At an earlier point in my life I was on staff at a large church that at the time held 5 services on a Sunday. Three in the morning and two at night.
Particularly in the morning we had huge traffic flow issues. If the first or second service went over in time by more than 5 minutes our parking lot would literally fall apart.
For that season our parking lot dictated a lot of our ministry, most notably the time element of ministry.
As I look back we did a number of good things to help minimize the problem, but it wasn't until we expanded our sanctuary and parking area that we could really relax and not feel pressured to push people out right after the service was done. I am sure this took a toll on the amount and quality of fellowship that normally occurred before and after the service.
Note that traffic flow and parking does not just impact a large church, but a church of any size. How it is handled at every church leads to many perceptions that people form.
Why does parking and traffic flow matter?
When I visit different churches as I do 30 or so times a year, my first impression after seeing what the facility looks like is the parking lot and traffic lanes.
I usually have an immediate insight into a number of things about the church and its ministry based on what I see. If the parking lot is full, I begin looking for clues as to how to navigate to find a spot to park. If the lot is empty or sparsely filled I wonder if I am in the right place, or if the person that invited me inflated the number of people that attend on a given weekend.
Now I am going to make a bold statement.
Every church should have at least one parking attendant and yes they should be wearing a safety vest.
Why would I make such a statement?
Surveys say that the average church on a Sunday morning has 186 people in attendance. Additionally, 50 percent of church goers attend a church that falls in to the top 10 percent of churches based on size.
Another way of saying the previous statement is that ½ of all church goers attend a church that has attendance of 350 people or greater.
Using the figure of 2.5 people per car, that means that the average church has 75 cars in its parking lot on a Sunday morning. That translates into 75 times parking attendants can share a smile, a warm welcome as well as help and instruction every week. For the top 10 percent of churches where ½ of all church attenders go, that first impression number is obviously a lot larger.
What does a well-trained parking lot attendant (or as I like to say, “parking greeter”) do?
- 1. Depending on the size of the parking lot and number of parking greeters they are directing traffic. The goal is to keep traffic flowing, moving.
- 2. A parking greeter helps keep the lot picked up and clean of debris. As traffic flow usually becomes an issue just before or just following the service a parking greeter has sometime before the people start arriving to canvass the parking lot and grounds and pick up litter blown in or left behind.
- 3. Parking greeters provide a feeling of and actual safety and security. I recommend that a parking greeter or two should remain present in the parking lot the entire morning. This will ward off any opportunistic thief that might look for the easy score of the contents of an unlocked car. It also wards off vandalism attempts and mischief of any kind.
- 4. I believe that the most important reason that parking greeters are there is to do just that. Smile and greet people. What an opportunity to make a first great impression on a guest. Immediately upon arrival they are greeted and have connected with someone who can answer some basic questions that they may have.
Some additional things on parking and traffic flow.
If you are geographically located in the north, you should provide valet parking for those who need extra help and care during those months when the parking lot is covered in snow and ice. I know a church where the Elders and Deacons run the valet service. They view Valet parking as a way to connect and to keep watch on the elder community. If they do not see someone on Sunday morning an Elder will give them a call just to make sure they are doing okay.
I have been at churches that have the Disney style golf carts that pick up people at or near where they park. I have also been to churches who's parking lot only holds a handful of cars so most parking must take place on the street.
I contend that no matter the size of your church, you need a ministry of active and vibrant parking greeters.