By Jason Matters
Inventor Ken Hakuta once said, “Lack of money is no obstacle. Lack of an idea is an obstacle.” When giving is down in churches, we often trim VBS decorations, all-church banquet subsidies, and equipment upgrades first from the budget. Then we are tempted to think that we can’t be effective or creative due to lack of funds. But maybe we can.
We recently raised hundreds of dollars for our church by selling clothes, books and household goods at a rummage sale. Our coordinator then arranged for a local thrift store to pick up the items that did not sell. It sounded like the perfect plan until the truck arrived. The driver saw the roomful of merchandise and told us that he would not accept rummage sale leftovers; we were devastated. There were 12 tables piled high with novels, nick-knacks and computers. The rummage sale coordinator promised to take care of it but the stuff stayed around for weeks. How could we retake our Sunday school room from the looming, musty piles?
We grew up using classified advertisements to buy and sell cars, stereos and houses. Then eBay came along and helped us sell computers and everything else to worldwide buyers. But who would ever buy my worn-out couch on eBay? Lucky for us, Craig Newmark figured out a way to compete with eBay, by starting Craigslist.org.
Serves more than 500 cities
In 1995, Craig Newmark created a list of activities in the San Francisco area and sent it to his friends and co-workers. He later expanded the list to include classified ads and discussion forums. Fifteen years later, Craig’s list serves more than 500 cities around the world. Craigslist.org, with its meager 23 employees, operates out of a four-story Victorian house in San Francisco. Forty million Americans visit craigslist every month, accumulating more English page views than Amazon.com.
The concept is simple: every major city has its own “list,” which is divided into discussion groups, community events, job ads and merchandise ads. Unless you are brokering an apartment in New York City or advertising a job in Atlanta or one of nine other cities, the listing is free! I heard about the site from a friend and I soon acquired a free swing set for my daughter, sold a set of hubcaps for a 1994 Toyota, and gave away an old stove. It was then that I realized how our church might benefit from this site.
Armed with a digital camera, I selected individual items from the rummage sale that might sell easily. I listed a slide projector, a kitchen table, an electric hedge trimmer and an old chandelier for five dollars each. To my delight, they sold within two days. I stuffed all of the books into four cardboard boxes and listed the lot for five dollars.
Within a few minutes of uploading the pictures, I received several emails from interested buyers. After selling as much as I could, I took a few pictures of the remaining boxes and offered to give them to the first person who would take everything. The pile was gone in two days. Craigslist was the perfect solution for our problem; we raised extra money and the leftovers are in homes instead of our storage closet.
The best part is it’s free
I have found that the site is also a great resource for churches to buy used equipment, sell unneeded items, give away “junk,” and list community events. And the best part is it’s free! Desks, filing cabinets and copiers can be found on the business page. Televisions and sound equipment are listed under electronics. Everything from craft supplies to silk flowers, cardboard boxes to plywood can be found at low prices.
One of the best features of craigslist is the free page. There is one main rule for this section. One day, I stumbled across a listing for a free 36-inch Sony television. I replied to the ad and mentioned that we would use the television for ministry to children and teenagers, and that I could issue a gift-in-kind donation letter. Two days later the “seller” called me and said he wanted to give us the television, along with a Bose DVD player and sound system.
I have also used the free page to get rid of items that normally would have required a trip to the dump. We were constantly tripping over an old, homemade room divider and finally decided to get rid of it. I snapped a picture, placed a listing for free plywood and lumber and provided good directions to our location. It was gone within a day. An old couch from the youth room also disappeared within days, thanks to Craigslist.
A calendar for outreach events
Finally, Craigslist is becoming so popular that people use it for social networking. The homepage for each city features a calendar that lists community events. For our outreach events, including Trunk-or-Treat, Vacation Bible School and Live Nativity, the site provides great advertising. I think of it as one more way to let people know about our church and what we are doing in the community.
The site is very easy to use, but I have learned a few tricks, which, if followed, will help save time and energy. First, include a picture in every listing. People will drive 40 miles for a free couch, but they always want to know what it looks like before they leave home. Second, when listing an item on the free page, offer it first-come, first-served, and do not hold it for anyone. New users usually learn the hard way by waiting around for someone who never shows up. If possible, put the item outside where someone can come at any time to pick it up.
When I sold the five dollar items from the rummage sale, I wrote the buyer’s name on an envelope and affixed it to the item. I set the item outside and asked the buyer to slide the envelope, with cash inside, under the entry door to the church office. Everyone paid and I did not have to sit around waiting for someone to show up at 9:00 PM. Finally, make the most of every listing by including a picture of your church building, clear directions and a link to your website. Who knows? After buying your leftover Easter lilies, they may come back on Sunday.
Since Craigslist is moderated by its members, there is no shortage of scams and fraudulent buyers and sellers. On the cars/trucks page, Craigslist warns its users that, “Offers to ship vehicles are 100 percent fraudulent.” When selling an item, accept only cash; no checks or money orders. Require every buyer to pick up the item in person. If a buyer wants an item shipped, it is a scam. When buying an item, feel free to ask the person to meet at a public place. These and other safety tips can be found on the homepage for each city. These practices should not scare anyone from using the site, but should encourage every user to be careful and use common sense.
Doing ministry in these difficult times is challenging, so we must find new and creative ways to be effective. Craigslist is one of the golden ideas of our generation that can brighten the prospect of doing effective ministry.
Jason Matters is pastor of New Vision Church of the Nazarene, Raymore, MO. [www.newvisionchurch.com]