Lutheran youth around the country are busy raising money for the ELCA National Youth Gathering. This is a problem. Fundraisers are lousy things for kids to be involved in (right up there with sex, drugs, and the Young Republicans, but I digress). Here’s a few reasons why:
Kids do fundraising. Adults don’t. When it comes to church fundraisers, its generally the youth – and not the senior choir or adult education program – that’s begging for money. This teaches the youth that the adult programming is important enough for the church budget but the youth programming isn’t.
Raising money distracts from faith formation (part 1). To raise money, youth often perform various menial tasks – from making bad hoagies to doing a poor job washing cars to rent-a-youth-days that resemble slave auctions to selling Entertainment books – that have little to do with a life of discipleship. Even if the fundraising event is somewhat classier – like a dinner or a musical performance for which attendees purchase tickets – it is still transactional in nature. Wouldn’t we rather have our youth make hoagies, wash cars, give a performance or serve dinner for free – for the neighborbood or the poor – as an act of service, as a baptismal calling?
Raising money distracts from faith formation (part 2). When fundraising is crucial, the whole youth ministry program becomes a series of fundraisers rather than a series of intentional faith-formation, discipleship experiences. Do we want our youth ministry programs to be structured around fundraisers or faith-formation experiences?
The money is already in the pews, anyway. The money that is raised almost always comes from people in the congregation. Why can’t church members just give their money in the first place rather than extract some low-quality chore in exchange for a $10 donation to the youth program?
And of course, this all goes back to stewardship and discipleship. Stewardship is not just about money. It is about living a life of intentional discipleship, about recognizing that everything "we have" really belongs to God, and about using our God-given gifts for the benefit of the church and our neighbors. I know that we continue to be simul justus et peccador, but it seems to me that our youth programs can’t help but benefit from being surrounded by a community of disciples who strive to live, breathe, eat a stewardship-oriented, discipleship way-of-life. (And a nice byproduct of this orientation, of course, would be more funding for the youth ministry . . .).
Next year, when your congregation is putting together the church budget, propose calling for a year-long moratorium on youth fundraising (imagine, a year of meaningful youth programming rather than wasting time on fundraisers!). Increase the youth budget by the amount of money the youth would have to raise on their own. Get the money by moving funds from some other budget item – such as music or adult education or property. Or, to avoid ticking off Mildred, get the money by simply asking for it. Make the case for your kids. Ask people with money. Ask people with a heart for kids. Ask.
(I know that fundraisers are a necessary evil for many congregations, but they’re precisely that – an evil. Nobody really likes fundraisers, do they? There are some pretty good fundraising ideas and programs out there that aren’t demeaning, but in the end fundraisers represent the fact that a particular ministry was not funded through the church budget, and thus not valued in the same way as other aspects of the ministry. If its important, I say it should be in the church budget – even if that means growing the budget by increasing giving.)