PARKING & It’s time to reimagine the church parking lot. What if it functioned more like a bridge than a wall?

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: Almosy two decades ago I helped a struggling church reach out to its community and begin to grow again … by using its parking lot as an outreach venue for basketball games, regular food giveaways, block parties, etc. The strategy of seeing the parking lot not just for the parishioners, but for the community too continues to take hold. Read this interesting article with many good ideas.

by G. Travis Norvell, Christian Century Magazine, 3/10/22.

In 1988, Walt Pulliam concluded his 13-year pastorate at Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Minneapolis and retired. In his last sermon, he told the congregation that the essence of their future hung on one word: parking. If only Judson could acquire space for parking, then folks could drive in from miles around and the church’s future would be secured.

Pulliam had every reason to believe in the promise of parking. During his tenure at Judson, he watched two nearby congregations, Bethlehem Lutheran (two blocks west) and Mount Olivet Lutheran (a mile southwest) grow by leaps and bounds. Judson, Bethlehem, and Mount Olivet all had a lot in common. They were city neighborhood churches with talented pastors, beautiful buildings, gifted musicians, engaged leadership, and visions for ministry.

Mar 23, 2022 issue

But parking was one thing the Lutheran congregations had that Judson did not. Judson’s footprint remained the same, and its membership contracted. But Mount Olivet and Bethlehem’s membership grew when their footprints did—especially when they bought the lots around them and turned them into parking spaces (89 for Bethlehem, 332 for Mount Olivet—yes, I counted).

Today these Lutheran congregations have at least five ser­vices each Sunday and multiple campuses in the area; they own and operate year-round camps, nursing homes, and counseling centers and offer a plethora of excellent ministries and services. From the outside it appears that God blessed Mount Olivet and Bethlehem Lutheran and let Judson Church wither.

I’m now the pastor at Judson. When I arrived, I proposed that the church needed to become more connected to our surrounding community. But I felt the presence of fear—both in the hearts of church members and in my own. I kept hearing three reasons why venturing out into the community would fail: we did not have enough parking for visitors and new members, we did not have the resources to attract and keep new members, and there was not enough time to turn the church around so that we could attract and keep new members.

I believed, however, that if you can transform your vision of parking, then space and time are a piece of cake.

Churches survived, succeeded, and even flourished 1,900 years before parking lots ever existed. Even most city neighborhood churches never had parking spaces when they began. The need for church parking lots emerged only after most of the members moved to the suburbs, away from the city neighborhood church, and drove in for Sunday worship services. Before they drove and parked, most church members walked, biked, or took public transit to church.

A parking lot is a flat, impervious surface with a single, temporary purpose.

Contemplate a parking lot for a moment. It’s a flat, impervious surface with a single purpose: the temporary storage of automobiles. These spaces for cars are designed only for those who can drive, excluding children, a good number of seniors, and many people with disabilities.

And a church parking lot is more than this. I invite you to stand in a church parking lot or imagine doing so. Notice your distance from neighboring houses, local businesses, or passersby. You are standing on a horizontal wall, an asphalt expanse that separates your faith community from its neighbors and community.

Read more at …

BLOCK PARTIES & Are we ascertaining needs or entertaining the community?

by Bob Whitesel D.Min., Ph.D., 5/12/16.

I encourage my students to spend more time in their ministry lives ascertaining the needs of the community rather than trying to entertain the community.

Often churches offer block parties, festivals, yard sales, concerts and the like as “outreach events.” But really they seem to me more like avenues for the church to boast in its presentational power.

As I’ve pointed out in the book ORGANIX one of the “signs of leadership in a changing church” is incarnational ministry, which means going in-the-flesh to connect with people one-on-one.

Here is how one student described her block party and my response regarding how to make it an incarnational event rather than an attraction no one:

“Lastly, we are planning on hosting FX (Family Experience) events several times a year, where jump houses and carnival-like games are coupled with a short, Biblically-based play. These have been wonderful ways to do community outreach at our sending church. Once again, these can be advertised through the virtual school newsletters, in mailers, and via strategically placed signage in the local neighborhood. During the actual FX event, short surveys can be handed out to those attending.” (bold lettering student).
Remember when you’re planning something like the neighborhood festival spend equal amounts of time on gathering information about community needs as you do setting up the bouncy house and organizing the games.
Thus, it seems like the “short surveys” are tacked onto the end – as an afterthought. This must be 50% of your energy, money and time because I know you agree with me that ascertaining needs is more important than entertaining the community.