11 Problems with Church Parking Lots

In these days of COVID, church parking lots have become more important; in fact, they’re where the worship service takes place in some cases. Here are some general parking lot problems I’ve seen, listed in no particular order.

  1. The parking lot entrance is not easily visible. Sometimes the location of the church building itself isn’t the best. At other times, the location is not poor, but the entrance to the parking lot is difficult to see from the road. 
  2. The landscaping is poorly tended. Uncontrolled weeds, dying flowers, uncut grass, and old mulch are not a good witness to the community.
  3. Not enough parking is available. Generally, the 80% rule about church facilities applies to parking as well: when 80% of the parking spaces are full, it is likely that attendance will plateau until more space is available. 
  4. No guest parking is available. The church that has no marked guest parking is inadvertently saying (a) we do not expect guests, or (b) we see no reason to treat guests in a special way. 
  5. Guest parking is available, but it’s hard to see. Unless someone directs to that parking or those spaces are immediately obvious, guests are likely to miss that benefit. Visitors aren’t typically looking for guest parking. 
  6. No greeters are in the parking lot. Without being overly intrusive, parking lot greeters can welcome guests, direct them to an entrance, answer questions they might have, provide umbrellas when it’s raining, assist families with children, and help the elderly.
  7. The church has parking lot greeters, but they’re not easily identified. Because the parking lot typically has a large number of people wandering around, greeters should be clearly identified by something like a vest.
  8. The traffic flow is poor, and no one is directing it. This problem is often more acute in congregations that have worshippers from multiple services entering and exiting at the same time. Parking lot attendants who direct the traffic can make a big difference.
  9. The walk from much of the lot to the front door is long, and the church provides no shuttle option. Those arriving later than others frequently find open spaces only in the distant areas of the lot, and the walk is long. A golf cart might be a wise investment for this church.
  10. The church provides no security in the parking lot. An unattended parking lot during a worship service is regrettably an open invitation for thieves. 
  11. No one is praying for this ministry. This work is just that – a ministry – and churches should prayerfully and wisely recruit workers to do these tasks. Moreover, they should commission these workers and pray weekly for them as they serve God in the parking lot.

Does your church have a parking lot ministry? What other problems have you seen? What effective ministry ideas might you share?  


  • Robin G. Jordan says:

    Inadequate parking space can stifle the growth of a new church plant. It can also hamper the growth of an existing church. I have been involved in a number of new church plants. One new church plant in which I was involved began meeting in the club house of a local tennis club. It quickly outgrew the limited parking space of the tennis club. Attendees were forced to park on the streets of the subdivision in which the tennis club was located. The residents of the subdivision complained to the board of the tennis club and the new church plant was forced to find a new meeting place. It rented space in an office building and then an empty storefront. Because the parking lot of the store front was not very large, the new church plant also leased the parking lot of a nearby garage as an overflow parking lot. The garage was a short walk from the store front. Parking problem solved, right? No. Late-arriving guests did not know where the overflow parking lot was or even that there was an overflow parking lot. Oops! Someone forgot to put up a sign directing late-arriving guests to the overflow parking lot and a sign identifying the overflow parking lot to late-arriving guests. But thanks to the Holy Spirit the new church plant kept growing.

    Now in a growing new church plant you would expect church leaders to plan an extra-large parking lot when they planned its first building of its own, right? Having been a relatively small church for several years, church leaders still thought of the church as a small church. “We don’t need that much parking,” they thought. They did not plan for growth. That was a whopping big mistake!

    The Holy Spirit has other plans for the church. The church quickly outgrew its parking lot. A number of attendees were pushing for a contemporary worship service on Sunday morning. The church had a contemporary worship service on Wednesday evenings. This service was lay-led and the pastor only participated in the service once a month. He had agreed to the service on the condition that he did not have to preach at the service every Wednesday.

    When you start a new service, you are starting a new congregation. The pastor did not understand that.

    Those attending the Wednesday eveningservice wanted to start a similar service on Sunday morning. They wanted to worship on Sunday morning the way that they worshipped on Wednesday evening. They also wanted communion which required the pastor’s participation. Launching a contemporary worship service on Sunday morning made sense in terms of outreach. It would enable the church to reach and engage more people in the community.

    The pastor latched onto the idea, not as a way of expanding the church’s outreach but as a solution to the church’s parking problem. The congregation would have three services on Sunday morning from which they could choose. He made promises to the people who had been urging him to start a contemporary worship service on Sunday morning but he did not keep them.

    Launching a new service takes careful planning. You want the new service to have a good start. Good musicians are key to a successful contemporary worship service. The pastor used his son’s garage band. The band was not only unfamiliar with the repertoire of contemporary Christian music and praise and worship songs used at the Wednesday evening service but it was also unfamiliar with the older celebration songs used at that service. To top it off, the band had no vocalists! In a contemporary worship service the congregation follows the lead of the vocalists, not the instrumentalists, when it comes to congregational singing. The exception is when the band has a keyboard providing the melody of the song for the congregation. This band had electric guitars and a drum kit. It was a fiasco.

    I do not know from whom he got the idea but the next thing he tried was a children’s choir. He hired a music director with experiencing in leading children’s choirs. This needless to say did not go well with those who wanted to worship on Sunday morning the way that they worshipped on Wednesday evenings. Instead of a contemporary worship service the third Sunday morning service quickly morphed into a traditional worship service with a children’s choir. It led to tensions between these church members and the new music director. The new music directly eventually quit. It also heightened growing tensions between the same church members and the pastor. The pastor hired a new music director. But it became increasingly clear that the attendees of the Wednesday evening service were not going to get the kind of service that for which they had hoped and which the pastor had promised them. The pastor chiefly saw the third Sunday morning service as a solution to the church’s parking problem. He was not interested in expanding the church’s outreach with a contemporary worship service. He was accustomed to leading a “small church” and was not equipped to lead a larger church. By this time, however, the new church plant was a medium-sized church and was still growing.

    The point of this story is that parking problems can have unforeseen consequences. Among the consequences in this particular case was a serious church split and the eventual plateauing and decline of the church. When the church split, the parking problem was solved and the pastor did not have to undertake training in leading a large church and resolving conflicts, which the consultant had recommended and the bishop had endorsed. The church went from a rapidly-growing self-supporting church to a declining subsidized church.

  • Robin G Jordan says:

    “The Holy Spirit has other plans for the church” should have been “The Holy Spirit had other plans for the church.” When I tell stories like this one, I am saddened. I invested 15 years of my life in this particular church. The problems that I have described were avoidable. Good advice on how to plan a new building, including the parking lot for the building, and how to launch a new service and a new congregation with that service was available in the literature at that time. But you have to read the literature in order to take advantage of that advice. But if your church leaders do not read the literature and the pastor believes that he learned all he needed to learn in seminary and does not need to add to that knowledge, a church can become mired in what are avoidable problems. One thing I hope that your seminary teaches its students is to not stop learning once they graduate from seminary and to encourage other church leaders to read the literature, to go to work shops and seminars, and to play a well-informed role in short-term and long-range planning and that sort of thing. The church in question was at one time the fastest growing church in its denomination in the state. It was also one of the more innovative churches. Innovation did not come from the pastor but from the church’s lay leaders. The role that the pastor played was largely that of permission-giver. If he supported an idea, it got implemented. If he did not support the idea, it did not get put into effect no matter how good it was even though its effectiveness was well-documented. The denomination had a hierarchical structure and this structure influenced how decisions were made in the local church. In some denominations the congregation or other church leaders can be a significant obstacle to the implementation of workable ideas that have demonstrated their usefulness. In this particular denomination the pastor could also be a significant obstacle.

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