Church-Parking-Lots

Many times when I mention church parking lots, eyes roll and people tune out. What is there to know about parking lots? Why is he being so pragmatic? Doesn’t he have anything better to discuss?

Please stay with me for a few lines.

Many years ago I preached at a church in a rural area. I wish I could remember more details from that visit. But I do remember  the church seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere. And I remember that the church was larger than its rural community, about 500 persons if I recall. Finally, I remember the two parking lot ministers. That’s right, I called them ministers.

They were a married couple, and they both were in their 60s. When you entered the parking lot, they waved to you. If they knew you, they called you by name. If they didn’t know you, one of them came to the car to see if he or she could help in any way.

I would later learn from the pastor that this couple got to the church an hour before anyone arrived. They prayed over the entire parking lot, praying for those who would later come to that church. And they prayed silently for each person or persons who entered the lot by car.

I asked the pastor the question he had obviously been asked many times. How did the country church grow in the middle of nowhere? He pointed to the couple in the parking lot. “That’s one of the main reasons,” he responded.

Since then, I’ve never looked at church parking lots the same. I learned three important lessons I will share with you.

Lesson 1: Every Church Should Consider Having a Parking Lot Ministry

We often think that parking lot ministries belong in large churches with lots of people in lots of cars who need to be shown where to park. But that perspective misses the point of it being a ministry.

Many churches have greeter ministries, but they place the greeters inside the church buildings, or just outside key entrances.  I’ve been in some churches where the greeters do nothing more than stick a bulletin in my face with an indistinguishable grunt.

But people first arrive via the parking lot. That’s the point of first contact. That’s where greeters should be.

Every church of every size should consider having a parking lot ministry.

Lesson 2: Prayer Should be the Focus of Parking Lot Ministries

Do we really believe in the efficacy of prayer? Of course, I don’t expect many of my readers to do anything but affirm my question.  Frankly, though, I don’t see much corporate prayer in churches today. Sure, there are the prayers at the designated slots during the worship services. I don’t take that time for granted.

But where are the pervasive and ongoing prayers of those in the church? Where is the sense of prayer in the early church, where the leaders devoted themselves to it (Acts 6:4)?

Why shouldn’t we train and equip persons to be men and women of prayer even as they are conducting the more routine duties of directing cars in parking lots? If we really believe in the power of prayer, does not that same belief hold in parking lots, where members and guests first arrive on worship weekends?

Lesson 3: Parking Lot Work Should Be a Ministry

I’ve been in many large churches lately where members are doing work in parking lots. They are working feverishly and with much dedication to point those in cars in the right direction.

I hope those men and women see their work as ministry. I hope they have a brief prayer for those in every car that passes them. Those cars include people who don’t have a relationship with Jesus. Those cars include people whose marriages are falling apart. Those cars include men and women who have serious illnesses in their families. Those cars include people who have recently lost loved ones.

We cannot know the impact of a prayer, of a kind word, or of a smile on those who come to our churches. But we can demonstrate the love of Christ through our prayers, words, and smiles.

Parking lot signage is important. So are well-marked spaces. And so is good traffic flow.

But they are not nearly as important as the needs, the hopes, and the hurts of those who enter the lot.

Does your church have a parking lot ministry? Are you training your workers to be true ministers in their work? It really can make an incredible difference.

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Comments

  1. says

    I happen to like pragmatic :0) And, while the church parking lot may be the stage for this article, I think prayer is the main character. You really nailed it about corporate prayer. As the former Prayer Coordinator for my association, it has pained me for years to see pastors, GOOD pastors, failing to make corporate prayer a priority in their churches. I still don’t understand why that’s such a problem area for so many churches.

  2. Alvin says

    Really good read.

    I have found it to be true that visitors are making observations about the church before they ever step foot in the church. It begins from the moment they pull up and continues until the moment they drive off. Let’s face it, even people who are not familiar with church have a pretty good idea of what is going to be said in a normal service. Some may say it better than others, but the content in good churches will be similar. What they are looking for is what the church DOES, and whether that coincides with what the church says. And as a pastor and someone who has been to a few churches I know that far too often the two are completely different. What a terrible message to sent searching people, that what we do is not important enough to actually do.

    Thank you for this, I am enjoying this blog.

  3. says

    Something I noticed over the years about parking lots…when I was a “PK” in the 1960s, Mr. Worth Franks, our Sunday School Director (someone who had a ‘parking lot ministry’ similar to what you described above) used to amaze me by very accurately predicting what our attendance would be, long before the ‘reports’ were turned in from the departments/classes. He multiplied the number of cars in the lot by 3.5. Over the years, I used his method, but changed the ratio. By 1990, it was about 2/car, and now it’s about 1.5 per car, except that we now have lots of babies coming to our church, so the ratio is up a bit. Thanks for this article. I hope we can move our greeters out of the building and into the lot.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Good stuff Keith. I use the ratio of 2.0 per car, but you’re right. It really depends on the age of the church members.

  4. Val Branam says

    A prayer team going through the building at the same time, praying over each ministry area and access point would be a perfect twin to the parking lot prayer team. We need to see prayer in a far more valuable light.

  5. says

    What a helpful article! The emphasis on prayer as a key focus in a parking lot ministry was refreshing, encouraging, and challenging. I am passing this post to our congregation’s parking lot team members immediately. Thanks for all you do.

  6. says

    Dr. Rainer, while I agree with you that such a service should exist, I am concerned about making everything into ‘a ministry.’ It seems rather better to speak of one ministry, the ministry of the Word, in which all members share in supporting or speaking forth lending to bring about reconciliation with God ( Lk. 3:23; Acts 1:17, 25; 6:4; 20:24; 21:19; Rom. 11:13; 15:19; 2 Co. 3:7ff; 4:1; 5:18; 6:3; 9:1, 12; Gal. 2:8; Eph. 4:12; Col. 4:17; 2 Tim. 4:5, 11; Heb. 8:6). It seems far more biblical and therefore better to magnify ‘the ministry’ instead of making ‘ministries’ that may or may not clearly have in mind why they are doing it. If we keep the lines clear that there is ‘a ministry’ in which we all share, and define these other things by terms subordinate to ‘the ministry’ we will serve our Lord more faithful to His revealed Word. Even so, I see what you are saying and I especially like your treatment of this subject to encourage people to see their physical service as related to the spiritual, in praying. Indeed it all is related! But it is also distinct and subordinate and I think would be healthy to grow more in that direction of rhetoric and application. In fact, I think what I am proposing may be the beginning of solving the problem you are tackling here, namely prayerless parking lot ministries and the like. If we see every deed related to ‘the ministry’ then the mundane physical deeds are seen in their proper spiritual light.

  7. Heartspeak says

    I am reminded of my own failure to ‘practice what I preach’ even at home. Thank you for the timely topic, not of parking lots so much, as of the necessity of prayer in all of our endeavours. I am re-focused.

  8. says

    Brought back memories and a smile for me as I read this one!

    While a student in Bible school preparing for ministry, I did my first ministry in the parking lot of the mega church associated with the school. It became my ministry as I got to know the people who parked in my section.When it rained I had a huge green golf umbrella and could help people get to the doors. I’d notice who did not show up and pray for them and it became my ministry to do that. One day in the Bible school chapel our instructor was teaching on being faithful. She said, “Have you ever noticed that guy in the parking lot that always smiles and helps people get parked? You know the one with that big green umbrella? Well I pray God’s blessing on him every time I see him working when it rains, snows, is 100+ degrees… now that guy is faithful.” Those words and that thought that someone like this prayer warrior and leader prayed for me helped launch my ministry.

    Now I try to be the one praying for those helpful servants that are ministering to others with a smile and faithfulness. Never know what God will do with a parking lot minister…He sent me around the world several times and ministered in almost 40 nations and it all started with parking lot ministry and prayer.

  9. says

    Attention to details like this is so important. Many churches fail to realize how important first impressions are–and the very first thing people see is your parking lot. And I believe this is a great ministry opportunity. Ministry is serving others in the name of Jesus and that is exactly what you describe the couple doing at the church you visited.
    Terry Reed
    Small Church Tools

  10. Lemuel Billingsley says

    Now, this is very refreshing for me; even though i do not have a parking lot ministry at Good Hope. Yet we do hold corporate prayer mtgs weekly and I see the difference it is making w/in the body of believers. I am thankful that God has allowed this powerful ministry to take place. I have always believed that prayer is the first ministry that should be established to project the church and vision in to the will of God and causing the shepherd of the house and others to hear God speaking in various ways to keep the church of God moving in the Spirit.

  11. Tim Henderson says

    Im in charge of our parking lot minnistries and need some feedback on how to make it awesome for everyone.

  12. Rick Tuck says

    Think about it, we are the first people they see at church.Therefore what we do,say and act like out there in whatever weather God gives us is the way alot of people continue there day like, so YES, parking lot is a ministry by its self.

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