Tesla, Hertz, and Your Congregation: what in the world do they have to do with each other?

TMC Digging A Deeper Well

Well, the most direct answer is that, one year ago this month, Hertz ordered 100,000 Tesla electric vehicles for its rental sites around the globe.

It seems like a smart move for Hertz.  Teslas require less maintenance (no oil changes, no powertrain replacements in an EV) and are kinder to the planet.

But what about Tesla? Given that most Tesla models already have long waiting lists of buyers, what’s in it for the car company?

One possible answer may lie in a recent article about car dealerships:

The roughly 18,000 new-car dealerships in the United States operate in a state of flux, according to industry experts. A rising interest in electric vehicles and increased online shopping, among other significant shifts, point to a future where these businesses offer different shopping experiences.

Stereotypical visions of endless rows of cars festooned with colorful plastic flags and inflatable sky dancers nodding in the breeze will give way to a smaller footprint for sales and more room for maintenance and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.


  • A major enterprise in our culture in a state of flux.
  • Demand for new ways of experiencing what the enterprise offers, leaving established operations wondering how to adapt.
  • Memories of a golden past – with an abundance of cars, balloons, people shopping (and inflatable sky dancers, don’t forget the sky dancers!) – colliding with pressure to change rapidly to meet newly expressed needs and desires.
  • And property suddenly mis-aligned for the future, where less will be more.

Does this sound like anything that you and your church board are wrestling with today?

But wait, the article continues:

Despite these shifts, 75 percent of customers still view the test drive and on-site experience as a core part of their buying journey, research says. And the franchise model for car sales means that even if consumers begin shopping online, they need to finish the transaction with the dealer.

 Customers still want that test-drive experience.

When a car shopper goes into a dealer for a test drive, it is well-documented that most are turned off by a hard sell or any smell of desperation at the dealership.  Most just want to experience how the car feels.  By partnering with Hertz, Tesla is innovating smartly on where potential customers can get that test-drive experience—without the real estate footprint, much less the hard sell or inflatable dancers, and in a way that might help those customers to imagine themselves owning a Tesla after all.

Perhaps there are lessons in this for your congregation as well.

People’s personal faith journeys are more highly individual than ever (as we were reminded in Dwight Zscheile’s important article of 2021, “From the Age of Association to Authenticity”).  But for many, that highly individualized journey will sooner or later lead folks to seek like-minded, like-hearted individuals they can join with in person to practice their faith more deeply together.

If people are going to merge an individual spiritual journey with congregational life, they need ways to encounter and experience what being in a congregation feels like. They need chances to experience worship in person, to see who is sitting around them as people gather, to sit through a book discussion or bible study together in a circle, to engage with others in service to the world. They don’t need a hard sell, much less inflatable sky dancers. But they still need a test drive, in order to imagine themselves in a congregation.

It is increasingly apparent that the future of church will be both high tech and high touch.  The balance between the two will be different for every faith community, but it would be good for your church board to be talking about the mix that is right for your congregation.



What are your most vivid memories of visiting a car dealership, as a child or an adult?

Where do you see connections between the challenges facing new-car dealerships today and the situation your congregation finds itself in? Where are there notable differences?

What is the equivalent, in your setting, of a “test drive” of your church?

How might you innovate on where and how you invite people on a test-drive of your congregation? Who could be your Hertz? What might change, for good, in innovating in these ways?

What are the “high tech” and “high touch” parts of your ministry right now that seem to be making a positive contribution?   Can you imagine how your church board might talk about keeping a mix of the two?

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