By: Christa Meland
Churches have only one opportunity to make a good first impression—and for new starts, it’s especially important to provide a positive experience that keeps people coming back.
That’s much easier to do now thanks to a “Church on Wheels” that the Minnesota Conference purchased earlier this year. This item is essentially an 18.5-foot trailer that attaches to the back of a vehicle. It contains all the equipment and tools a new church start would need in order to conduct a successful worship service, Vacation Bible School, or outdoor concert—and provide top-notch hospitality to guests.
Rev. Paul Marzahn, church plant strategist for the Minnesota Conference, heard about the Church on Wheels at a church-planting conference. He saw an opportunity to use it within the Minnesota Conference, which has 16 faith communities that are less than seven years old.
The trailer contains a complete sound system, audio and video equipment, stage lighting, a hospitality cart that holds brochures and other hand-outs, items for a children’s nursery, tables, signage, and even a coffee machine. These items can quickly and easily be unloaded, set up, and ready for a worship service at almost any physical location.
That’s important because, when churches are in their infancy and don’t yet have a building, they typically meet in a public space. Such is the case for Crossroads Church’s Elko New Market site, which just launched weekly public worship on Easter after a year of monthly preview services. It meets inside a local elementary school and is the first new start to use the Church on Wheels.
Rev. Gordon Deuel, who leads the Elko New Market site, says it used to take up to two hours to set up for worship and “it was hard to provide a consistent, quality service” using piecemeal equipment. With the Church on Wheels, it takes no longer than 45 minutes for set up; more importantly, the equipment is high quality and enables new starts to host worship services that have a “wow” factor.
Before Elko New Market used the Church on Wheels, its sound board was on a folding table, cables were running all over, and the sound cut out in the middle of one preview service.
“Guests expect a professional, quality production,” said Deuel. “They expect sound without glitches. They might realize we’re a church start and we’re new and getting off the ground, and they might be gracious about that, but they’re still expecting quality. We may not be a church of 500, but we can offer the same quality worship experience that they would have on a Sunday morning no matter where they go.”
Marzahn said families also want to attend worship at a place that has a clean nursery and contains the amenities you’d expect to find in a church building; the Church on Wheels has diapers, a changing station, and toys, which sends a strong message that a faith community cares about children.
The Church on Wheels provides a great volunteer opportunity for people involved in new church starts, Marzahn said, because the set up requires multiple sets of hands. Even Elko New Market’s first-time visitors have helped load items into the trailer following worship.
“It gets more people involved in the process,” he explained. “That’s another 10 to 15 people who are engaged in ministry every Sunday.”
The first Sunday when the Church on Wheels was used, a first-time guest told Deuel after the service: “I feel like I’m home.”
Congregational development funds paid for the $40,000 trailer, which will be used by multiple new church starts in the coming years and save money in the long run. Director of Congregational Development Dan Johnson said many new church starts spend $20,000 to $25,000 on equipment for worship; the trailer will have paid for itself by the time it’s used by just two new starts.
“Church on Wheels is a tangible example of our constant innovation with new church models and tactics,” Johnson said. “It makes practical sense from a financial and earth stewardship perspective to repurpose, reuse, and recycle equipment. It also creates a wonderful legacy of the momentum and mobility of our new church start movement. Only God knows how many new church bumper stickers we might accumulate on our trailer over its lifetime!”
When new church starts don’t have to worry about equipment and set up, they’re able to put more time into creating an exceptional experience for guests—one that touches their hearts, encourages them to return, and ultimately creates new disciples to transform the world.
“We want this church to be as successful as possible,” said Deuel. “Our churches have the greatest potential to reach new people in the first few years of their life. The Church on Wheels kit—it’s a big investment up front that allows us to provide what people are looking for.”
Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church