If church was a Car dealership…

My journey to work, for those who’ve read my previous blogs is usually accompanied by listening to a number of podcasts, one of which is BBC 5 live’s ‘fighting talk’. Its a random collection of people on a panel type show giving comedic & critical responses to the sporting events of the week. The last question in the show is AOB – and each panellist is given a minute or so to describe/moan/raise an issue that is cause of frustration, humour or pougnency, that is non-sporting related.

Last week the panellist raised the thought that – “Why do Car dealerships put balloons on their lamposts? i mean – do 5 year olds buy cars? if I as an adult wanted to buy a car, id go to the garage to buy a car. I wouldnt think, oh look that pretty shop with cars in it has got balloons, ill just pop in and might just on the off chance desire to buy a car, buy a car, and it comes with a free balloon, when actually it doesn’t, as how many people have actually had a balloon from a car dealers anyway!”

Later that day, i was sent a copy of the recent Stewardship magazine in which an article referred to a church which had taken inspiration from a local car dealership, in that the car dealer had ensured that the toilets were as pristine and welcoming as the entrance, as the shiny floor, that attention to detail was important.

So, me and my slightly obscure mind, has thought about the possibilities using the model of a car dealership as a metaphor for church, and how it might shape ministry. So, what about Church as a Car dealership.

  1. If people dont go into car dealerships when there are balloons, huge banners, mega deals – but only when they are thinking about buying a car anyway, is the point of the marketing to attract those already looking in a competitive market, when only 1 car is going to be bought from 1 dealership. What might this say about the church’s advertising techniques?  Are heavy advertising techniques a turn off for those not already looking, and not interested?
  2. Car dealerships have the prettiest, latest, most expensive models, should the churches be arranged so that the prettiest people welcome people at the door, and are those who sit nearest the entrance.
  3. What about different purchasing deals?  Could church offer hire purchase or Minimum future value deals? ie if you havent got a whole life to give to Jesus, try at least monthly sanctification…
  4. Most of the swanky car dealerships are in clusters, and in cities – such as Exmouth road in Exeter, the Mile along Inverness Road in Perth. The independent garages that offer better prices, servicing and have smaller overheads are in the rural areas generally, they keep families in work, and also help to keep petrol pumps and shops in local communities.  Does the church have a role to play in moving back to rural areas and offering less mega church in a crowded space?
  5. Church could offer ongoing servicing and free insurance deals;  prayer for the sick, pastoral help and counselling to service the needs of the community, and an insurance of Hope.
  6. Having bought too many cars in my life, i hate going into a car dealership with all its slickness, shinyness and feeling often powerless to stop the sales process going on around me, from the banter (dripping with lies usually) from the sales person, to the coffee, the flattery, the perceived need for an improved car, the perceived non need of my existing car, however, all of this clearly must work, as people leave car dealers with cars. So lets embrace the non-ethics of these sales techniques in churches; after all as long as people stay, or buy the product of Jesus it wouldn’t matter would it?
  7. Don’t you hate it when you’ve got that lovely car back home, only to find an issue with it? We had a leaky car that water was finding its way in. When we rang the dealer, whom we’d only bought it from a few weeks previously, it was as if they hadn’t seen the car, the sales people had no idea, it was an issue for the servicing, but there was very little coherency between sales and servicing in such a large dealer.  So should there be a church sales team, they could do all the deals, be the front end, glitzy, shiny, persuasive people, and once they have gathered the trust of the people to make a deal, then once the deal its done have other people, less shiny, less persuasive to deal with the problems of the product, or the deal, by then the deal is done, theres no 28 day return policy.
  8. And once you’ve bought the car – isnt it lovely to be told EVERY month with leaflets in the post that my local dealer has a new product, waiting just for me,  or a service deal, or something else car related – they never let me know i can have a free balloon.. And do you know what, i have never gone to garage based on a leaflet through the post, but some people must do. The church should up its marketing game, advertising is for life, not just for Christmas. Dont worry about the waste, the environment, annoying the not interested, non potential purchasers, do it anyway.
  9. Can the church fix -up some kind of part exchange deal? After three years take back your old faith, and have it renewed with a new teaching course, or programme, or small group idea. Keep on being part-exchanged…
  10. Car dealers do have a product that is needed, needed as a status symbol, needed as transportation to places of work to pay for the transportation that is wanted and needed. Millions of cars are sold every year. Millions of people go into car dealerships and buy a car, so they must know how to make a product that can be convincingly sold to people. Whats the best product of the church? how might millions of people need the church? well many already do – from foodbanks, to Messy church, to youthwork, to chaplaincy. I guess the greatest advertisement of a car is its badge, its maker and owner. We dont often look at where it got bought from, but who made it. If being made in the image of the maker is important to a car, then it must be for the church, and its people.

More significantly, to take a model of practice as one from Sales, commercialism and consumerism as a model for church, and take it seriously seems worrying to me. Why not go whole hog and re-model church like one big tescos, or Amazon or Starbucks? Shouldnt the spaces where people interact in a less transactional trading way be a better model – like a monastry, a railway station or a park be a better way of thinking about church. It doesnt have to be slick to be popular, just a space to be, to play and enjoy the space, in conversation with others who are also enjoying the space, who are in conversation with the maker of the space and sharing life together.



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