12 Church Parking Lot Problems

July 1, 2014

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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39 Comments

  • Dominic Stockford says on

    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.

  • 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.

    • 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!

  • PastorM says on

    Add to # 2: trash all over the place, which I see all too frequently.

  • 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 on

      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.

      • 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

      • Chuck Lawless says on

        Thanks, Troy, for your comments.

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

  • Good stuff Chuck…check out the following for additional perspective on Parking Lot Ministry.

    http://coolconversationslive.com/3-reasons-to-do-parking-right/

    Elaborated more in my book “Why Church Buildings Matter” by Rainer Publishing

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