As a church, we have just a short time to make a first impression on a guest; seven seconds. Not much time to impact the thought and emotional reaction of these guests. Every “touch” point during a guest experience has the opportunity to build on the previous interaction—or destroy it. Every encounter and milestone of this first experience is critical … like building blocks. Without a strong foundation, the rest of the blocks find themselves less stable and tentative.
Assuming your first time guest has made the conscious decision to pull onto your site, their first seven-second encounter will be in your parking lot. Their first impression starts at the entrance of the parking lot and may continue until they reach your front door. Too often, church leaders think the parking lot is irrelevant and just a place to store the means of transportation used by the congregation. They see it as just commonplace, instead of a touch point and a place to impact people—and thus souls. Big mistake!
As you think about your church’s parking experience, here are three things that are foundational in making this the best seven seconds possible:
Have a Parking Ministry
This is a great way to accomplish two significant ministry initiatives for two very different groups. The first group this impacts is obvious … the guests. A vibrant, proactive, enthusiastic and welcoming group of people can lift spirits and defuse some of the anxiety that a guest may be experiencing. Seeing happy people waving, smiling (yes, Christians should smile), or even acting crazy has more impact than you might realize.
The second group that this impacts is your team. Many of the churches we serve have met in schools or other temporary facilities for years … and now they have a facility to meet in. During those years of being a “church in the box,” teams would show up on Saturday night or at the crack of dawn on Sunday morning to set up for worship. These people developed a bond and a kinship that can be infectious. The set-up team actually became their “small group” that loved doing life together. But what happens when you do not need to set-up every week? What do these people do? And let’s face it, most of the set-up teams are men … and they are not going to serve in the nursery—nor would we want them to. I have been on set-up teams with guys that were not yet Christ-followers, others that are new followers and others that are more comfortable doing physical labor. To not provide a similar ministry opportunity once you occupy a facility robs them of a ministry that they are comfortable performing—which can drive them away or make them feel unnecessary. By starting or expanding a Parking Ministry, you open up an opportunity for many of these people to serve.
See it as a ministry and not a mundane task
Do not see the “Parking Ministry” as just a functional activity but rather an opportunity to impact people’s lives. Not only are the above functions important, but if you believe that prayer is impactful, then your parking team should be praying for each of the cars entering the lot. Maybe praying for their first experience or praying for an issue they are confronting at that moment. Or maybe praying for peace—perhaps the family had a fight in the car on the way to church. The parking lot should be blanketed with praying people; it should be the largest prayer chapel on your campus. Help set the tone for the rest of their experience and see what happens.
Provide function and safety
Church parking lots are not like a retail center, even though many designers and civil engineers lay them out as if they were. In retail or other commercial applications, most of the vehicular traffic is spread out throughout the entire day. Cars pull off and pull on at different times during the day. But a church parking lot is much more similar to an event venue … more like a concert venue, theme park or sports complex. You have a lot of cars trying to enter and/or exit the site at the same time. And if you have back-to-back worship experiences, with fifteen minutes or less between services, you have a real issue. Having a succinct plan for how to best get cars on and off your site will not only reduce the amount of stress for the drivers, but will also provide a safer environment. If drivers are not attempting to navigate the parking lot on their own, the likelihood of mishaps is greatly reduced. And devise a plan not just for vehicular traffic, but for the pedestrians as well.
Please do not see your sea of asphalt as just a place to park vehicles. Be intentional and make it a safe environment that is bathed in prayer and enhances the experience of your guests. Sounds like a winner to me.