The Ten Commandments of Church Parking Lots

March 9, 2016

My story is many years old, but its impact still lives with me today.

On a Sunday morning, I was walking outside the worship center and greeting people as they came into the church where I was serving as pastor. I saw a car moving slowly in the parking lot. The driver obviously could not find a place to park.

I walked toward the car. The driver rolled down his window and called to me by name: “Hey, Thom, where do you park around here?”

The man was a coach in the baseball league where I coached with one of my sons. I didn’t really know much about him, but I was glad to see him at church. I led him to one of the few available parking spots. He thanked me: “Thanks, Thom, I was about to give up and go home.”

A few months later, the man, his wife, and two of his older children responded to the gospel and became followers of Christ.

It is for reasons such as this one, I am committed to the practical aspects of ministry. Certainly, the Word of God and His truths are foundational and much more important. But to neglect practical ministry is to be unwise and, perhaps, even sinful.

Over the years, I have gathered untold volumes of information about practical ministries in churches. Let me share with you some of these lessons about parking lots through “ten commandments.”

  1. You shall have at least one greeter in the parking lot. That person makes an immediate impression on guests.
  2. You shall understand the 80% rule applies to parking lots. When the parking lot is 80% full, it appears totally full to a guest.
  3. You shall calculate your attendees per car ratio. On the average, two persons come together in a car to church. But that number can vary significantly by church, and it definitely affects how many spaces a lot should have.
  4. You shall have more than adequate handicap spaces. Do not limit these spaces to code requirements; exceed the requirements.
  5. You shall have more than adequate guest parking. Make certain you have at least one more guest spot than the highest number of guest cars you have for a given worship service.
  6. You shall have parking for needy groups in the church. Those groups vary by church. One church has several places for expectant mothers. Another church has spots for the “over 80” attendees.
  7. You shall not have an ugly, poorly marked parking lot. Remember, the parking lot is the first place your guests will see when they visit your church. What kind of first impression do you want to make?
  8. You shall not require guests to park in an obscure, far place. I preached at a church where the pastor told me to park in guest parking. I was blown away when I saw it was the furthest place from the church facilities, and it was poorly marked.
  9. You shall not have reserve parking for the pastor and staff. Those parking spots communicate privilege instead of service.
  10. You shall have clear and prominent signs in the parking lot. Good signage makes a good first impression. Bad signage does the opposite.

Are parking lots the most important facet of our ministries? Absolutely not. Not even close. But they can be used of God toward making an eternal difference.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

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64 Comments

  • Debbie Isgrigg says on

    I agree with your article regarding church parking lots. Our church needs to pave the parking lot, but the funds are not there. Are you aware of any grants for churches needing financial assistance for projects like this?

    Thank you

  • I found this article looking for some fresh ideas for our parking team. I lead our team at one of our satellite campuses and have been running teams for years. I noticed that one of the difficulties we have his asking staff and teams to park in our designated area to allow sufficient space for our guests to make it as easy and welcoming as possible. We have signs, alternatives like golf carts for those who park far etc., but the hardest thing to do is convince staff and team members to park some where else. Has anyone run into this issue and tackled it successfully? How can we avoid confrontation with this group and still get the message across that “putting others’ needs before our own doesn’t only start when we walk in the door,but every aspect of life?

  • When I first decided to volunteer with my church, I told them I’d be willing to serve wherever needed.

    Having a “big mouth” and a somewhat extroverted personality, I just knew I’d be asked to be a Greeter at the doors. I was told, however, the church had all the Greeters they could use and was asked if I’d consider being a Parker. In my head, I thought, “No!”, but because I had said I’d serve where needed, my mouth enthusiastically said, “Sure. Absolutely.” In my mind, though, I only reluctantly agreed.

    So, for the first two months of serving, I was on the less trafficked side of the church and kept complaining – again, in my mind – saying, “This is STUPID! People can see where there’s an empty parking spot! They’re wasting my talent, Lord!”

    Well, the Holy Spirit finally had enough of my belly-aching and spoke to me, “This isn’t about parking.”

    “Say what? Not about parking???”

    “No, it’s about validating and acknowledging people; it’s about loving them from the moment of their arrival and welcoming them into the family from the very outset.”

    It was humbling and life-changing. I have been serving as a Parker for a littler over ten years, now. It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, raining or dry, windy or humid. It is so much more rewarding than I could have ever imagined! I am the PRE-Greeter!!! And, I SO look forward to every Sunday; seeing the people, calling them by name, getting to know those whom I recognize by face each week, but whom I’ve never officially met.

    I’ve been the Parking Captain for some time now and, as a leader, I send an e-mail to the team each week…sometimes it’s weather-related, sometimes it’s humorous, sometimes it’s a prayer or a Scripture verse. I used this article just last week as a reminder of “why” we do what we do: to have an eternal impact on the lives of others.

    Our pastor has a saying, “If lost people matter to God, then they should matter to us.” Each week, in my e-mail, I include a slightly revised version: “People matter to God; therefore, they matter to us.”

    PS – To the person (AL) who posted they’d drive away from a church with parking lot attendants, I hope you’ll reconsider your position. I do understand it would be a little creepy, if the Parkers immediately ran up to you fawning over you as you’re getting out of your car; but, if it’s done properly, serving in the parking lot is really not much different than being posted at the doors and I would hope you wouldn’t leave because someone said, “Hello,” as you enter.

    PPS – Pastor Rainer: If you ever amend your “commandments”, you might consider these (as they are our Parking Ministry Guidelines):

    1. Always confirm your attendance via the church website.

    Use the same website to “block out” any dates for which you will be unavailable (vacation, business trips, anniversaries, etc.). And, keep in mind, we do understand “life happens” and things come up unexpectedly (e.g., business trips and sickness or illness).

    After confirmation, should any last minute changes prevent you from serving, please notify:

    The Connections Pastor
    or
    The Parking Captain

    Communication (about scheduling, your availability & your presence) is key.

    2. Be prompt and park YOUR vehicle in a remote area of the lot, giving preference to those who may need to walk fewer steps. (Park along the perimeter of the lot, preferably.)

    Be early enough to actually be in the parking lot 30 minutes prior to the start of a service and be prepared to remain in the lot until 15 minutes after the service has begun or until traffic dwindles down (which ever comes later).

    3. Smile. Wave. And, have fun!

    4. Wear acceptable & weather-appropriate attire. Modest shorts and light shirts may be worn during warmer weather and, in the winter, think layers: overcoats, jackets, windbreakers, sweats, etc. (And, a good pair of gloves are worth their weight in gold!)

    Use sunscreen and/or hats when warranted and be sure to drink plenty of fluids in hot weather.

    Umbrellas and/or ponchos are available & provided for you during times of inclement weather. Consider a change of socks/shoes for wet weather situations.

    While serving, always wear a Parker’s safety vest. This indicates to drivers that you are acting in an official capacity and have some level of authority. Without a vest, drivers may become confused and not realize you’ve been designated to help control the parking area. [Besides, the vest keeps you cool in the Summer and warm in the Winter. 🙂 ] On a rare occasion where a vest may not be available, carry a light baton.

    Always carry a “walkie-talkie”/two-way radio, be in close proximity to someone who has one, or remain in sight of the parking leader/captain or another team member.

    Communication (with drivers, pedestrians & with the team) is key.

    5. Smile often. Be cheerful. Enjoy yourself!

    6. Be careful, safe, and alert. Watch out for vehicles, pedestrians, your fellow Parkers & yourself, as well.

    Be cognizant of pedestrians, especially small children, running in the parking lot or moving behind vehicles whose drivers may not be able to see them. Safety is always your first priority.

    7. Generally, give pedestrians the “right of way,” stopping vehicular traffic for them; however, keep the flow of traffic in mind. There may be times when you ask the pedestrians to “hold up a moment,” so you can clear some vehicle traffic.

    Also, if the situation warrants it, motion vehicles to slow down in the parking lot. Whenever appropriate, instead of stopping vehicles, direct them around pedestrian traffic. Remember, this is a private parking lot and we reserve the right to redirect traffic patterns.

    8. As vehicles approach, look at their windshields and/or license plates for handicap mirror hangers or symbols. Direct those with handicap designations to the proper parking spaces.

    Also look for vehicles displaying out-of-state license plates, as these will typically belong to visitors and recent transfers to Texas. If possible, make an effort to park them near entrances.

    Additionally, as the church espouses a casual environment, those who arrive “dressed up” are most likely visitors. Go out of your way to welcome them. As a matter of fact, whenever it’s possible, introduce yourself to first-time visitors and personally escort them inside to the Connection Center or introduce them to one of our pastors. A personal “hand off” can leave a lasting impression. (Please try to notify another Parker, prior to leaving your “post.”)

    9. Smile some more. Keep a positive attitude. Have a good time!

    10. In order to maximize parking availability…

    • endeavor to park large vehicles (trucks, SUV’s, etc.) next to/across from small vehicles (e.g., compact and economy cars).
    • attempt to have motorcyclists double up in single parking spaces.

    DO NOT attempt to direct traffic off the church premises. We do not have city authorization to park vehicles on the street.

    11. As open car/truck doors prevent other vehicles from pulling into the neighboring spot, alternate direction to vehicles (e.g., one left, one right, etc.) to avoid traffic backups.

    After a vehicle is parked, if you notice any of the following:

    • elderly individuals,
    • expectant mothers,
    • temporarily handicapped (e.g., crutches, walking boot, etc.),

    inform them we’ll be happy to park them closer to entrances, if space is available and if they notify us upon their arrival on campus.

    12. Greet everyone (or, at least, as many as you’re able) with a smile, a wave, a handshake or a hug. And, do it with authentic enthusiasm. Use words and phrases like: “Welcome!” or “Howdy, y’all!” (my personal favorite)1

    You can also use current holidays or weather (e.g., “Merry Christmas” or “Thanks for coming out on this bright, sun-shiny day.”) as an “ice breaker.”

    Feel free to talk about current sporting events or the team represented on someone’s attire (e.g., “Go Cowboys” or “We have special reserved parking for Ranger fans.”). Whatever you choose to say, be genuine, even if it’s in a spirit of fun.

    13. As is prudent and appropriate, offer help to everyone (particularly small children, the elderly, and the handicapped).

    During inclement weather, assist with car doors and/or cover people with your umbrella as you walk them to the church entrance.

    Aid people not only with parking directions, but also be familiar with service times, the location of the Early Childhood/Adventure Kids area, the Information Center, etc.

    Be innovative and seek opportunities to exhibit thoughtfulness. Be willing to go above and beyond. Serve each person as unto the Lord.

    14. People matter to God; therefore, they matter to us. So, try to remember names, faces, vehicles and which service people are attending.

    As time allows, utilize opportunities to fellowship and meet and make friends. Get to know people and call them by name. For each service you volunteer, make an attempt to meet someone you’ve seen before, but to whom you have never been formally introduced.

    Remember: YOU are the face of the church; the very first person anyone sees. The evaluation of the entire church starts with us, the Parkers. The way we greet and treat people arriving at the church campuses will determine whether we keep visitors coming and can significantly impact the well-being and spiritual growth of our members and regular attendees.

    15. If at any time you have any questions or issues, consult your parking leader/captain on duty. Please advise your team leader/captain of any issues or concerns in the parking lot regardless of how small or large they may seem, including any issues with Police or any other emergency personnel or vehicles. Again, please ask your parking leader/captain to address the issue(s).

    16. Finally: Smile again. Have a blast. And, most of all, show Christ-like love!

    “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.” Revelation 2:19 (NLT)

    1 – As it is a contraction for the words “you all,” the word is spelled “y’all” not “ya’ll.” The apostrophe replaces the “ou.” As an aside, “y’all” can be singular OR plural, whereas “all y’all” is most definitely plural. 🙂

  • Ruth Ferree-Bowman says on

    Hi, Thom.
    We have a parking lot in need of repaving (grass is growing in it). Our membership has declined from hundreds to double digits. We are debt free and are the only handicap accessible church in our village. Our church was built in 1971. Other churches have remodeled to become handicap accessible. We have Defensive Driving classes held at our church because we are handicap accessible.

    My question is does anyone know of any funding we could use for our repaving project?

    Thank you.

    Ruth

  • This is an odd question. I was thinking of starting up a parking space business where a church would allow me to use a few spaces during the week for people willing to pay for the parking space. I am willing to donate a % of what I receive from the people renting the parking space to the church. Is this something a church can allow?

  • concerned says on

    Any suggestions on signs to post in the parking area about being on church property without permission or when participating in non-church related activities, such as the new Pokemon Go. I wonder about liability and issues this game will cause for our preschool should it draw a person with a criminal history.

  • I serve as captain of the parking lot team at the Marianna, FL Campus of Rivertown Community Church. Our Pastor Paul smith has a great phrase, the longer you have attended RCC the further away from the front door you should park. This simple act of placing the needs of others above yourself is a big deal to people who attend for the first time.
    There have been times when I have felt that waving at car drivers as they arrive is not a meaningful service, but on a regular basis I get the questions visitors have because I am the first person they come to and they can ask from their car where it is very safe to ask basic questions.
    We are in the process of creating guest parking, but the challenge will be directing them to them if they arrive after the bulk of the attendees are already parked.

  • We are in a situation that I am sure a good number of older “town” churches share. The church sits on the corner of Main St. and Broadway in our small town, and we have NO church owned parking. Some of our attendees walk from nearby, but those who drive in are limited to street parking or the city hall lot nearby. Thankfully, those public spaces are largely empty on Sundays and Wednesday evenings.

    How do you approach this issue when you’re completely landlocked and don’t have any parking to manage?

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