Friday, May 16, 2008

Parking or Passion

I keep reading that parking is one of the keys to a successful church. I wonder if that is really true!

What got me to thinking was a trip to the mall last week to pick up something. I had to park several rows out from the nearest entrance and it was pouring down rain. I noticed that there were cars parked in many areas of the lot a long distance from the doors. People had to walk at least a block if not more to even enter the building.

Why are people willing to walk that far to enter the mall? I think the answer is simple! There is something in there they are willing to make the journey to enjoy or experience. Anyone who shops at the mall knows that it doesn’t have most convenient parking or the best prices. I think there are a number of reasons that people go to malls to shop. One is that they hope that they will find what they are looking for when they get there. It might not be the cheapest available or the easiest to find but they will go to the malls because there is a good chance what they want will be there somewhere. They also go there so that they can see their friends or maybe make a new one. If you don’t believe me, sit in the middle of the mall sometime and watch people interacting with each other. And lastly they like to buy from certain stores because it fits the image they want to personify.

Many people come to our churches expecting to find something there! They expect to come and experience God or too connect with friends. They are looking for something special when they come. Sometimes they want to be there and remain anonymous. The one thing that they all come looking for is acceptance and a sense of hope for the future. One other thought, are they concerned about the image they will have if they become part of your church?

Are people not returning to our churches because there is no parking or is because they don’t feel there is hope that their needs will be met? What would happen if every member of our churches parked far enough away that there were always open spots for visitors? When I worked in a retail store in the city I was told that if I was found parking in front of the store I would be looking for a job. Those spaces where for customers. I find it interesting when I see key leadership getting to the church early so they can get a prime parking space. Or worse yet, a reserve parking place right by the door for the pastor and other key leaders of the church.

More importantly what happens when they enter the door? Even Wal-Mart has someone great you when you enter the store. I find that many people enter our doors and are so uncomfortable because they don’t know what is expected of them and what they did expect is not there. I am amazed how often those attending for the first time are ignored or even have negative comments about them. In leading a seminar on being a welcoming church I send the participants out to visit other churches and report back on the experience. In one case, a young lady was criticized by a lady about how she was dressed. We need to learn to treat all that enter our doors with radical hospitality if we want them to return.

The fact is that parking is not the reason our churches are not full! It is the lack of passion for making students of Jesus. When we begin to become passionate about inspiring people to build a relationship with Jesus and therefore teaching them how to connect with God our churches will overflow with people even if they have to walk a block or two. Does your church inspire people to walk?


Craig L. Adams said...

One difference would be that the Church is trying to spread the passion for Christ to people who don't currently have it. In the case of the church I'm presently serving, there is no other nearby parking. So, we have to provide it all.

Jeff Vanderhoff said...

Your commentary is very good, as usual. I agree with what you said about it being MORE than parking that we should focus on. As your post illustrates, however, parking is one facet that is a part of the mix. That's why retailers try to have employees park at the back. When customers check out a new store, trust me, parking is an issue. As is the cleanliness of the floors, the space between the aisles, the brightness level, the service, the signage, etc. And if enough of those things aren't to the customer's satisfaction, they will NOT return to that store, and they will tell all of their friends not to go there either. So it is with church, unfortunately. There are many aspects that are important, and we should assume, at the minimum level, that the spiritual aspects will be prevalent and done with excellence. But, the other things - ease of parking, the clarity of where to go, where to sit, what to do, etc. - are all important too, if we want to attract and keep new people with the hope of leading them to Christ.

Jeff Kahl said...

I think the Wal-Mart illustration is a good one (and not just because my buddy Jeff Vanderhoff used to work there!).

Not only are there greeters, but ALL of the employees throughout the store wear vests that read "How Can I Help You?" The concept is that it is never assumed that the customers know their way around the store, and that the employees should be willing to drop what they're doing in order to focus on the needs of the customer.

I wonder if it's possible to integrate that concept into the church: that when we members attend, we should be willing to drop our agendas to focus on those who are there as "customers."

Pamela said...

When I have attended the annoual conferences I have experienced the lack of hospitality even there. I came alone the very first time, knew no one, my pastor couldn't come and I arrived late because of transportation issues. I wandered around the campus in the dark trying to find the building I was to stay in and then during meal times, had difficulty finding people welcoming enough to let me share meal time fellowship. I felt very alone in a sea of faces. Clergy sometime forget to love one another and extend hospitality to each other as well. It needs to begin from the top (see how they love one another) and trickle down. Just a thought....I have been chewing on this issue before you brought it up, thanks for bringing it to the table