visitor-parking

By Chuck Lawless

I know the topic of church parking lots is not attention grabbing. In fact, I almost did not write this post – except that I continue to see too many churches miss an opportunity for ministry that begins in the parking lot. Here are some parking lot problems I’ve seen, listed in no particular order.

  1. The parking lot entrance is not easily visible. Sometimes the location of the church building itself is not the best. At other times, the location is not poor, but the entrance to the parking lot is difficult to see from the road. Perhaps a line of trees blocks the view. I’ve visited other churches where the church sign is actually the obstacle.
  2. The landscaping is poorly tended. Frankly, it’s amazing to me that church members look past landscaping at their church they would never ignore in their own yard. Uncontrolled weeds, dying flowers, uncut grass, and old mulch are not a good witness to the community.
  3. Not enough parking is available. Generally, the 80% rule about church facilities applies to parking as well: when 80% of the parking spaces are full, it is likely that attendance will plateau until more space is available. Many churches, though, do not monitor these important data.
  4. No guest parking is available. The church that has no marked guest parking is inadvertently saying (a) we do not expect guests, or (b) we see no reason to treat guests in a special way. The former suggests a lack of faith, and the latter implies a lack of concern.
  5. Guest parking is available, but hard to see. When a guest pulls into a parking lot, he is not likely to know guest parking is available. Unless someone is directing him to that parking or those spaces are immediately obvious, he is likely to miss that benefit for guests.
  6. No greeters are in the parking lot. In many ways, a greeter in the parking lot is more important than a greeter at the door. Without being overly intrusive, parking lot greeters can welcome guests, direct them to an entrance, answer questions they might have, provide umbrellas when it’s raining, assist families with children, and help the elderly.
  7. The church has parking lot greeters, but they are not easily identified. Name badges are helpful, but they are not enough to identify parking lot greeters. Because the parking lot typically has a large number of people wandering around, greeters should be clearly identified by something like a vest.
  8. The traffic flow is poor, and no one is directing it. This problem is often more acute in congregations that have worshippers from multiple services entering and exiting at the same time. Parking lot attendants who direct the traffic can make a big difference.
  9. The walk from much of the lot to the front door is long, and the church provides no shuttle option. Obviously, this problem exists primarily in churches with large parking lots. Those arriving later than others frequently find open spaces only in the distant areas of the lot, and the walk is long. A golf cart might be a wise investment for this church.
  10. Churches miss the opportunity to have welcome centers outside the building. If the weather permits, setting up a portable welcome center in the parking lot is a good strategy. Not only does it avoid the crowd inside the building, but it also becomes an exciting central place to which to direct guests from the parking lot.
  11. The church provides no security in the parking lot. An unattended parking lot during a worship service is regrettably an open invitation for thieves. Security personnel can serve as a deterrent to crime while also being available to direct guests who come late to the service. They might also pray for the families represented by each car as they walk the lot.
  12. No one is praying for this ministry. This work is just that – a ministry – and churches should prayerfully and wisely recruit workers to do these tasks. Moreover, they should commission these workers and pray weekly for them as they serve God in the parking lot.

Does your church have a parking lot ministry? What other problems have you seen? What effective ministry ideas might you share?  


Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments

  1. says

    I think not planning for (visitors to come speaks volumes about a church’s willingness to truly share with people Jesus Christ. Why we wouldn’t take care of ensuring people felt welcomed (starting in the parking lot) says everything to a visitor (whether intentional or not) about them being an inconvenience to the “church’s normal operation”. Think of it this way: When we aren’t expecting company, we don’t clean our houses either, right? I think we should prepare EVERY week for new folks to come … which conversely means every church member needs to be involved in inviting folks the other 6 days! :-) Blessings, Thom!

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Good thoughts, TJ. The other image I use is the nursery image: why should God bless our congregations with baby Christians if our “nursery” isn’t ready to take care of them?

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Thanks, John. Just prayed for you to have more cars . . . . In the meantime, we still need to get our folks ready for potential growth.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      True, Jeremy. We’ve sometimes had our consulting “spies” watch to see who parks in these spaces . . . and you know what we find.

  2. David J. Faulkner says

    Wah!!! The problem with Christianity in America today has nothing to do with the parking lots or with the comfort of the sanctuary or the comfort of the pews. The problem today is that too many Americans are lazy to the point of being sacrilegious. The Church sanctuary should NEVER be the focus of bringing folks to a knowledge of the saving grace of God. Jesus Christ, in the Great Commission, said to “GO” not sit in the Sanctuary. Bringing folks to a knowledge of the saving grace of God must be focused outside the walls of the Church / Sanctuary. The people who come to the sanctuary must know God and the mystery of the Kingdom before showing up; and thus must understand the magnificent gift they have received of God and come with verve to worship and praise HIS HOLY NAME! People who are truly infected with the Holy Spirit (a requirement for true salvation) will crawl on their hands and knees to gain entry into a Sanctuary of Worship to fellowship with other believers and hear the Word of God preached. The Christian Church of America must stop babysitting, REPENT of its current slovenly practices and focus on entertainment and comfort, take the Commandments of God seriously, and obey His Word with ACTION! I, for one, am tired of the sniveling! GOD BLESS those who read / hear and Obey!

    • says

      While we keep our parking lots in good order, and seek to be as helpful and welcoming as possible to all who attend……your right!

    • ty says

      I like how yours didn’t get a reply.

      I see the need for thinking things through but when much more real situations get left undone and yet there are volunteers and meetings held on parking strategies then I think you’ve already failed as a church in many peoples eyes and by what Jesus did.

  3. Russ says

    Amen to this post!
    One issue is that as our congregation ages 100% of handicap spots are taken by the time SS starts so all guest spots are taken by the overflow. We also have a terrible problem with double parking as many of our ethnic congregations meet at the same time. We actually have plenty of parking but no one wants to walk and no one to direct traffic.

  4. Greg Haisley says

    Dr. Lawless-
    I have read these reports over the years and they are very helpful, especially for the first-time reader whom desires to reach more people with the Gospel. Regarding the comments from David, it seems there is only one singular approach to fulfilling the Great Commission, rather than a both/and. Jesus taught in the Temple complex for example. I can’t help but be reminded of the Pharisee Jesus pointed out to His disciples that was praying “Thank you, Lord, that I am not like this Tax Collector.” The Tax Collector was then praying for God to have mercy on Him. Where? In the Temple complex. I can assure you that lost people are welcome in our church building because they’re going to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Yes, they should hear it from other Christians, too, and likely have before they come to our church services. Are lost people not allowed to have their Gospel curiosity addressed as they come to church? Are they not allowed to see if there are “real” Christians who will love them into salvation and a deeper relationship with Christ? I appreciate the zeal, but let’s not forget the mission is larger than one venue or approach. The mission field is wherever we go, including church. Making parking space for visitors/guests is only one more way to walk in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves. Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” Paul said “I have become all things, to all men, that I may win some.” -1 Corinthians 9:22. I believe Paul would have made room for camel parking for one more person to hear the Gospel…the Gospel is still bigger than any one of us. Blessings to you and your ministry!

  5. Doug Miller says

    So glad to see and share this post. Seems like I’ve had this very discussion in years past. The church I now attend has surprised me. Good signage coming into the building, parking spots on both sides of the building clearly marked (both guest and handicapped spots), greeters at the doors who are looking for guests. our only issues seem to be #’s 6, 7, 11, and 12. However, just the other day a lady and I were talking about church matters and in the course of the conversation she mentioned that her husband used to be a greeter. At some point he was not asked to be a greeter for the up coming year and has not been asked to be a greeter since. He has wandered about since trying to figure out how he could serve. Maybe this is the answer for getting this man, and possibly others, involved and feeling like the church needs them again. I do need to check on the 80% rule still. Very well could be an issue that I’ve not been aware of. Thanks again!

  6. says

    Dr. Lawless,

    As one who took your Building An Evangelistic Church at Southern and now the Lead Pastor at Durbin Memorial Baptist Church in Lexington, KY, I am so grateful for your insightful comments especially on issues such as this one that often goes either unnoticed or not thought through for one reason or another. I had a conversation with a consultant today and I mentioned to him that one issue we have at Durbin is we do not have enough parking for the size of our sanctuary. At one time, people traveled two or three in a car and now some couples take two cars like my wife and I. That being said, it is not an issue we are having now but hope to in the future as we grow. I appreciate your insightful comments on this issue because it really got me thinking about my church and how we need to address these our parking ministry if you will. Great article even though it is not an exciting issue to talk about.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Russell, it’s great to hear from you. I’ve seen some families of four come in four different cars at times. We’re quite a mobile society.

  7. John Simpson says

    After moving to the Greenville, SC area we looked at a number of churches, some with serious parking problems and others very well set up. The first one we visited (and did not return to) had 6-8 parking spots reserved for pastorial staff near the main front enterance. Further away were handycap spots (all full already) and the visitor parking was down the hill in the back of the building with a long up hill (stairs) walk to the back entry area. Since my wife was awaiting knee surgery we almost did not go in, but I returned to the main enterance and let her off then returned to the visitor parking area. No one in the parking lots to assist in any way before or after the service. At the end of the service I reversed the process and took the long treck down to the back parking lot and drove up to the front enterance to pick up my wife — by the way, I was 72 years old at that time.
    We visited another church in the area that fortunately is on level site and has multiple good enterances to their main building. The have handycap parking near one enterance, and Senior Citizen parking near another enterance (with about 20-30 spots available), on our first visit we used the handycap parking, but on subsequent visits we used the Sr Citizen parking.
    The church we joined has a very steep property, with handycap and vistor parking on the upper level near the main church enterance. The secondary enterance also has some handycap parking spots, and out of the way two spots for church staff.
    I find your overall remarks very useful and worthy of attention to those who are planning the layout of their parking and staffing of personnel to direct traffic and welcome everyone.

  8. Mark says

    The only thing I would add is to make sure it is well lit, especially if you have night services/events.

  9. Kelley says

    I wrestle with the “guest parking” bit. I wonder how many guests are really interested in identifying as such, anyway? Also, if there are no cars in those spaces, what message does that send? I’m TRULY not trying to be argumentative–just thoughts that’ve rattled around in my head for a long time.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Great questions, Kelly. My experience is that guests aren’t always as interested in anonymity as we think they are. What they don’t want is to be bombarded. In fact, they appreciate the opportunity to park close to the building. To the second issue: I agree that empty guest spots say something to the church, but it’s something the church probably needs to hear. Thanks for the thoughts.

      • Troy says

        Within the past year or two we have implemented a Guest Parking area.

        I’m often the attendant directing them to those spots (easily identified, even in a large church, by their “lost” look; no pun intended). They are most grateful for the close parking spot and if we have empty spots as the service beginning draws near, we simply allow anyone into those spots. There are often members running late from work or such that will fill them happily.

        Troy

  10. says

    I have a toddler and a preschooler and my husband is not a believer so I have to wrangle the kids out the door and across the parking lot all by myself. I can’t arrive early and get good parking because 1) the children’s program doesn’t take the kids until just before the service starts so they run around and stress everyone out and 2) small children have a limited time they can be anywhere before they have a meltdown, diaper blowout, need food/nap, etc. so I often arrive just in time to optimize the time they are there. When I arrive 10 minutes before the start of service, the parking lot is full and I have to park either on the side of a busy road or along a busy highway. Then I have to walk a long distance by the side of the road/highway while carrying one child and clutching the hand of the other while praying the 3 year old doesn’t run away from me. It’s terrifying. I’ve missed several Sunday’s because I just don’t feel up for the challenge of the parking lot, especially on days when I know there will be more visitors or peak attendance. A few times I drove to church and then drove back home because I just couldn’t handle the parking. I am not a visitor and I’m not handicapped. Family parking would be great. Not first row parking, but 2nd or 3rd row parking or even just INSIDE the parking lot would be excellent. Just please don’t make me park out by the highway with my 2 small kids. It’s hard enough just to get to church.

    • says

      One more thing to add, my church is in a touristy area and so the attendance varies by huge amounts depending on the season. If it were consistent, I’m sure they would add more parking but it’s only a few months out of the year that the parking lot isn’t big enough. The rest of the year the parking lot isn’t even full. The good news is that people are attending church here while on vacation! The bad news, is that I feel like I can’t attend church in the summer because they’ve pushed people like me out. I can’t just drive up and drop off the kids at the front door – I’m by myself! Just my two cents!

  11. Dominic Stockford says

    Parking Lot problems? Come on guys. Many of us have no such thing, cannot have any such thing, and never will have an such thing.

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