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Don’t let rising gas prices get you down!

SUMMARY: A few weeks ago, a colleague and I were brainstorming Mycom eNewsletter topic ideas. The $4 gas prices could not escape our attention. We realized church attendance-and offerings-could decrease simply because it is too expensive to drive to church.

The U.S. Department of Energy projects gas prices to hover around $4 through 2009. How can your congregation adapt to this new reality?

Let's look at a few ways rising gas prices could affect our lifestyle. Obviously many things will become more expensive. People's sphere of activities may shrink as they take advantage of recreational and vacation opportunities closer to home. People may seek jobs near their homes or move closer to their jobs. Neighborhood stores will become more important.

While core members of a church may not stop attending church because of gas prices, those who live farther away may have no choice but to find a church nearby. You may see the every-other-Sunday church attendee just once a month. As far as unchurched seekers are concerned, expensive gas may become yet another reason not to attend worship. So how do we overcome these issues?

Rising gas prices are like increasing the price of your worship service (I know it is free!). While a person might be interested in attending, he or she must be interested enough to spend the additional money to get there. Your mailings, billboards, and radio and TV ads must work twice as hard as before.

So what can you do along with making your marketing more compelling? Here are a few ideas:

Have fewer but longer gatherings.
Re-imagine the weekly flow of church activities and pack more content into one trip to church. Consolidate activities and ministries that bring individuals and families to church on multiple nights a week. If you want members to continue their current level of involvement, you must consider the impact of rising fuel prices.

Begin or reschedule midweek services.
If you have not already done so, consider starting a midweek service and time it so people can attend church on the way home from work.

Launch a bus ministry.
Rising gas prices may refuel (pardon the pun!) bus ministries. After all, what better way to solve the gas crisis than to bus people to church? You may even charge a nominal fee. Also, encourage carpooling for members who drive from the same neighborhoods.

Add value to direct-mail campaigns.
Here is an idea to attract non-members or people who have not attended in a long while. Next time you create a direct-mail piece to increase awareness of your church, consider making it redeemable at the church for a $5 gas card. It is a tried and valuable tool.

Create multiple sites.
A multi-site church can strategically shorten the distance people drive to church. It increases a church's scope of reach. For example, a one -campus church might cover a 20-mile radius, but a two-campus church might expand to a 40-mile radius.

Go on the Internet.
Providing an Internet campus will let you avoid the gas-price issue completely. Podcasts of downloadable sermons require no driving and make church available literally 24/7.

Offer family fun nights.
Think of promoting "staycation." With high gas prices, more and more vacations will be based closer to home. Make church part of those vacation plans! Family fun nights with free food, games, live music, fireworks (if they are legal) and other creative twists can attract regular and new attendees.

Implement a home church network.
Meet in different members' homes to share meals, talk, pray, sing and study the Bible. This could become the most vital time of the week for attendees and the most authentic picture of what church is about.

Plant new churches.
Encourage established churches to embrace new church starts. Do you ever wonder why Starbucks has so many locations? They want to make it easier for customers to get there. Church planting will do the same.

Look at the bottom-line.
It is wonderful if your members do not trim down their commitment to church life due to rising fuel prices. While many members travel long distances to get to your church, they probably pass many equally good churches. They may decide to stop at one of those. Be sure to look at the larger picture. While you may lose members to other churches, you may attract others who live nearby.

Maybe this challenge is a blessing in disguise. Perhaps the gas crunch this will help Christians to discover their community church, to get to know people in their neighborhood and to reach out in ministry.

How we do ministry requires constant evaluation and redefinition. May this new challenge stimulate us to adapt to our ever-changing society and its needs!