“Free” Car Wash

Ever seen a sign for a “Free Car Wash,” excitedly driven up, and then felt sort of forced into giving a donation? Or ever led a car wash like that and seen the look on people’s face fall when you ask for a donation? We just completed a fundraising car wash, so I understand the advantages of raising some cash from this activity, but let’s be honest about our intentions guys and leave out the “free” on the signs. This trend of “false advertising” has been so bad over the last decade that it got me thinking about an outreach idea.

A few years ago we held a true “free” car wash. In fact, we decided that we would refuse any and all attempts at donations. We prayed that God would use the event to inspire people to ask questions about Him and why we were doing this. We hoped that people would see “Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.” (John 1:16) and that they would consider embracing the gift for themselves.

We began the event by having students lined up along the street holding big signs that said “Free Car Wash” and “No Donations Accepted”. It took some time, but finally the first car drove in to our parking lot. As expected, they tried to give us a donation. When I said to them we really meant it when we said we weren’t accepting any donations, they looked at me with the most surprised and joyful look as they placed their money back in their wallet. Then they said “Well, why are you doing this?” To which I replied “God gives to us freely and so do we. We’re just trying to serve people out of His love for us.” Throughout the day many of us had several occasions where we shared that simple message “God gives freely and so do we.” It was so interesting and often surprising to see their reactions. Some allowed us the opportunity to share more. One man engaged in a deep conversation with several of us. We learned that he was not very close to God, but he wanted to learn more. He even got a tour of the church and eventually become a valuable member of our congregation!

We had been hoping for those responses, but we weren’t really prepared for how much our “no donations accepted” car wash would bother and even anger people. Many seemed flustered and a little upset about not being able to somehow “earn” the right to be served. One man was downright livid with us. He started trying to force the money on us and yelling quite loudly “If I put the money in the offering plate during service, then you’d take my money wouldn’t you?” I’ll never forget how angry he was at his inability to “pay” for the services rendered. It reminded me of how so many people respond to the message of the cross. Haven’t we all seen someone get irate at the ludicrous idea that there is “no payment required” by us for the forgiveness of sins? Haven’t we all seen someone struggle with the concept that grace is a gift, but we have to choose whether or not to accept it? This poor gentlemen couldn’t even accept the gift of a free car wash; how could he ever accept grace?

What surprising reactions have you received when trying to serve people? How have you helped people understand that God’s gift is free, but that it ultimately should change who we are?

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