the shape of leadership

Stretch Your KidMin Dollars

How small churches can do big things on a tiny budget

Nina Durning on May 11, 2018

For four years, I pastored the children of a smaller church in the inner-city neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston, Massachusetts. We faced all the financial challenges that are typical of small churches. Yet I never remember feeling as though our church or children’s ministry lacked in any way. Our senior pastor and staff always dreamed big, imagined the best and worked hard to ensure that our church was as great as we could make it.

I believe the only thing that holds back small churches from having a large impact in their ministries and community is their language. If you say you can’t, you won’t. If you say it is too hard, it will be. If you say you don’t have enough money, that will be the truth.

Our church never allowed what we did or did not have to limit us. We wanted to be effective and impactful for the kingdom of God. So, we learned some tricks for stretching our small budget to make a significant impact in all areas, especially children’s ministry.

If you speak with faith and act with creativity, you too can be extremely impactful in reaching children — even on a shoestring budget. Here are five ways to make the most of your situation and create an incredible children’s ministry.

Look for Freebies

Before you buy anything, ask around to see whether local companies will donate the things you need. Walmart, Target and Home Depot are examples of companies that donate items to charities and non-profits for tax/charitable purposes.

We received plastic eggs in bulk for our Easter egg hunts. Walmart donated older toys the store was removing from stock; we used these as prizes for kids’ church. Home Depot donated wood items for a carpentry shop we created for our kids’ Christmas event. You never know unless you ask, so ask!

We also searched Craigslist, Letgo and Facebook for things people were giving away or offering to sell at a low price. (Many people are willing to give away their items if they know you are buying it for a children’s or youth ministry.) These platforms are great ways to get couches, table games or other items for room décor. Look around — and be creative with what you see.

Purchase Only What You Cannot Make

Many children’s pastors feel they have to purchase elaborate décor items to impress their kids. However, you can impress kids just as easily by assembling custom pieces using donated wood, paint and fun lighting.

Find people in your church who are skilled in carpentry. Stations for altar/response times, stage designs and prayer walls are just a few examples of things you can make instead of purchasing.

Sometimes the items you make are nicer and more in tune with your vision for your ministry anyway. If you can dream it, chances are you can make it happen. It just takes thinking outside the box, asking people for help in areas outside your skill set and using YouTube videos to learn things. Save your money for the things you cannot make, like electronics and certain toys or props.

Recycle, Recycle, Recycle

Early on in children’s ministry, I learned to recycle and reuse everything.

When purchasing products you cannot make, think about all the ways you can reuse them. Use props for multiple lessons. Make or purchase costumes that will work for more than one story. Don’t throw away reusable items that are left over from large events or outreaches. Find a way to repurpose them in your weekly ministry. When planning VBS, think about ways to reuse the props and decorations throughout the year.

These efforts will save you the trouble and expense of repurchasing things you already had.

Accept Donations from Members of the Congregation

Toys are expensive and can take up a huge chunk of your budget. The best way to stock your early childhood classrooms with quality toys is by asking members of your congregation for items their children are no longer using. Parents are always looking to unload the hundreds of toys their children accumulate over the years.

The Lord rejoices with your hard work and will take it to great heights.

Inspect any toys that come in to ensure they are safe and not missing pieces, and politely turn down toys that do not measure up to your standards. It’s best not to accept stuffed animals, as they are difficult to sanitize and keep clean. However, age-appropriate plastic or wooden toys are great options for your classrooms.

Partner with Other Churches

Reach out to larger churches in your area for things like used curriculum and electronics. I am now the children’s pastor at a larger church on the North Shore of Boston, and I am always looking to give away products to churches that could use them. When larger churches are replacing things like tables and chairs, electronics and curriculum, it is not always because those items are broken or not useful. In many cases, these churches are just updating, and the castoffs are quality goods in need of a new home.

As a smaller church, never be afraid to reach out to larger churches. We are one body in Christ, pursuing the same goal: reaching people with the gospel of Christ. We can help one another accomplish that goal, so connect with churches of all sizes to see how you can partner together to further the kingdom of God.

Small church senior pastors, I pray you will find inspiration to empower and encourage your children’s pastor in their creative ability. Small church children’s pastors, I pray you will have fresh vision for your ministry.

Zechariah 4:10 says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (NLT).

Be encouraged that the Lord rejoices with your hard work and will take it to great heights!


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