Danger lurks in parking lots. Fenders beware. But really, there’s a good reason to have a Church Parking Lot Party. There’s safety in having gatekeepers, traffic help, and warm smiles welcoming all the new guests strolling through the door. But there’s a lot more to it than just that. For now, let’s start with the warmth, the first thing those new guests experience from the Body of Christ.
WARMTH AND OUTREACH
Sometimes all it takes is a genuine hello. It chips away at the cold walls isolation builds. When new members come, they want to feel an openness. If they feel that, they’re more likely to really get involved and build trusted friendships. And the church family grows as the congregation connects. For visitors, it’s a whole slew of other opportunities.
I’ve seen the broken be healed. I’ve been the broken who has been healed. It started with a place to call home. With a church warm enough to make me feel wanted. So I stayed. My passion for Christ was cultivated, as well as my compassion. But there are times when it’s the opposite of my story.
Times when a stranger walks in, maybe not even sober. The stranger is obviously hurting. Yeah, ideally, the tone set at the gate would open up the chance to be a part of healing. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, it’s a violent person who walks in. Without people at the gate, it happens. The stranger brings a gun. And then this happens.
While healing is ideal, we should prepare for every case scenario. For that we need a few things.
Let’s start with preparing for the positives. We can talk danger later. To keep the warm atmosphere a church should have, you need volunteers who know what they’re doing. People who are willing to open doors, smile, hand out information, and just have a nice conversation. Those are the people you need. (Check out the link for help there.) Your volunteers deserve to be spoken to beforehand. To know what to expect. Some of them will be on the lookout for newcomers. Some will be there to direct parking. Some will be there to offer refreshments.
We should note that refreshments are bliss. Having some coffee available is a ministry in itself (here’s an article about that). Depending on your church, that coffee might go quickly. It’s nice to have someone who can refill it before it's gone. It keeps the social flow going, which keeps the warmth alive and everyone’s time at church the way it should be; relaxing. I’d recommend having some information displayed on a table nearby for the curious newbies. Probably someone to answer questions too. Questions about doctrine, membership, small groups, you name it.
Now the flow of warmth really begins outside the front doors, with the people helping park cars. Having support outside shows preparedness. Preparedness means safety. Safety means having I can relax vibes. That’s where conversations begin. And conversations are where ministry begins.
But there is one more thing to understand. Something which has saved lives…
Yes the church parking lot party helps keep cars safe. We all want to keep our fender benders to a minimum, especially at church, where nobody wants to be angry at anybody. But there is something else too. That other kind of danger I mentioned.
Violent individuals sometimes interrupt service. How do we handle that? Hill City Community Church in Virginia is a pretty solid example. Each year they have a retreat for the leadership team. Part of that retreat is bonding and unifying in vision. The other part is a seminar with an ex police officer. She teaches the team how to be alert for danger. How to handle dangerous situations. How to keep the congregation safe.
One way they do it is locking the doors a bit after service starts. It may sound odd to lock a church. But it’s kept them safe, being in a downtown area where gang violence has been reported. New people still come, they just come before the doors close or when they open again.
Alongside that, the gatekeepers are always on the lookout for unsafe situations. Keeping someone out who isn’t sober, even if it means two of the gatekeepers miss service to spend time getting help for the person is worth it. It is safer. And it is an outreach opportunity done right.
Not everything always runs smoothly. Ideally, people could park themselves and safely slip inside. But sometimes it's just dangerous. We should offer help and protection. Plus, walking into a strange building alone can be isolating. There shouldn’t be too much isolation in a church (meaning any at all really). Having a warm church parking lot party flow from outside (where you park) to the inside (where there’s delicious coffee) ensures safety, human connection right away, clear direction, and unity. There’s just too much outreach potential to pass up. And really, it does make a difference.
Now if those warmly greeted people want to give, it might be a good call to check out NewFire Giving as a tool to make it easy for them.