The Sermon Starts in the Parking Lot

My story is many years old, but its impact still lives with me today.

On a Sunday morning, I was walking outside the worship center and greeting people as they came into the church where I was serving as pastor. I saw a car moving slowly in the parking lot. The driver obviously could not find a place to park.

I walked toward the car. The driver rolled down his window and called to me by name: “Hey, Thom, where do you park around here?”

The man was a coach in the baseball league where I coached with one of my sons. I didn’t really know much about him, but I was glad to see him at church. I led him to one of the few available parking spots. He thanked me: “Thanks, Thom, I was about to give up and go home.”

A few months later, the man, his wife, and two of his older children responded to the gospel and became followers of Christ.

It is for reasons such as this one, I am committed to the practical aspects of ministry. Certainly, the Word of God and His truths are foundational and much more important. But to neglect practical ministry is to be unwise and, perhaps, even sinful.

Over the years, I have gathered untold volumes of information about practical ministries in churches. Let me share with you some of these lessons about parking lots through “ten commandments.”

  1. You shall have at least one greeter in the parking lot. That person makes an immediate impression on guests.
  2. You shall understand the 80% rule applies to parking lots. When the parking lot is 80% full, it appears totally full to a guest.
  3. You shall calculate your attendees per car ratio. On the average, two persons come together in a car to church. But that number can vary significantly by church, and it definitely affects how many spaces a lot should have.
  4. You shall have more than adequate handicap spaces. Do not limit these spaces to code requirements; exceed the requirements.
  5. You shall have more than adequate guest parking. Make certain you have at least one more guest spot than the highest number of guest cars you have for a given worship service.
  6. You shall have parking for needy groups in the church. Those groups vary by church. One church has several places for expectant mothers. Another church has spots for the “over 80” attendees.
  7. You shall not have an ugly, poorly marked parking lot. Remember, the parking lot is the first place your guests will see when they visit your church. What kind of first impression do you want to make?
  8. You shall not require guests to park in an obscure, far place. I preached at a church where the pastor told me to park in guest parking. I was blown away when I saw it was the furthest place from the church facilities, and it was poorly marked.
  9. You shall not have reserve parking for the pastor and staff. Those parking spots communicate privilege instead of service.
  10. You shall have clear and prominent signs in the parking lot. Good signage makes a good first impression. Bad signage does the opposite.

Are parking lots the most important facet of our ministries? Absolutely not. Not even close. But they can be used of God toward making an eternal difference.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources.  Prior to LifeWay, he served at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary for twelve years where he was the founding dean of the Billy Graham School of Missions and Evangelism.  He is a 1977 graduate of the University of Alabama and earned his Master of Divinity and Ph.D. degrees from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In addition to speaking in hundreds of venues over the past 20 years, Rainer led Rainer Group, a church and denominational consulting firm, from 1990 to 2005. The firm provided church health insights to over 500 churches and other organizations over that period. Rainer and his wife, Nellie Jo, have three grown sons: Sam, Art and Jess, who are married to Erin, Sarah and Rachel respectively.  The Rainers have six grandchildren: Canon, Maggie, Nathaniel, Will (with the Lord), Harper, and Bren. He is the author of twenty-four books, including Breakout Churches, Simple Life, Simple Church, Raising Dad, The Millennials, and Essential Church.  His latest book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, was released in 2014 by B&H Publishing Group.

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Recent Comments
Yea! You fixed it!
 
— Mr. Troy Reynolds
 
I just discovered this today and am looking forward to exploring the content on here. It looks like it could be very helpful. Just an FYI - in your paragraph on not putting out B+ material you have a typo. A little ironic. :-) The third sentence begins with "You time" not "Your time."
 
— Troy Reynolds
 
I'm lost, to say the least! As a new pastor, taking over a newly started church I have read just about everything there is to learn what I can do to grow the church. I truly beleive that those attending our church are friendly and sincere. So that can't be the issue. I have read all the comments to this article and I feel that most churches will never have a fair chance! We are a VERY small church, so we don't have a children's church (yet). So if a family comes and gets upset that we don't have a children's church for them to put their children into, we lose! We do provide things for their kids to do during the service and even have an option for their kids to be in a different room, if they don't want their kids to sit with them. We are also such a small church that we don't have a worship team/band/etc. Our worship music comes from music videos. The congregation we do have likes it this way, but of course we would love to have a worhsip team. So, if someone comes to our church and is upset that we don't have live music, we lose! The point I am trying to make is that when people come in with preconceived ideas of what a church should be like, they will never find a church home, unless they find a church who's goal is to entertain! Every Sunday our message comes from the Bible, so that can't be a complaint for someone, so instead, people leave the church and never come back because they want more from a church: they don't want friendly people who are following the Word of God; they want a church that give them something (a babysitter for their kid, entertainment, free gifts, etc.) I'm sorry if sound cynical, I truly want everyone to hear the Good News and learn about Christ's love, but if they come in looking for something else, then the church will always lose!
 
— JAG
 

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