I went to a Colorado Rockies baseball game the other day. Parking next to Coors Field was $20. It offered the convenience of being close to the stadium, a shuttle, and a quick getaway after the game. Plenty of people were putting up the $20. Conclusion? Parking IS important to guests!
It would appear, however, that this most basic of First Impression experiences is often overlooked at church. Here is what I mean:
The parking lot entrance is unclear. Just because you know where to pull off the road into the lot doesn’t mean that your guests will. A lack of signage at the entrance could easily send a guest driving around the block for a second try, or slamming on his brakes in traffic to avoid missing the entrance that suddenly appears from behind a bush, or entering the lot in the wrong place and parking in an undesirable location as a result. Solution: clearly visible parking entrance signs.
The parking surface is problematic. Dodging potholes and mud holes are not exactly a great way to treat a guest’s car or new shoes. And if parking stripes and directional arrows are not maintained, what you get is driver frustration. We’ve all been there on city roads but that is not reason enough to make your guests suffer through it. Drainage and runoff and gravel surfaces can be equally disconcerting; imagine sitting through an hour plus of worship with cold, wet feet. Solution: improve and maintain the parking surface.
Limited guest parking. Just because guest parking is available doesn’t mean that enough guest parking is available. Have you monitored the number of spaces used for guest parking? Two spaces can fill up quickly if six are needed. Oh, and guest parking spaces filled by church member vehicles is kind of self-defeating, isn’t it? Watch out for that, too. It happens. Solution: provide the number of guest parking spaces appropriate for the number of weekly guests.
Guest Parking with inadequate signage. You have guest parking and you know exactly where it is. Right? But, guess what? Your guests don’t. If there is no signage at the entrance to the lot alerting a guest to special parking for them and also directing the guest to the spaces, it is likely the guest will park in the first available parking space and may never even know that guest parking was available to them. And when that happens, the guest is quite possibly further from the desired entrance, unable to see signage into the building, and away from parking lot greeters that could assist them. Solution: place signs near entrances to the lot that direct guests to guest parking.
Unassisted traffic flow: Lots of cars all showing up at the same time, 10-12 minutes before the service begins on a Sunday morning, can create anxiety for the guest already concerned about successfully transitioning into the church. Finding a space, avoiding other cars, staying on time only intensify the anxiety. Solution: provide official parking attendants to smoothly direct cars into available parking spaces.
Inadequate passageways. To leave a guest to squeeze between cars or to walk through a rush of distracted drivers looking for the last parking space on the row or to gingerly navigate a snow covered sidewalk on a long walk to the building is not only a safety hazard but a poor beginning for a church experience. Solution: Insure that sidewalks, ramps, etc. provide clear, direct, and safe passage to the building from the lot.
No signage into the building. Church buildings have lots of doors. Not all of them lead to the right place. Leaving a guest to pick and choose the door to enter can lead to bad results. Solution: provide signage at the parking lot into the building at the preferred guest entrance.
Parking lot disconnect. It might be concluded that the parking lot is not the church; or to say it another way, it is just parking to get to the church. The accompanying notion is that guests will get loved, served, and appreciated when they get in the church; in the parking lot, they get parked. Parking is for cars, period; ministry will happen in the building. But leaving ministry out of the parking lot is shortsighted; from the perspective of the guest, the moment they arrive on the church parking lot, they are at church. So, what the church does on the parking lot is very much a part of the guest experience at church. Solution: provide parking lot greeters at guest parking to provide a warm reception, simple directions, and church hospitality.
Each of these solutions can be scaled and suited to your church’s unique parking scenario. Obviously, no two parking lots are alike and the volume of cars and guests in those lots vary accordingly.
But this remains true for all: the parking lot experience plays a significant role in creating positive first impressions on guests. Don’t believe it? Remember, people will pay $20 just to park for a Rockies game. Do your best when you park your guest!!!