Every year, my kids come home from school with catalogs and sign-up sheets for fundraising events. Colorful brochures list the “prizes” they can “win” if they sell magazines, cheese or candy bars. Actual classroom time is used to have an “assembly” to pump up the kids to raise enough money to get the Wii or iPod of their dreams. They come home eager to canvas our neighborhood and call their relatives.
Buying InThe gurus behind the methods aren’t stupid. They know nobody can turn down a granddaughter or the neighbor kid. Embedded in the strategy is “obligation” and “guilt.” If you don’t buy, you’re “rejecting” or “offending” friends and relatives. The schools support the venture because they need the money. Instead of directly asking the parents, they use children to do it for them.Sure, fundraising raises funds, but at what price? Is the profit worth the cost of deceit, opportunism, guilt, greed and child exploitation?Selling OutNow, shift focus from schools to youth groups. Is there any difference? No.Youth ministries sell just as many trinkets, hold just as many bake sales and organize just as many car washes, all on “church time.” Often, programs are fueled with the same deceit, opportunism, guilt, greed and exploitation, only this time in “Jesus’ name.”Why should adolescents have to “earn” a donation? Where is the logic in encouraging students to sell candy bars to people who desperately need to make healthy choices? Are these transactions signs of faithfulness when the Christian ethic is based on giving and receiving freely? How do youth leaders live with a clear conscience without pulling off mental gymnastics to justify these destructive, utilitarian practices?Am I overreacting? Consider this: Why do adolescents constantly say they “didn’t get anything out of (xyz)”? Why is Mexico a sexier opportunity than serving at the local soup kitchen? Why does the event always “need” to get bigger? Why does the trip always have to get further away? In part, the reason is youth workers have raised kids’ expectations.It’s time for youth ministers to stop blaming media or parents for ministries’ own destructive practices, which sell out to consumerism and pragmatism. Let’s admit that youth ministry is discipling adolescents in the way of capitalism more than in the way of the gospel. Then, let’s be brave enough to repent and change course.ReinvestingSomething has to change before youth ministry totally sells out. Let me suggest a few first steps and ask you to add more.Stop all fundraising that has “stuff” associated with it. Giving and receiving is not giving and receiving if money is exchanged for goods and services. The church is not Wal-Mart.Teach your youth to articulate their mission for a trip or for the youth group. If they cannot articulate the purpose of what they are doing and why, they shouldn’t be going on the trip, much less raising money for it.Educate your congregation: Some are called to go; others are called to send. Create an environment in which the faith community sends out the youth group with prayers and funds. Funds then, are an investment, not a payoff.Report back to the congregation what you did and how you spent its money. Be accountable for the funds entrusted to your care. This process also will help youth leaders think before they spend.