This article was originally posted on Transforming Leader the spring of 2011. Enjoy!
I remember one weekend we decided to take a family trip (four kids) to a local kid-friendly museum in Rochester called “The Strong Museum of Play“. It seems that the rest of the Rochester area picked that day to visit as well. I’m pretty sure we drove around for more than 10 minutes trying to find a parking spot. The place was completely full. Getting desperate (as the sounds of anticipation continued to rise in the back seats), I resorted to following the people exiting the building as they walked to their cars. I figured this method would eventually result in a spot to park. It didn’t. It seems the other drivers circling the parking lot had the same idea. I “almost” got one spot, only to be quite rudely cutoff by another driver. Eventually, we cut our losses and, to the sounds of great mourning, drove away. Frustrating.
What do your Sunday morning guests experience as they pull into your church parking area? Is their experience a positive one? If you’re like most pastors and church leaders, you probably have no idea. You arrive early and leave late, so you have little experience with the parking lot each Sunday.
The answer to that question can make a huge difference. In fact, it’s possible that the parking experience for guests could have eternal ramifications for them? I understand they probably aren’t going to find God while they pull into an empty space; but your hope is that they experience the love of Christ in your service, right? What if they don’t ever make it in the door? Is there a chance that they simply do a ‘drive-through’ because they either can’t find parking or the parking they do find is just too inconvenient for them? Assuming they do find a spot and make the trek to your front doors (possibly with kids in tow) what is their general posture? Let me paint a picture of what you and I really want those first few minutes to look like and feel like to your guests.
Joe and Jane are driving down the road towards the church. They see a large sign that confirms this is, in fact, the church they are looking for as well as a clearly marked entrance. As they pull into the parking lot they notice several other cars have already arrived and people are making their way to the ,well marked, front entrance of the church. They also notice a sign (or better yet, a friendly face) directing them to drive straight ahead if they are a guest to the guest parking area. Within 15 seconds of entering the parking lot they have successfully found a parking spot that was specifically set aside for them. They are very thankful to be so close to the front doors – especially with their young kids. The quick getaway from their car also helped them take the plunge too. They have been nervous all morning on whether they should come or not. So far, so good. They are ready to enter through the front doors and face a totally new world. BONUS: Even better, as they exit their vehicles a kind greeter is waiting for them and offers to assist them inside if they need the help, opening the door along the way.
Guest Friendly Parking Tips:
It’s really important that your guests don’t feel confused or nervous as they drive into the parking lot. You can minimize confusion by ensuring the signs to your church are easy to find from the road. Ideally, it will be easy to find BEFORE they actually drive by the church, forcing them to have to turn around up the road. Additionally, if you have more than one entrance or an entrance and an exit, simple signs designating which road is the most appropriate to use will be very helpful. Finally and depending on the size of your parking lot, it would be helpful to post signs directing where guests should go next to arrive at the guest parking areas.
- Guest Parking.
Your guests will feel taken care of and will receive a great first impression if you’ve reserved several spaces just for them. Ideally, these spaces will be very close to the front entrance of your church, similar to your handicapped parking areas. I suggest you set aside about 4% of your parking lot for that purpose (if you tend to receive a lot of guests each week, you might want to increase that). If your lot is paved then you might consider painting your sign on the pavement as well as posted signs.
- Parking Attendants.
If you can find some friendly faces who love to be outside, then designating parking attendants will increase the parking experience for both your guests and church attendees. Your parking attendants don’t necessarily need to focus on actually ‘parking’ people. Everyone loves a genuine greeting and a warm smile as they arrive at church!
Sometimes the parking lot is easily forgotten; but it’s the very first thing your guests will notice on Sunday morning. If you have a paved lot, be sure to take care of the pavement. Budget money each year to fill cracks, potholes, and to seal the lot at least every other year. In today’s economy, that’s a chunk of money right there! It would be wise to sweep the lot each Spring as well. If you have a stone lot then consider raking the stones a couple of times a year. You will also want to budget money to add stone every two to three years as needed. Finally, weed your parking lot! Again, this is an expense, but important. There’s little more distasteful to the eye of a guest than a weed-infested parking lot!
- Clearly Marked Parking Spaces.
I’m not just talking about spaces for guests. It’s important that all of your attendees understand how to park in the parking lot. If you have a paved lot it’s important to paint lines on the lot. If you have a stone lot then you have a much bigger challenge in guiding your cars to the most efficient parking spaces. You may want to rely on parking attendants or special parking cones. A few winters ago, our church ended up with an embarrassing situation in our parking lot when our church attendees accidentally parked 6 cars in so they couldn’t leave until the cars in front of them did. The reason? It had snowed heavily that morning and we didn’t do a good job clearing the lot enough so that people knew where to park.
- Snow Removal.
I hope it’s obvious that you should recruit or invest in snow removal if you live in a location where that is necessary. You will want to shovel and plow just prior to your service start times. If it’s snowing DURING the service, you may also want to consider recruiting someone to shovel during the service so that people can make a clean getaway. Our church has been known to even recruited some teens to brush off car windows before the service let out. People loved it!
- Valet Service?
OK. That sounds a little carried away, but why not, especially for the elderly and/or single moms. My point here isn’t necessarily to begin a valet service so much as to remind you to think outside the box and do what you can to show great hospitality to your guests and church attendees.