The Ten Commandments of Church Parking Lots

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.

Posted on March 9, 2016

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • Ken Stone says on

    This sounds like our parking team at our church (Southern Illinois WorshipCenter )

  • Dr. Rainer,

    As a pastor, I subscribed to #9 for a long time. But at the church where I am now, we are downtown, and all of our pastors have young families – 3 of them with 3 kids or more. Our wives are often getting all those kids in and out of the car after dark, and they are often some of the last to leave the church. For that reason, they are in pretty vulnerable positions at times. Not long after I came to this church, there was an angry man (whom, after our church providing benevolence for him many times but finally informing him that we would not continue) who made a statement against me that was false and somewhat threatening.

    Some of our parking for Sunday is actually municipal parking that is technically off of our campus. Our pastoral families sometimes had to use this parking, but if parking there would not be helped by any trespass warnings we might give against belligerent folks like this angry man. For that reason, I changed my position on pastoral parking spots and provided just one for each pastoral family. I explained this to our church, and everyone I’ve talked to has agreed about it. I am often self-conscious about this when pastor friends visit our church, but I want to protect our pastoral families.

  • Really? Most of the church parking lots I see are full of 30-60k dollar cars and trucks and people so large they can barely walk across the lot. The US church system is broken. Topics like this, irrelevant, are talked about all the time in churches. Pagan Christianity by George Barna might be a good read for you. Respectfully.

    • They should be talked about by the Team/Committee/Group who is accountable to maintaining the facilities. It’s important stuff. They need not be in sermons and a burden on Elders or those in Spiritual leadership, for sure.

  • Lisa Cox says on

    There is a Presbyterian church diagonal from our church on the other side of our Central Park (two blocks). I regularly joke that I have to, more often than not, park closer to the The Presbyterian church than my First Baptist Church so I might as well just pop in there!

  • Randy Perkins says on

    You are absolutely correct!
    One of our deacons saw a young mother with children driving around our parking lot without finding a place to park. Before he could get to the car she drove off. He shared this experience and his great disappointment. His commitment led to an intentional parking and greeting team. The leadership of the team evaluated our needs and developed a vision and strategy. The team consists of four Sunday teams. Each team serving once a month and rotating the fifth Sunday. The ministry consists of parking lot greeters, sidewalk assistants, valet parking for senior adults and challenged individuals, Welcome Center servants and escorts to Bible study classes, nursery, and worship. We want people to know they are important and welcomed.

  • Jeff Hodge says on

    “Are parking lots the most important facet of our ministries? Absolutely not. “. I agree BUT they are the first thing that visitors see. Thanks for th article.

  • Our church meets in the “downtown” area of small town. We have no Parking of our own, but we are blessed to have permission to use a public, community parking lot adjacent to our church.

    Some of these ideas we can certainly implement. Some of these commandments, we simply have no control over (speciality spots, providing handicap, and even guest spots). Any ideas on how to incorporate some of these principles in our situation?

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I bet the city would be fine if you used mobile signage to designate each of those type spaces during church services.

    • jonathon says on

      >Some of these commandments, we simply have no control over (speciality spots, providing handicap, and even guest spots).

      Talk to whoever manages the parking lot about your group using “portable signs” for specific needs, putting them up 2 hours before an event, and taking them down 1 hour after the event is over. (In this discussion, be very clear, and precise in the definition of “start of event” and “end of event”.)

      Depending on the size, and shape of the parking lot, it might be possible to create one or two temporary rows of handicapped only parking, and still have enough spaces for the rest of the congregation.

  • Great article! It’s these seemingly little touches that speak hospitality and set churches apart. Our church does does all this very well and we call it the “parking lot ministry team”. We have a section near the door for “first time guests” and abundant handicapped parking, too. There are even greeters in the parking lot with umbrellas on rainy days. Everyone who pulls into the parking lot gets a smile and a wave from a parking lot greeter.

  • No. 4 can be a major problem when your congregation is 80% senior citizens and your facilities were built back when that group was young ! Handicapped access is abysmal.

    • Very good point Russ. What does a church do when the congregation is a majority senior citizen? By that time the “my parking spot” mentality becomes engrained.

  • Walk around on it at night and make sure it is sufficiently lit. There is reflective paint (and reflectors) to show lanes at night.

    If your parking lot is paved and you are out in the country, please try to make sure that no power lines run across it and that it is lit from the perimeter. This will allow it to be identified and used by a med evac helicopter. Have someone who ems can call if they need the lights on in the middle of the night.

  • Beverly Schlomann says on

    thank you for posting this important topic! I am glad you pointed out #9. In the church my husband pastored, we had an “unwritten rule” that pastors, staff, elders — parked out in the gravel so there would be ample parking for guests. One outgrowth that made me smile was to see other leadership (SS teachers, small group leaders) started parking in the gravel as well — without being “told” — because they caught the importance of serving and making room for guests. “Living our faith, sharing our life” is demonstrated in so many different ways. . .

  • D Alban says on

    Literally was just having this talk yesterday and the importance of it! The visit doesn’t start in the pew, it starts in the parking lot. Thanks for confirming!

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you as well.

      • I never thought about how pleasant and welcoming it is until we started attending the church we have now joined. The parking lot and Greeting Ministry is very friendly, sincere and welcoming!

      • Theresa DuBose says on

        Where then should the minister park??

      • Is this a serious question?? I’ve been a pastor for 20 years and never had a reserved spot. I actually park in the farthest spot on our lot, but any space that is open to everyone else will work.

      • I love that this is a blog on the church parking lot. Thanks so much for writing on this concern. Our church has a parking lot ministry executed by the Trustee ministry who also has on a florescent jackets to “earmark” who they are. My inquiry is about “no reserved” parking spot for Pastor and spouse. Is that really appropriate not to have a designated space when the congregation is quite large? I understand that any and each space should be accessible for anyone but what if the pastor’s family has a relatively young,elderly or disabled family? Should they have to walk like everyone else?

      • Ummm… anywhere a member would park.

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