It’s possible for even the best-planned ministry to be stymied by a poorly-run parking lot. Often what keeps a church from growing is not how the ministry is presented; it's how easy it is to park or maneuver around the parking lot.
The fact is, if new people are going to come to your church, they will most likely drive. But most ministry leaders are so busy with the details of planning and preparing ministry activities they are often unaware what is happening with the church parking.
Ministers and church staff are usually the first to arrive to the church building and the last to leave, so they drive in and out of a mostly empty parking lot. This may be why many ministry leaders are blind to the possibility that their church parking lot may be frustrating church members and turning away visitors.
Unchurched people don’t have all the same motivations for and commitments to attending worship that church members have. In addition, going to a new church can be an intimidating experience for some people. Something as seemingly small as poor parking can be just the excuse needed to put off attending a church.
Five keys to a well-run parking lot
You can improve your church outreach, use advertising, even get your church members motivated to bring their friends, yet if you don’t manage your parking lot well, your impact will be limited. The good news is parking lot management is not rocket science. Here are five keys:
1. Provide adequate space for all the people who come to your church to park.
Many church architects recommend as a rule of thumb that you have one space for every 1.8 people attending your church. This number represents the average number of people in each car.
That means if you want to provide parking for 200 people, you will need around 112 parking spaces. Say you have 100 people at your church, but you have a goal to increase attendance to 150 people, you will need to make sure you can park at least another 28 cars.
Some researchers say if your parking lot is 80 percent full, people will feel your lot is "too full" and may not stay. Make sure you have ample room for new people!
2. Have clear signage with easy-to-follow directions.
Don’t overlook simple direction signs that can help people who visit your church. Make sure people can tell which doors to use for children’s ministry, the welcome center, sanctuary, etc. Make sure the signs are all accurate as well. Conflicting "one way" signs that inadvertently sent traffic toward a head-on collision are very confusing for guests!
Signs should also be visible to drivers. A children’s wing sign that is not visible from the perspective of drivers, but only to people standing on the grass across from the children’s area, won’t help newcomers navigate your lot and they may become frustrated.
3. Recruit and train parking lot greeters.
The experience of visiting a church begins in the parking like. That’s why greeters in a well-run parking lot are as important as greeters inside the building.
Sometimes new people will pull into your parking lot, and then lose their nerve to go inside. A parking lot greeter can wave to people and give a warm welcome as soon as they drive up. Sometimes a friendly greeting is just what the newcomer needs to find the courage to come inside.
Parking lot greeters also can help manage the flow of your parking lot and provide added security—features that will make your guests happy.
4. Make sure parking is provided for guests.
Set aside some choice parking spaces near the door and reserve them with appropriate signage for "guests." Assign greeters to help new people find these places.
Also encourage them to show a smile as they greet people. There’s nothing worse than a gruff parking lot attendant.
Don’t forget to inform your parking lot greeters about things going on inside the church building so they can answer visitor’s questions.
5. Provide easy access from parking lots to buildings.
Make sure you have a paved walkway from your parking areas to the building entrances. People walking in dress shoes (and high heels) won’t want to traipse across a grassy lot.
Also, keep in mind that not every parking space you count may be considered usable. Some parking spaces are hidden behind your building or are located in places that are far away from your entrances.
You can help by providing a shuttle to people who park off site. Encourage members to park furthest from the building in an effort to more readily welcome visitors.
Chris Forbes is the founder of MinistryMarketingCoach.comand also serves as the Marketing Evangelism Specialist for the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. He has served as the Interactive Media Specialist for PurposeDriven™ Ministries and as Media Strategist for the International Mission Board, SBC.