It’s not what you think
No one is under the illusion that youth pastors are making too much money. Professional youth ministry is generally a low paying job. Fortunately it also has some of the highest ratings for job satisfaction (see Forbes article link below). Clearly, youth pastors aren’t getting rich. But they do handle a lot of money.
A youth ministry instructor once told me that first-year youth pastors have more cash pass through their hands than first-year bank tellers. I have no idea if he had any facts to back up such a statement, but my experience leads me to believe it could be true. Collecting cash and checks for retreats, student conferences, youth group t-shirts, mission trips, and a variety of other paid activities, adds up to a lot of money over the course of a year. All of it entrusted to the youth leader.
Everyone should care. But almost nobody does. This should be of concern to parents, teens, elders, staff members, church treasurers, and above all, youth leaders. On many occasions, in my 20+ years of youth ministry, I collected money from students they had received from friends and relatives in support of some ministry trip. I regularly carried thousands of dollars in checks and cash into my office without any accountability. Before our church installed a dropbox and safe, I had few options for handling all of this money. I can remember putting an envelope full of cash in my desk drawer, pushing it all the way to the back, and covering it with a paper towel (because thieves never look under paper towels). What I didn’t know then, but realize now, is how risky that whole scenario was to my employment and reputation. Had anyone ever suggested that I was not handling those funds appropriately, or if the money had gone missing from my desk, I would have had little defense to their accusations. Again, there was no one keeping me accountable – my personal integrity was the only measure of security (fortunately, integrity is high on my values list).
An Unnecessary Risk
With online giving so easily accessible, and increasingly secure, I am amazed by the number of churches that continue to collect funds (including the Sunday morning offering) the “old fashioned” way. I know many believe that online giving is not secure, but there is certainly more security protocol online than there is in the typical church building. Several unarmed men carrying plates of money to count in some back office is not a secure scenario. Neither is the paper-towel-covered-money-envelope crammed into the recesses of the youth leader’s desk drawer.
Protecting Money and Reputations
It’s time for churches and other non-profits to embrace online giving, not only to make funds more secure, but to protect the reputation of their people and organization. If you are a youth leader preparing for the upcoming year of trips and conferences, please heed this warning. Protect yourself by establishing a plan for handling funds with accountability and transparency. My suggestions: always have at least two people present whenever handling money; use a church lockbox or safe; enlist the help of whoever is in charge of after hour bank deposits; and, most importantly, become an advocate in your church/organization for online giving. The job and reputation you save may be yours.
James Grout is the cofounder of TeamSend.org – a web based tool designed to, among other things, help non-profits simply and securely receive online donations for short term mission trips — imagine no longer being in charge of overstuffed cash envelopes!