Transportation of Car-Less Members, Giving Rides, and Jesus Vans

Yes, I know, the “Jesus” in the bottom-right hand corner has a t, at the end, but still, it’s almost there. 

I typically like to avoid making too many posts that take the form of  “what I think the Church should do,” in part because the gospel of the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, is so much bigger than this or that policy from North Temple Street; also, a lot of my thoughts on that topic have typically already been said by others in some place or another, sometimes more elegantly than I could have, so I don’t have a lot to add.  

Still, occasionally something comes up where I haven’t seen much discussion and I might have something unique to add, so here I’m discussing–Jesus Vans. 

If you live in a more urban area with a lot of churches you’ll see these zipping around on Sunday to pick up parishioners (I get the sense that Korean Christian churches have a lot of these, but that’s just anecdotal).

Also if you have been a member in a high-needs, urban area you know that transportation is the bane of the Church’s existence in those places. Many of the members are immigrants that do not have their own vehicles. If you’re lucky your urban area has good transportation (e.g. my ward in Philadelphia), and if not they don’t (e.g. my current ward outside of DC). 

I’m convinced that for high needs, inner-city wards having a reliable form of transportation to and from church could increase sacrament meeting attendance by ¼ to 1/3; this is an innovation from the gentiles that we could fruitfully adopt. In lieu of something more systematic, members are constantly asked to provide rides for members, recent converts, or investigators on a case-by-case basis. Of course we are happy to help, but there is a finite amount of energy that we can give to Church responsibilities, and in these wards such energy and time is in short supply, so there really is a limit to how much ferrying the members can do. This probably wouldn’t work in a suburban context, where one could spend hours giving rides each way, but in a denser inner-city context the benefit-to-time ratio would be significant. 

I know there are a lot of legal liability issues. Still, such wards often have one or more missionary pairs (my current ward has four companionships and a senior sister), and assigning a companionship or two to systematically provide rides in a huge 12-person van could really help take a lot of the weight off of the shoulders of short-staffed, inner-city, high-needs wards.

26 comments for “Transportation of Car-Less Members, Giving Rides, and Jesus Vans

  1. My family spent 5 years attending a dependent branch in our stake. The tiny branch which had a weekly attendance of approximately 50 members had nearly 2000 members of record. Really. It is a long story, not worthy reviewing in this setting. Most of these 2000 people were baptized as minors, with no family support. (The families were not hostile. Just not that supportive.) There was a severe limitation on how many could be picked up for the meetings: maybe 10 active members had a car and not all of them would or could pick members up. My wife and I brought two cars: One sedan for my wife and our three children, while I drove a mini-van and filled it. There were about 8 missionary companionships assigned to the branch. And one senior couple. They all had cars but were not allowed to drive anyone anywhere. It would have transformed the ward and impacted lives if two of those companionships could have driven a “Jesus van.” (A great term that I hadn’t heard before.) Other churches in the town, which likely had similar demographic challenges and needy populations used such vans. I suffered from some “holy envy” as I watched their full vans driving around town. Each of those two imaginary vans could make two runs each and could have brought up to 30 or 40 members to services, which would have had a huge impact on our branch and on the members. I know that there must be barriers to operating this service, but the other churches which I imagine did not have the resources of our church managed it.

  2. Brings back memories of my ward in South Chicago. My husband and I were ward missionaries assigned to making sure anyone the missionaries invited to church had rides. We bought a mini van that we called “the church bus” and drove as many people as we could. Often people on our list were more than 20 min apart from each other so we didn’t end up filling the van in a given week but we loved getting to know people that way.

    One easy modification that was a huge benefit is that the bishop decided to have 2nd hour 1st and sacrament meeting second. This gave members with cars a chance to see who wasn’t there and to go (without family members filling up seatbelts) and pick them up before sacrament. It also meant that many people relying on unpredictable public services for rides had a much better chance of making it by the time the sacrament was passed.

  3. Agreed, but based on how ward budgets work, my sense is this would require a special policy because ward and stake don’t have budgets to buy vans. Then there were be the issue of the cost of maintenance, again who pays? But I do agree it would be really helpful.

  4. Using member to transport others to church can really become a burden on members. It isn’t a problem when it is neighbors or someone on the way, but it can be when the ride giver has to drive way out of their way, or schedule an hour or so of Sunday to transport people to church. Somehow my husband and I must be know as the ? Lacking words here?? soft touch, pushovers, bleeding hearts, kind gentle people who are happy to help those in needs, those leaders can call on when everybody else says no?? Yeah, I think I will go with that last one. Anyway, several times we have been asked by the bishop as a special calling kind of thing to help with “difficult” members who need rides to church along with needing a long list of other things. Two of these were not just needy, but were also grouchy, thankless, unfriendly people. I could go into detail, but some people are just users who take advantage of the kindness of others. Going out of our way for people who honestly need it and are thankful or at least kind about the help can be tiring and costs time and gas money, but at least you know it is appreciated and you don’t start resenting helping them. But the “needy” people who don’t do as much for themselves as they can and just expect others to go out of their way for them, are constantly asking the church for help, and don’t even thank those who are helping, *that* is why the church needs to hire a buss to pick up such people for church. That kind of user can burn people out really badly, and having a paid buss driver doesn’t cause the kind of resentment and burnout that ungrateful users can.

    [tangent warning]
    And we do have a problem with burning people out. In fact, one of the reasons people leave the church that has seldom been discussed is burnout. Doing for others until you just don’t have anything left to give and you defend yourself by getting out of the situation. Other denominations have busses, they have janitors, they don’t ask near as much of their volunteers as the Mormon church does. We not only ask “tithing” as 10% of total income, before expenses, but we ask for members to serve the church as a part time job. And after years of giving and giving and not getting our own social and emotional needs met, people like me burn out. I havre seen bishops and RSPs go inactive or divorce upon being released, and maybe they don’t recognize it as burnout, or the unhappy wife doesn’t realize that it was giving too much to the church and not enough to the marriage that caused it. I have also seen burnout in others, who don’t blame the church, when maybe they should, at least enough to start putting themselves first. Example, the overwhelmed mother of toddlers who can’t keep her own housework done, but is expected to clean the building on Saturday and be in the nursery or primary when what she really needs is adult time away from babies. When it comes right down to it, that is part of why I don’t attend when I still believe just/almost as much as I did when I was RSP. But, long story.

  5. @Stephen Fleming: Yes, this would most certainly require some above-ward decision making because of the logistics involved.

    @Anna, the ungrateful ride-takers is most certainly at thing (and so is burnout). The ones who may or may not actually be there after you drove 15 minutes out of your way to get them, or they’re late and you’re waiting there in the parking lot while they finish waking up…

    One pushback on the van idea is that they would develop a sense of entitlement, and this would most certainly happen when people habituate to having a taxi-service to church every week, but still I think the pro of having them actually be there is worth the con of possibly making the occasional member lose their “get myself to Church” functionality. In one of my wards we had a high-level discussion about whether providing consistent rides to the youth would make them less able to make it to the Church themselves, and the scoutmaster, who seemed like an ex-military, super Republican type that I did not expect to hear this from, simply pointed out that he gave his kids rides to Church and YM while they were growing up, so why should we have higher expectations for people whose parents are working insane hours and can’t get them to mutual.

  6. Stephen, I’m curious how such a financial structure would work. Maybe something akin to how mission keep track of their vehicles.

    Anna, I’m actually planning a post on that very topic. I’m thinking of a larger series on the overall “system” the church has in place to benefit peoples lives, but the “difficult people” as I think I’ll call that post, are very much a reality and I think there are better and worse ways to manage that issue.

  7. I am not advocating any solution, but it seems to me it would be much easier to let a needy person or family call an Uber at ward expense (fast offerings?) than to buy a van.

    But I am cautious of any plan to provide transportation to members and visitors, especially a plan that puts cost and liability on members.

  8. Stephen C, I think the ungrateful ride takers already had a pretty unhealthy sense of entitlement, at least the two I was talking about. That was why it was such a problem. If they had not had such a sense of entitlement, we would have been happy giving them rides even if it was several miles out of our way, and both of these difficult people lived outside of our regular ward boundaries, so it was miles out of our way. Both were odd situations, with disabled or dysfunctional people. I started to give more information about their abuse of church welfare and abuse of the kindness of others, but erased all of it because it bordered on “still angry about all that.” So, “entitlement” really does not care if it is a corporate church or their next door neighbor. So, why not make it at least not a burden on members? And I happen to think getting people to church is good for them (me excluded ;) But instead of it being at the expense of the church hiring a van and paying a driver and providing insurance, it is currently at the expense of individual members. I could go into the larger picture of the economics of the 1880s—1980s but basically, before that time the church was not as demanding of tithing and time (bishops were once PAID) but the economy is not what it was in 1950. There are currently more limits to how much individual members can give, compared to how much money the church has in the bank. In today’s economy, it takes two parents working just to buy a home and raise a few children. There just isn’t time or money for a church that takes up a lot of time or costs a bunch of money on top of tithing. My point is, sure it would cost money for the church to change a few things and demand less from members, but maybe it would stop some of the current hemorrhage of members and in the long run, be of benefit to the church. But it is going further down the rabbit hole of that tangent I started.

    Stephen F. A post on “difficult people” would be good, but also one on burnout would be good. Because I cannot be the only person ever to suffer from burn out in our high demand religion.

  9. Uber actually sounds like an great ideas, JI. I haven’t done that very much, how much do you think a ride to church in an urban area would cost? Probably would take a lot of Uber rides to get to the cost of a van! Then there’s the whole thing of all the record keeping wards have to do when they make payments.

    Anna, yes, totally agree! In fact, I wrote of a whole welfare system for my ward when I was bishop all focussed around (hopefully) trying to prevent or at least minimize burnout. I may post the whole thing if these guys let me stick around. I agree that in my opinion, we tend not to have very good structures on how to help with boundaries when doing welfare, so I really liked what I came up with. Welfare became really easy!

    And yes, whenever I got wind of members that were super charitable (a wonderful thing!) but I worried might be overextending themselves, I would give them a call and gently ask if they understood boundaries. Those who did, all was good. Those who didn’t, we’d have a chat. Those who told me they really wanted to overextend themselves, I told them that was up to them, but I made the phone call nonetheless. Not very many since most people don’t behave that way. For me it was 4 people and all women. I hope it was helpful. Like I say in my write up “boundaries help us to be MORE generous, by helping to avoid burnout.”

  10. Stephen Fleming, if the permas don’t let you stick around long enough to share your welfare plan, I’d love to read it in another form. Could so use it. It’s been a long, hard uphill 2 years of learning how to handle the welfare needs of a ward with many needs but few active, available members. And I’d have been your 1st and 2nd and 3rd phone calls to talk about setting boundaries. I’m getting better at it with practice and therapy., but try learning curve has been steep.

  11. I like the van idea a lot (or Uber if it actually turns out to be cheaper). Maybe one of those things the Church can do once it starts targeting a desired level of reserves rather than always saving a fixed percentage of income, but that will probably be after the last General Authorities who experienced the Great Depression pass through the veil.

    People feeling entitled to a ride is only a problem if your goal is to eventually get them transporting themselves. If this is a permanent arrangement, then they are entitled. Being inconsiderate is another matter, of course.

    The trick with burnout is that it varies so much: one person will thrive in a situation that will burn out another. Sometimes it’s predictable–not putting stay-at-home mothers of young children in the Nursery ought to be a no-brainer. Put the fathers in if they’re working full-time outside the home, especially if their child has a hard time with separation (that’s two of my three stints in Nursery). Put in singles. Put in older couples. Anyone but the mothers.

    Stephen, I really appreciate that you asked people about burnout. I wish more people would proactively communicate how they’re doing to their leaders, especially when burnout is coming on. I think people expect the Lord to reveal to the bishop that they’re burnt out and thus ready for a release, but the Lord shouldn’t have to give the bishop information by revelation that we could just tell him. To paraphrase my mission president’s wife, we don’t believe in ex nihilo creation and we don’t believe in ex nihilo callings. Give your leaders the information they need.

  12. I saw the jesus bus a lot on my mission in the south during the early 80s. What I saw was mostly kids getting on those buses. I cant imagine a bunch of kids with no parents attending wards. Not fun.

    Member burn out- IMO each member is responsible for managing burnout. As pointed out, some members thrive doing everything on the churches extensive checklist of “do’s” and some dont. A burned out member to me is a member that didn’t live the church in a healthy way specifically to them. I think this happens because of the culture to not say “no” to callings and assignments. Members that leave due to burnout typically get a huge uptick in happiness and relief that sometimes is misunderstood as proof the church was false. Its just that they are managing their time and the stress they caused themselves in the church is gone. Please, please do the church life in a way that is healthy to you and not what the leaders think is healthy for you! Just say no sometimes and dont leave.

    I was in a Q&A meeting with several apostles years ago and someone asked what they should do with a family in the ward that was super high maintenance and had all types of various issues and needs. The bishop asking the question was very stressed about this, you could hear it in his voice. The apostle that answered him said something like this…”find members that have the specific skills sets to help this family with their various needs but not at the risk of these strong members. Don’t damage a good family over a dysfunctional one.” I wanted to stand and applaud this apostles good common sense reply.

    When I home churched for 3 years it was so wonderful to be able to just focus on the needs of me and my family for the first time in my life. I suggest you all try it! We do for the church, we do for the members, we do for the dead, we do for the non believers, do we take 2 years and do for our families? Children? Career? Hobbies? Nothing wrong with this and of course nothing wrong with doing all the church stuff if that makes you truly happy and not stressed out…meaning the stress that leads to illness and finding a new church. Some stress/growth can be good if managed properly.

  13. I am Iooking forward to a future post on member burnout. We spent four years living in a small, geographically spread-out branch in rural Pennsylvania. In that setting, I saw two different types of active members. One type threw themselves into everything the branch had to offer and everything the branch needed. These people held multiple callings, showed up to every activity, and drove miles upon miles on a regular basis to serve and participate. They thought nothing of driving the missionaries around all day or driving an hour one-way to help out a ward member who needed it. They did these sorts of things multiple times a week. Other people, equally committed to the gospel, guarded their time well. They refused to over-extend themselves, carefully chose which activities to participate in, and served in only the capacities they felt they could manage at any given time. I had great respect for both types of people. I tended to be more like the first type (though perhaps a bit more balanced), but I secretly really envied the second type for having the self-awareness and assertiveness to just say no. I think temple covenants are the main thing that make it hard to say no for many of us. It’s definitely a challenge when we feel like our decisions about serving vs. protecting our time and energy are butting up against sacred and serious promises we have made to God.

  14. I didn’t mean to hijack Stephen C.’s post, but, yes, the kind of sacrifices we perform in the church is a topic I care a lot about. Like I said, I do want to go over this in future posts (I want to finish up a few more post on my current train of thought first), but here’s a quick “preview.”

    I believe that our commitments to each other are very important, even essentially to spirituality and human connection, and fundamental to Christianity. However, because our religion makes “high demands” like Anna said (a good thing, I will argue) there is always the danger of really too much. There IS such a things as both improperly overwhelming people and (in my opinion) I think it’s even improper letting people overwhelm themselves with out any guidance (again if people really WANT to do that they can, but they should at least be given some pointers).

    This is all what I’m thinking of calling “managed sacrifice.” Service and sacrifice are wonderful, but I do worry that it can often go “unmanaged” at times, as leaders (who are often themselves quite overwhelmed) throw too much stuff at agreeable people who don’t know how to say no.

    Like I said above, I really do believe that proper boundary setting creates MORE generosity in the long run as it helps to avoid burn out. There was a line in a episode of the first season of Abbott Elementary that was a really good summation. My wife has been in education for decades and has noticed this trend as well. Sometimes young “crusader” teachers come in full of commitment wanting to change the world and are willing to work crazy hours to do so. Such will look down on their less ambitious counter parts who say things like they want the job to have their summers off. As my wife points out, the “summers off” guys are much more likely to stay in the profession and the “crusaders” burn out.

    That episode kind of addresses that with the more senior teachers telling the idealistic younger ones that they need to learn to manage their lives and take care of themselves “FOR THE KIDS. It is our responsibility NOT TO BURN OUT! Taking care of ourselves is vital to us taking care of the students.”

    A good lesson and something I’ll say more about. But the church service we give is a wonderful thing, but needs to be managed, in my opinion.

  15. I am very troubled by any idea of “managed sacrifice” where leaders “manage” their underlings to produce maximal results.

    Nothing in the gospel should be based on compulsion, dominion, and so forth — rather, everything is supposed to be voluntary, with “leaders” working with persuasion, brotherly kindness, love unfeigned, and so forth.

    I am troubled by the idea of a ward or stake as a production unit, a local or regional part of a larger production unit, with leaders charged with using members to produce results.

    I say teach correct principles and let everyone govern him- or herself.

    I am reminded of the interaction (not a parable, but a real interaction) between Jesus, some apostles, and a woman. The woman brought in a vessel of ointment, very expensive, and used it to minister to Jesus. The apostles observing murmured that such a great expense was being wasted, and could be better used to feed the poor. But Jesus countered, telling the apostles to leave her alone — she was doing a good work of her own choice — they (the apostles) were free to give to the poor any day of the week they wanted to, but to leave her alone.

    I wish bishops and stake presidents, indeed, all leaders at every level, would seek to serve and minister to others, rather than directing them for production goals or outcomes. He who would be a leader should be a servant.

    I know there will be many who will want to respond here to disagree with me, but I think there is some truth in what I am saying. Church leaders should not “manage” members; rather, they should serve them — and, every offering by a member should be done voluntarily, perhaps with persuasion, brotherly kindness, and so forth, but never with dominion, direction, assignment, compulsion, shame, pressure, and so forth.

  16. You quite misunderstand what I meant by the term (perhaps I need a better phrase!) as I meant it in no way in the way you interpreted it. What I meant is how I defined it: opportunities for sacrifice but in ways that help the members not to be overwhelmed.

    Mainly I was speaking about my own time as bishop. I felt totally overwhelmed, and thus I wanted to work very hard that this did not happen to my ward members. I don’t understand how you got that from my comment.

  17. Thanks, Stephen, I am sure your intentions are good. I might re-write my first paragraph,

    I am very troubled by any idea of “managed sacrifice” where leaders “manage” their underlings to produce maximal results, when when using ways that help the members not to be overwhelmed.

    I appreciate your sincerity, and that of other leaders who want to produce results (such as getting all ward members to Sunday meetings).

    Your writing is not the sole genesis of my thoughts, but it reminded me of what I have seen so often from well-meaning leaders over the years. I don’t think leaders need to “manage” members at all to produce results; rather, I wish leaders would serve members more — and somehow, I think that’s a better (even if slower) way in the long run.

  18. I can appreciate that you are responding to other things that concern you, ji, because your critique indeed has nothing to do with my comments other than not liking the word “managed.” I’ll admit I’m tinkering with the term and perhaps “guided” or “aided” would be better and I would say the larger concept would be “helping members to ‘manage’ their our sacrifice to help them from being overwhelmed and helping to avoid burn out.” “Overwhelmed by church tasks” very much is an issue as Anna, Lisa, Jess etc comments above indicate.

    I would use this post from Michael Austin in the training I would do for my ward. This kind of thing happens all too often.

  19. Assuming, arguendo, that there is a real need to help get members to Sunday meetings, and assuming we can’t have ward or stake vans, why not authorize ubers or bus tokens or taxis charged to fast offerings or ward budget? Pressuring lower-ranking members to provide transportation to others, and requiring those members to eat all the time, money, and wear-and-tear costs, as well as liability concerns, seems to be the common approach among us, but it might not be the best approach.

    But as in the story from the scripture I shared, anyone who wants to help in that way is free to do so — voluntarily, of their own free will and choice. I appreciate those who do.

  20. I should also point out that in my Philadelphia ward we provided metro tokens out of the fast offering budget to YM/YW who made it to mutual, so in some very inner-city wards that have a good metro system there is some of this happening.

  21. Great! That seems better than a church leader managing other members and their sacrifices by giving them assignments to execute (or, maybe, in other words, binding heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and laying them on men’s shoulders?).

    I have thought sometimes in daydreaming that if I was rich, I would buy a small bus just for the purpose of helping in my ward. I appreciate all those who help others.

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