This is the first of five chapters in a 25 part blog series titled: The Five Elements of a Fully Implemented Connections Strategy, published over a five week period. Everything I have posted here is the result of my own personal experiences, from serving on church staffs, volunteering as a lay leader, and being brought in as a paid consultant. It is my hope that these posts will help you and your church get better at connection with guests, not simply to increase your attendance and membership, but ultimately to grow the body of Christ. Implementing a Connections strategy (or “Assimilation” strategy) is a long term process, and one that relies on a culture of continual improvement. This chapter has four entries, which will all be linked below the post as they are published.
1.3 Your Parking Situation
We need to discuss your parking situation; your parking lot is the first experience a guest has on Sunday. This is a unique conversation for every church location. Some churches have one lot, and some have multiple lots. Some churches own their meeting space, some rent it 24/7, and others use it only a few hours a week. Some are in rural and suburban setting where a parking lot is expected, and others are in downtown/urban environments that require parking on the street or in paid spaces in a lot owned by a third party. Whatever your situation, parking at your church is the first encounter for a guest that is visiting you on a Sunday or any other gathering time. Use it to your advantage (dramatic pause…) or ignore it at your peril.
Your Parking Team:
Almost every church I have ever visited has some kind of greeting presence in their parking lot. They wave people towards the best parking spaces, and they may even direct traffic in and out of the lot (or hire Police officers to do so) depending what the parking situation looks like.
Your parking team are guaranteed to be the first faces guests see on a Sunday, along with your Greeters at each entrance, and the rest of your Guest Services team just inside the building. Remember: we are talking about FIRST IMPRESSIONS. Here are some best practices to review:
Provide Orientation To Your Parking Lot Team. Take some time to evaluate your parking situation, spend a morning with your teams, talk to the key leaders, and establish a guest focused strategy to make the best first impression possible.
You Want Your Team To Do This:
- I suggest your teams are up and running 30 minutes before the service starts, and keep working the lots at least 15 minutes after the service begins. Guest families (and a lot of other families) tend to be late, which I’ll unpack in another chapter.
- Be attentive, smile, and wave as people enter the lot.
- Stay off their phones (yes it is ok to set your fantasy football lineup).
- Be helpful to people when opportunities arise.
- Walk families to the entrances.
- TRUE STORY: I visited Church of Celebration Metro in Prosper, TX on a rainy Sunday and witnessed pure gold in terms of a guest focused parking team. While the rain poured down on parents unbuckling their young children, a team of young adults equipped with wide golf umbrellas ran up to seemingly every vehicle as they parked and walked people to the church entrance to keep them dry. It was a really nice touch and said a lot about how that church values guests.
- NOTE: Several churches have signs instructing guests and/or families with small children to park in a designated area, or simply put their flashers on so the parking team knows who they are. In response, the parking team can make sure they get a good parking space, give them a quality welcome, and provide any help needed getting to the entrance. Remember: we are talking about FIRST IMPRESSIONS.
You Don’t Want Them To Do This:
- Let team members stand there like statues in the parking lot, staring expressionless while checking phones, and always looking past every vehicle that drives by.
- Ignore families walking in the parking lot, even ones that are 5 feet away.
- Stand in the same driving lanes the entering and exiting vehicles need to drive in so that people actually have to swerve and drive around your motionless, expressionless, unhelpful volunteers.
- NOTE: This is more a leadership problem than anything else, and while you just KNOW it isn’t your church, I am compelled to admit I see this often. Your volunteers don’t generally sign up and commit to something just to mail it in. So leaders, this one is on you. Provide orientation, and whenever possible pair your parking lot team members together so they’re talking, laughing, and staying alert together.
- Another TRUE STORY: A church parking lot greeter once handed one of my relatives a voucher for a free drink at their coffee bar. Cool idea for guests, right? When the greeter learned my relative had visited the church once a year or so prior to this moment, he promptly reached and took the voucher back from my relative’s hand and said it was only for first time guests. Sounds hilarious, but only if you want your church to be the punch line of the joke.
So… the word of the day is: Orientation. Your volunteers are good folks, and you as the leader want them to succeed. You have what it takes to make your teams great, and this entire five chapter, 25 part blog series is for you! Remember: we are talking about FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Your Parking Lot:
- Lighting: If you own your lot, light it up. Make sure it is well lit at night. This will always be well worth the investment (not cheap) and gives so many people peace of mind. There are a lot of people who will not go near your building if it is dark and creepy to them at night. If you’re still confused: If your lot is dark at night people aren’t even going to consider coming to stuff. You’ll get some regulars, but not guests.
- Pedestrian Safety: Once people park, can they get to your entrances without walking through muddy spaces or snowdrifts? Depending how your parking lot is built, is there a way for families to safely cross driving lanes and get to the building? Do you already have or need to consider painting some crosswalks? Is there a volunteer presence to help direct traffic and assist families with small children or anyone else who can use a hand?
- Keep It Clean: Early each week before anyone even considers coming to church, have someone inspecting the grounds for trash and debris. In my time I’ve seen it all: Broken glass, discarded trash, empty beer cans, condoms, dirty syringes, dirty diapers, animal carcasses… you name it. All the debris has to be gone, the snow plowed and shoveled, the ice melted, and the outdoor trash cans emptied. Keep it clean. Remember: we are talking about FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Your Parking Spaces: There are laws that mandate how many handicapped spaces your parking lot must have and where they need to be. But after satisfying the established laws in your community, consider some other spaces as well.
- Guest Parking: Reserve some spaces for your guests. Buy signs for these spaces if you own your lot. Put them near the main building entrance(s).
- Expectant Mothers/Families With Small Children: Make it easy for families to get in to your building and then out of the parking lot. Small children don’t always run in the direction they need to go; Sunday mornings can be hard for parents. So, lets keep the distance from the car door to the church entrance as short as possible. And as my wife and mother of three will tell you, pregnant moms get sore in their feet and in muscles they weren’t aware existed a few weeks ago. Let’s make church a place that’s easy for them to get in and out of.
- Staff/Core Leader Parking: Have your staff and core leaders park in a designated area, to free up the closest parking spaces for guests, families with children, and whoever shows up early enough to get one. NOTE: If you have older volunteers or someone who for whatever reason needs to park close to the entrance, make the exception, every time. These are best practices, nothing more. Remember: we are talking about FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Next: 1.4 Strategic Introductions
Main Series Page: The Five Elements of a Fully Implemented Connections Strategy
Element One: First Impressions