What Kind of Car is Your Church?

May 11, 2006 by

So often we like to think of church as a great big family reunion. People come together regardless of class, race, income, education or geography. But if you take a look around on Sunday morning, that’s not the case.

You’ve got sprawling urban mega-complexes, you’ve got store-front congregations, you’ve got set-up and tear-down churches. You’ve got more denominations than I care to count. There’s traditional or contemporary or emergent. You can raise your hands, clap your hands, or fold your hands. The diversity among churches is amazing.

While I’m not a fan of racially, economically or generationally segretated churches, it is a reality that every church on every corner reaches a different group of people. Sometimes that’s a hard concept to grasp because we think we should be reaching everybody.

And that brings me to a brilliant post by Ben Arment of History Church in Oak Hill, Va.:

A great advertising guy once asked me, “If your church were a car, what kind of car would it be?” He was getting at the fact that cars are marketed demographically and sociographically. So if we could figure out a good automobile equivalent for our church, we could look at how they advertise and what they advertise for clues on what we should be doing.

What a great way to think about how to narrow the focus of your marketing efforts. Ben decided his church is a Honda Element. What’s yours?

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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9 Responses to “What Kind of Car is Your Church?”

  • Richie
    May 11, 2006

    I think the church I work at is an Oldmobile. No, I spelled it right. Its paid off, its huge and it has no regard for other vehicles. The seats were once top of the line, it had A/C before A/C was cool. If there were a classified ad for it it would read something like..
    4dr road locomotive. hrd top, hrd bottom, hrd sides. orig paint/int/eng. pwr wndws,lcks,mrrs. brand new parts: alarm, sound system, DVD player, video screens, spinners, feelers, tweeters… too many to list. $2800 obo. 555-1289 nghts&wknds
    King of the road.

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  • z
    May 11, 2006

    Uh. My church is definately an SUV. It is big, beautifully kept, seats a lot, has lot of storage capacity and has all the newest gadgets and safety features. Unfortunately, like most SUV’s these days, I can’t remember the last time we took it off-road. It may look like a Sport Utility on the outside but it is filled with soccer moms and suit-and-tie businessmen.

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  • sam
    May 11, 2006

    Richie – your ad sounds like my church though I would ad one detail. Gets 2 miles to the gallon.
    I am currently between church plants and back at my “home” church… Much discussion about what shape this next plant will take. It is interesting to think of it as a car. We want it to be fuel efficient, converting to other uses when not being driven, so to speak. Planting a traditional church comes with a ton of constraints. How to be an RV, a bus, and a compact at the same time?
    As I look at my current church I see the leadership making every effort to change the model of the car from the inside out. It all comes down to the fact that we have a large chassis/body/frame and will never get good fuel economy. This forces us (burdens us) with a need to have many passengers and to have current technologies installed. Our ads follow. We need to be exciting and vibrant – the ride needs to be thrilling everytime we turn on the ignition. This is what we tell people – we showcase our children’s program with their top of the line curriculum and prizes, or the incredible sound system and musicians too… etc.
    We don’t give a lot of thought about the pedestrians. Sure we invite them in but we aren’t building a vehicle to meet their needs outside – only after they agree to ride with us every sunday do we take the time to know them.
    The next church I plant needs to have windows that roll down, and windows that aren’t tinted either. We need to have doors that are for getting out, not just climbing in. We need floor mats that we can get dirty and a radio that plays more than one station. Can’t worry about getting the paint scratched in a bad neighborhood or be embarrassed when we park it in ours. I am going to have fun with this one… thanks.

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  • michael
    May 12, 2006

    I have been asking clients the car question for years and I estimate about 40plus churches and ministries have responded. (I’m the guy Pastor Ben is referring to – he called me “great,” I prefer “fetching” or “doesn’t-make-me-sick-to-look-at”). I’ve heard some fascinating responses, like sherman tank, a old ford taurus with duct tape holding it together, and my favorite – a old school bus thats been tricked out.
    Two months ago I decided to stop asking the car question. Hang it up. I tried asking what type of shoe would they be (Pastors don’t know shoes). I asked what flavor beverage is their church (everbody is water of course). Thanks to the affirmation of this site – I’ll stick with the car question. The goal, as Ben pointed out, was to loosen the conversation with the decision makers and get them to see their church from a marketing perspective. Ritchie, loved your response.

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  • kevin
    May 12, 2006

    Aw, Michael, you’re just confirming the validity of my lazy approach to research. I was curious to know who Ben was referring to, but I decided I didn’t need to know that badly. But now I do know and it didn’t require any extra work. And laziness is half the battle… ;-)
    I think it’s a great question to get people thinking more about branding and image and how your church is perceived.
    I think my church is one of those car/SUV crossovers things that’s too big to be a car but too small to be an SUV. We get a lot of former Catholics and Baptists at our Episcopal church, so I think it’s a lot of people who want a unique combination of things in their church.

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  • emergingblurb
    May 14, 2006

    Geez…mine’s a bit of an off-road motorcycle at the moment getting lots of mud. Unfortunately there’s only the two of us riding and we have are currently making our own tracks in the bush…exploring and meeting the natives. Probably in need of getting back to base camp.
    Loved this question so much I had to repost it at my blog. I’m keen to see what sort of vehicles the emergingchurch think we/they drive.

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  • The Krow
    May 15, 2006

    If my church where a car… well it wouldn’t be. It would have ot be a bike. Powered by people to move forward. No automation or mechanisms… purity. An obvious bent toward loving the creation God made ( environment). It’s thrown around by the earth, but yet still on top surfing it. And even though the path is narrow and has twists and turns, somehow eventually it makes it home.

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  • A Texan in Bavaria
    May 17, 2006

    My church is a early ’90s Volvo wagon (with leather seats) that someone paid cash for when new. It gets a new owner about every three years or so. By now, the current owner is ok with throwing whatever needs to be hauled in the back. He’s PCSing, so he has to sell it yet again, but there’s already a new buyer lined up, and he trusts him to take care of it. It’s a little different from all the little sedans and big SUVs on post, but it gets along all the same, occupying space somewhere in between, as the Episcopal Church generally seems to do.
    It blends in surprisingly well off-post, except for the American military-issued plates and that it’s a little grimier than German-owned cars, as are most American-owned cars around here. But it is equally comfortable in local Catholic and Lutheran parking lots when it wants to take in some local culture (or is on vacation). It has learned some German.
    Right now, its current driver and passengers are mourning an old carpool buddy, who died in Iraq last week.

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  • Dirk
    October 4, 2008

    Thought provoking, to say the least.
    I found this description of a restored 1951 oldsmobile sedan and I hope it will one day prove true…
    “This beautiful 1951 Oldsmobile received a complete body on the frame restoration. Only minor rust repair was necessary in the rockers and lower quarter panels. All rust repairs at the Antique Auto Shop are provided by cutting the rust away, hand fabricating the necessary patch pieces and butt-welding the new metal in place. Many times there is rust on the inner structure. This rust is handled in the same quality manner, including sand blasting the inner structure to remove rust scale and coating the inside with a rust inhibitive primer prior to welding the outer patch in place. Thus providing the best repair available with the body still on the chassis.”
    God is in the business of redeeming and restoring what is wrecked, broken and deemed useless by the mainstream.
    Our churches are in need of restoration as well. However, a $79.95 Earl Scheib paint job will not suffice. We need to tear her down to the chassis and sandblast all the rust off, then carefully and delicately rebuild each piece with precision. We don’t want a street rod. We want her to be an original, reflecting as closely as possible the image she bore the day she was made. But, we don’t want a show car. We want a sedan that any family today would be proud to ride in, just as proud as grandad was the day he brought her home from the showroom. O.K. we made SOME improvements. Now she has gps, satellite radio, air-conditioning, power-steering, power locks and windows, built-in DVD players, and cup holders, baby!
    Gramps says it runs just like it did 40 years ago but now the kids love it, too.
    Here’s to striving for cultural relevance AND doctrinal soundness!

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