It was fascinating to read an archive article in the Sydney Morning Herald by Stephen Ottley, entitled "Top 10 car buying mistakes". I considered the parallels with these issues when considering which church to choose.
No 1 - Doing your research at the dealership
Churches today have professional websites which provide an in-depth look at what the congregation provides for its worshippers. Should your family have primary-school aged children, they you do not want a church which specialises in activities for the elderly. A quick check on the individual website for that Church will give you information about the make-up of the congregation and their various activities.
No 2 - Going local... or not
Ottley points out that it pays to shop around when purchasing a car, there is no loyalty discount for going local. So to with choosing a congregation that meets your family's needs. There is no need to just stick with the church on the corner, if your family is not comfortable there.
No 3 - Avoiding dealer finance
Some churches appear to have a philosophy where the emphasis is clearly on raising money, and moreover their mission budget is less than adequate to the funding they raise. You can get an idea about this, too, from carefully reading between the lines on the website and discerning whether there is too much emphasis on fund-raising and not enough on the type of community your family would like.
No 4 - Buying the paint protection
Some years ago this was offered to Mark Tronson when he bought a car, and the first thing he wondered aloud was 'why would a manufacturer allow a vehicle to go on sale without a thorough paint job?' Similarly, when looking for a new church, parishioners should investigate whether there are added on 'extras' that they need to sign up for, or whether the church is focussed on its core business - the message of Jesus' Salvation.
No 5 - Falling for the new car smell
Churches too can appear to have first glossy smell; sometimes a closer look reveals that there are internal dramas and conflicts within the congregation or management or leadership. It is probably impossible to find this out on the website, either for a car or for a church, and one cannot get an NRMA (or equivalent) check on a church, but one can ask judicial questions of 'those in the know' who are already in the congregation, or one can watch for insincere interactions during a social function or casual mid-week bible study or couples or teens activity.
No 6 - Buying early in the month (year)
Ottley spells out there are quotas associated with selling new cars and purchasing at the end of the month, and the salesman may well offer the buyer further inducements to buy at these times. A similar situation involves the church calender, in that observing the happy congregation at the church anniversary where special events are held, or when the church has a visiting evangelist, or at Christmas or Easter, may not be the best time to make an assessment.
No 7 - Not checking the build date
Each car has a plate which spells out its build date. One needs to be sure when purchasing a car, what year is stamped on this plate as it could affect the resale value if it is actually dated the previous year. Similarly, your family should check out the philosophy and preaching style and Sunday School program of a prospective new church, in case the congregation and minister are stuck in a previous generation's philosophy of worship and function that may not suit your own family's needs.
No 8 – It’s only an extra $10 a week
Ottley explains the tricks of the trade in advertising, so that the buyer is sometimes duped into a contract that they didn't anticipate. In the same way, churches will promote themselves to the congregation in a way that makes it seem like a 'good deal'. It is wise to carefully investigate anything that seems to be too good to be true â€“ usually it is - as the proverb says, "All that glitters is not gold".
No 9 - Being unrealistic about your trade-in
No church is perfect. You may have unrealistic nostalgic memories about the previous congregation where you've relocated from, particularly if you are missing friends and bonds of a many years and your children are having to settle into new schools and routines. No new church will meet those needs immediately until you've settled in. In reality, the old one wasn't perfect, and the new one won't be totally 'bad' either, once you have embraced your new situation.
No 10 - Being impatient
It might seem terribly important to find a suitable congregation immediately, but that may not be the best policy. Just like buying a car do your research, look around, test-drive several models and take your time.
Finding a suitable congregation in which to settle in and make your contribution can be just as tricky as purchasing a new car. These 10 points are all based on common sense and worthy of consideration.
Dr Mark Tronson is a Baptist minister (retired) who served as the Australian cricket team chaplain for 17 years (2000 ret) and established Life After Cricket in 2001. He was recognised by the Olympic Ministry Medal in 2009 presented by Carl Lewis Olympian of the Century. He mentors young writers and has written 24 books, and enjoys writing. He is married to Delma, with four adult children and grand-children. Dr Tronson writes a daily article for Christian Today Australia (since 2008) and in November 2016 established Christian Today New Zealand. Dr Mark Tronson’s Press Service International in 2019 was awarded the Australasian Religious Press Association’s premier award, The Gutenberg.
Mark Tronson's archive of articles can be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/mark-tronson.html