agenda on a shoestring budget?
Here are 10 low-budget (even no budget) youth ministry ideas that are sure to get you through the summer and also the entire year:
1. Serve & Swim
This is a staple for us each summer. We take students out to do a simple service project in our community. We have them split into teams with our leaders and have service projects lined up, whether it be picking up litter around town, washing windows or simple cleaning tasks for local business, handing out free ice cream along with an invite to our church, face painting and balloon making for kids, yard work for elderly, etc. After we finish, we go to someone’s house for a pool party. This is great for teaching students to have a servant’s heart while also providing an element of fun and fellowship.
2. B.Y.O.M. BBQ
We have students bring their own meat (B.Y.O.M. = Bring Your Own Meat) and a folding chair and show up to my house for a BB1. Our adult leaders work the grill, and we provide drinks, chips, plates, utensils, etc.
3. Mini Golf, Laser Tag, Go-Karts, Bounce, Rock-Wall Climbing
Call your local venue for fun activities like these and ask them if you can reserve a time for your group.
- Veteran Tip: There is usually a waiver of some sort for these places, so either get it ahead of time and have students complete it and bring it with them, or have their parents bring them in to sign it before they leave.
4. Beach Day
There’s nothing better than a day at the beach in the summer. Make sure you have adequate supervision and a plan for oversight. The old buddy system is always a great idea and be sure to have a plan for regular check-ins. Be sure to have a permission slip for all participants to cover yourself in terms of liability.
5. Field Games
It worked in elementary school, and it still works with middle and high school students. Egg toss, three-legged race, wheelbarrow race, crack or splat eggs (have students crack an egg over their head, some are raw, some are hard-boiled), minute-to-win-it style games, ice cream sundae slip-n-slide, bat spin relay, kiddie pool kickball, water balloon capture the flag … anything messy!
- Veteran Tip: Have a hose ready to rinse them off. Tell students to wear clothes they don’t mind getting ruined and to bring a change of clothes for the ride home, along with a garbage bag for their dirty and wet clothes. Parents will appreciate your forethought in planning!
6. Movie Night
This one is always a hit. We have students bring a folding chair and meet us at the church where we project a movie outdoors on the back wall of the church, drive-in movie style. Sometimes we invite them to come in costumes themed around the movie. We sell popcorn, drinks, and movie snacks.
- Veteran Tip: Learn from my Mistake! The first year we did an outdoor movie night we planned it for 7 pm. We had a backup plan in case of rain. Smart. There was only one problem we hadn’t anticipated. It wasn’t dark yet! The movie was a total washout on the wall in the daylight. We had to call parents and tell them pickup was going to be a lot later than we had initially planned. If you choose to do it outside, know when sunset is and let everyone know it will be a late event, probably a 9 pm start time when pickup will be depending on the movie length.
7. Lip-Sync Battle
This one is always good for a lot of laughs. Have students come with a song picked out that they want to lip-sync. There are always a few kids who come prepared, and the rest are too shy. However, in our experience, once a few people go, kids start getting together with their friends and running up to the sound person asking if they can perform their songs. Each time we have to cut it off. Kids love it!
- Veteran Tip: Decide on song perimeters that align with your church culture. You probably don’t want to be caught off guard by a kid playing a song with a lot of profanity. Have a plan for screening the songs and performances so you don’t end up with someone playing or doing something inappropriate in their act. Calls from upset parents aren’t enjoyable and not what you want to deal with and have overshadowed what was meant to be a fun event.
8. Photo Scavenger Hunt & Ice Cream
Super simple. Either find a scavenger hunt list or come up with your own. Break everyone up into teams with a chaperone and have them take pics or videos of themselves doing the fun and wacky things on the list. You can do this at the church or around your community. You can make it a competition for points, or a race to finish first. We have them come back and dump their pics and videos onto a computer so we can put together a slideshow. Once everyone is back, we have them make ice cream sundaes and we watch the slideshow together.
- Veteran Tip: Malls are tricky on this one. It’s not uncommon for security to shut them down, so we have stayed away from malls.
There are several ways this game can be played, but it’s essentially hide-and-seek and tag in the dark. Teenagers love it!
- Veteran Tip: You don’t want to lose Johnny and Susie for 2 hours in a dark building and have everyone wondering where they went and what they are doing. Come up with an oversight strategy to minimize the chance of an inappropriate incident happening while still allowing the students to have fun without feeling like they are being babysat.
10. Family Event
Finally, how about turning any one of your summer events into a family event. Make the field games a competition, parents vs. students; or have movie night something that the whole family can come to. Consider the time of the event you invite parents or entire families to attend as most parents still work during the summer. We allow every student to participate in family events even if their parents can’t be there. Also if parents can’t make it, just that you were thinking of them and trying to create a way for them to have fun with their kids is a great way to communicate that you are all about families connect, not just doing things that give them less time together.
- Veteran Tip: This is a great way to help families connect and also relieves you of some of the liability if students are there under the responsibility of their parents.
There they are! Simple and fun ways to keep your youth ministry going all year long without breaking the bank or requiring you winning the lottery! We would love to see and hear any fun ideas you used in your ministry!
Kevin Mahaffy Jr. is husband to Adriana, and father of two daughters — Claudia who is a college student, and Natalia who is in high school. He has served in youth ministry for over 20 years as a teaching pastor and a popular camp and retreat speaker. Kevin has written two books and co-authored several others. He is a big Yankees fan, bookaholic, Starbucks junkie, Krispy Kreme addict, and blogger. He exercises a lot, but he also eats a lot, so you can’t tell he exercises a lot.