It’s no secret church attendance is faltering. The numbers are way down, particularly among millennials.
According to a 2016 study from YouGov and Deseret News, a whopping 59 percent of millennial-aged Americans don’t see any particular significance in attending Sunday church services. And based on new data from the Pew Research Center, roughly one third of Americans don’t regularly attend church because, among other reasons, they “practice their faith in other ways.”
So in an effort to increase attendance among young Floridians — particularly those in high school — one church in Bradenton is planning to hand over the keys to a 2006 Hummer to the one teenager most actively involved in the congregation’s Wednesday night services, The Christian Post reported.
Gran Dew, the youth pastor at The Source Church, explained that the contest awards three points for every time a student attends a midweek event and three additional points for every newcomer a regular attendee brings to services.
At the end of the contest, the pastor explained, one of the top five performers will be randomly selected to win the massive SUV.
“It is anybody’s game at this point,” Dew said. “If you are a grinder and you network, it could be yours. The spread really isn’t that far out and if you are incentivized to get out there and do some marketing, you could be right up there in the top five as well.”
The plan to offer a vehicle in exchange for boosted participation in church functions was hatched, according to Dew, who was hired as the full-time youth pastor in May, by members of the church’s staff and leadership. Dew said the goal of the showy giveaway is to “incentivize” younger locals to come to church.
“Really in essence to us, this is just a vehicle,” he said. “We know the real investment occurs when kids encounter the gospel. That is what our main goal is — to do something that hasn’t been done.”
The church’s youth ministry is offering a similar prize for middle schoolers who aren’t yet able to drive. Instead of getting the keys to a new car, the middle school winner will get the chance to ride in a Hummer limousine to see a movie of their choice with up to eight friends.
So far, the glitzy giveaway is working, at least in part. Dew told the Post he’s seen about 80 first-time attendees come to Wednesday night services over the last six months, though he admitted the church has had a lot of trouble with retention.
Dew said he received some pushback from parents who said their child has been attending youth group for several months, before the contest started. While the new pastor said he understood their frustrations, he argued it’s important people don’t turn the vehicle into an “idol.”
“It is inevitable that people’s emotions are going to get tied in,” he explained. “That is the only negative aspect I see. From a pastoral point, we have to get that across.”
The Hummer was donated to the church through contributions from a handful of residents and local business owners interested in ensuring the youth in Bradenton and the surrounding areas are “healthy spiritually.”