Frugality, Orange-Style

In this economy where many churches are cutting budgets or delaying spending, I firmly believe when it comes to budgets sometimes less is more. I often describe our philosophy about environments by saying we get 80 percent of the WOW for 20 percent of the dollars.

I confess our philosophy didn’t start out as a philosophy but rather a necessity. When creating our children and student environments, our budget was quite limited. Yet, while the budget reflected the limit of our financial resources, it did not limit the creativity of our people resources. For our team, the challenge (and the opportunity) became how to best leverage those funds to create environments that met our desired goals. We found having limited resources in fact generated greater creativity, producing environments that became more personal to kids, volunteers, and the team.

After determining the theme for our spaces, our team settled on picking one WOW item per area and designing around it. In our elementary spaces we designed a city park theme with businesses surrounding it. Our WOW item in the entrance was a tree made from plaster and forms for concrete columns. We created a diner in our first grade environment and were able to recover diner booths from a restaurant that was remodeling. For our fourth- and fifth-grade environment, a local climbing wall operator built a climbing wall for our Extreme Park and for second and third grade, a theatre ticket booth was built by a handyman volunteer. Each item was done as inexpensively as we could think of, then we painted around those features to finish the look.

Here are a few more practical ideas that will help you spend wisely while creating a killer environment for your ministries.

Watch several episodes of “Design on a Dime” to prime the creative pump. I know you think I’m joking, but really, you can become an expert at this at least in your own mind. My personal test of ability is if one person other than your spouse thinks you are good at something.

Try this experiment: pick a project and see what can be done with $500. I have found that $500 is a good starting number because you can always sell one or two items around your church (the senior pastor’s desk for example) and come up with the cash.

Schmooze (get to know) your local construction people, artists, and garage sale shoppers to see what ideas they have or ask what they could contribute. When building our elementary space, we asked a few construction guys to help out in a special design and they brought their families to church to show them what they did.

Check out eBay, Craigslist, and your local junkyard or pawn shop. One man’s trash really is another man’s treasure. 

Paint. Check home supply and hardware stores for returned cans of paint. If you like the color, it’s often cheaper than buying it new.

I’m not sure the “less is more” principle was meant to describe our budgets, but managing fewer financial resources is much more fun when we recognize that God has given us creative people resources.

Brian Vanderark is senior pastor of family ministries at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan.  

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The Orange Group is a gathering of leaders who are passionate about engaging churches and families to influence the faith and character of the next generation. Contributors include some of the most widely respected thought-leaders in children’s ministry, including Reggie Joiner, Sue Miller, Kendra Fleming, Jim Wideman, and Bre Hallberg. New blog entries, podcasts, webcasts, and video downloads are available every week to help you keep leading yourself and growing with your team.