Should a Church Own or Rent Vehicles?

Two church leaders weigh in on this question.

First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California—known as EvFree Fullerton—has wrestled a lot with the question of whether to buy or own.

Right now, EvFree, which averages a combined 2,500 people at its three Sunday services, has made the decision to own a variety of vans and buses.

“We don’t really drive our big bus a ton—maybe 10 times a year,” said John Schaefer, assistant executive pastor for discipleship and care. “So when finances are [tight], saying I’m going to spend $20,000 on tires for that bus is tough. But if you’re going to have them, you need to maintain them.”

It’s no surprise, then, that concerns about owning vehicles come up fairly often at EvFree.

“A part of the conversation that we have with our staff, probably every six months, is, ‘Do we really want to be in the vehicle business? Or is it more cost effective to rent a bus?’” said Schaefer.

One possibility would be to charter a bus with professional drivers, he added. But one reason the church decides to avoid that route is the lack of flexibility. For example, the church couldn’t decide at the last minute to take a ministry trip.

If the church suddenly didn’t own its vehicles, explained Schaefer, “it would really change how we do certain ministries.”

John Trotter, elder and administrator for the Edmond Church of Christ in Edmond, Oklahoma, said the 1,200-member congregation rents from a reputable dealer with a high standard of vehicle maintenance.

“When a van gets to about 50,000 miles, they put it up for auction and get a new one,” Trotter said. “For short-term trips, I would highly recommend renting as opposed to owning because of maintenance.”

If a church is going to use a vehicle infrequently, it might make more sense to rent rather than buy, Trotter added. He explained that doing so allows the church to rely on the rental company to provide proper maintenance, and often it will mean the use of newer vehicles.

To explore risk-management issues related to both rental and church-owned vehicles see “6 Questions to Assess Vehicle Insurance.”

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