Reach Out

Facilitating a gas buy-down event is simple; the most difficult part is securing a venue for the event. I approached gas stations, saying, “This is a win-win situation for you. If you will reduce the price of gas—all grades—to 25 cents per gallon for two hours, the church will pay you the difference. [The gas stations’ computer systems can tally the exact number of gallons pumped during that time.] We’ll even pay for local advertising of the event, which will direct people to your station.” As I made this request of the stations, Shell immediately turned me down, stating its policy prohibited such events. Speedway eventually agreed to participate but took too long in communicating with me. It was a locally owned Citgo station that immediately saw the benefits and agreed to the buy-down.

After securing a location, we decided on a date—the Saturday before Easter, as it would be a good promotion for our Easter Sunday worship celebration. The next step was to secure funding for the cost of fuel and promotion. We realized that only so many vehicles could participate in a two-hour period and that every automobile wouldn’t be filling up from empty. The Citgo station had four pumps. We approximated that cars would use five hundred gallons per pump in a two-hour period, which would be an estimated cost to the church of $500 at a buy-down of 25 cents per gallon. (We actually pumped 2,026 gallons, for a final cost of $506.50.) We had 167 vehicles come to our event, so the cost per vehicle was roughly $3. The beauty of this event is that it seemed like we were giving away much more than $3 per recipient!

Our promotion consisted of a newspaper ad and an invitation card to give to drivers. We were very clear with Citgo that the only thing we required was the freedom to give away the cards. The front simply expressed our desire to spread God’s love with no strings attached, and the reverse contained a map and our contact information with the words of Romans 5:8 printed at the bottom. No one refused our cards, as we were saving them money on gas.

Before the event, Citgo expressed concern about how to preclude late-arriving customers from becoming angry; they appreciated the fact that we had a plan. First, our newspaper ad clearly stated that the discount was from 10:00 until noon only, and that prices would return to normal at 12:01 p.m. It also included the statement, “We’re sorry, but we cannot serve any motorists who arrive after 12:00 p.m.” Greeters watched the time and kindly turned away motorists who arrived after noon. As long as motorists were in line by noon, we stayed long enough to serve everyone. Citgo received no complaints, plenty of compliments, and tremendous advertising. In planning for buy-downs in the future, I would place several large signs near the station’s entrances that read, “Sorry, Discount Gas Ends at Noon. Thanks.”

Four teams of two servers worked each pump. As a driver pulled up to the pump, a server greeted him or her and asked what grade and quantity of gasoline he or she wanted. We provided full service by pumping the gas and washing the cars’ windshields. If customers were paying with cash, we directed them to pay inside per the station’s practice. If they were paying with a credit card at the pump, we instructed them to handle the transactions before we began fueling. We did not handle anyone’s money or credit cards unless a special situation, such as a disabled customer, warranted it. One of the servers also gave our “business” card to drivers after greeting them so they could read the information while we were serving them.

While the servers pumped gas and washed windshields, a team of three to four greeters welcomed drivers as they arrived in line. The greeters answered questions such as, “What’s going on?” and “Why are you doing this?” Most drivers had no idea why gas prices were lowered but simply joined the line. Our people were trained in their answers so they would not become flustered. We loved to say, “We’re simply trying to show the love of Jesus Christ in a practical way today. There are no strings attached.” We also instructed our people to refuse donations.

The event could not have gone better! We received wonderful, unsolicited press. More importantly, our outreach team enjoyed participating in the event, was drawn closer together, and came to believe that outreach is something they could do. Afterwards we had a great time celebrating God’s goodness at a local restaurant—a practice I highly recommend.

See gas buy-down info—invitation card, advertisement, and newspaper article.

Brad Pellish, Pastor
Trinity Baptist Church
Alma, Michigan