My Bad Parking Lot Experience: Why First Impressions Matter


It’s hard to overcome a negative first impression. Your first gut reaction about a church, a business or even a person,  will determine how you feel about that institution or individual for a long time.  A while back I visited a well-known, fast growing congregation in Florida. I was not doing a secret shopper visit or a communication audit (some might find it shocking that I attend church without getting paid for), but I felt compelled to share with a staff member some of my impressions, specifically my run in with a parking lot attendant.

yelling man in parking lot church first impression

I was cutting it close to get to the church by 8:30 for their first Sunday morning service. As I tried to follow the serpentine of cones that led me around the back of the property and again back to the front, I realized that the cones were not there for the sake of the early crowd, since there were not too many of us. They were put down for the bigger crowds of the 10 a.m. service.

When I finally found a “first-time-guest” parking spot on the front row, I was happy to park near the door and run in for the beginning of the service. But as I close the doors and began walking away from the car, a parking lot attendant, whom I hope was a overzealous volunteer, yelled from 20 feet away, “hey man, you’ve got to move your car two rows back.”  “Why?” I asked. “Because this row is for first-time visitors only,” he quickly added. “This is my first time,” I rebutted. “You’re ok then,” he replied and turned and walked away.

A better greeting should have been, “Is this your first time with us?” I would have said, yes and he would have had the opportunity to be the first one to welcome me to the church. Had I said, “no, I’ve been coming here for a while,” he politely could have said, “that’s great, but we reserve these spots for first time guests so they’ll have an easy way to get in on time and hopefully have a great experience today.”

Instead, I spent the first ten minutes of the service thinking, “that guy yelled at me from across the parking lot and didn’t even say hello.” Ok. Maybe I’m a bit sensitive to these issues, but if you going to serve people, the parking lot is the place where it starts!

What’s your experience vising a new church or business? How was your parking lot experience?

  • Anonymous

    It was probably Joel Olsteens church.

  • Anonymous

    Why is it that we try to make church about people and their “experience”. Either the Holy Spirit is drawing them and they are sensitive to that or he is not and they are quenching the Spirit. If people are going to church and they are all wrapped up in themselves and how they are treated then it’s all about them in the first place and they are looking for solace in RELIGION that keeps them in the drivers seat not authentic Christianity.

    Shaping Churches around our American consumeristic ideals is not Christianity.

    This is very sad.

  • Dear Sad,

    I take your theology does not account for any personal choice. In Luke 14:23 Jesus tells his disciples to go into the highways and hedges and “compel” people to come in (KJV). I’m helping churches to do a better job at “compelling” people to come in by creating environments where we minimize barriers–such as parking issues or not knowing where to go–in order to effectively present them with the Gospel.

  • Mark jeffress

    I went to a mega church and had to park in what seems 2 miles away from the building. thankfully they had a parking lot cart that took us right up to the door. 

  • Cindytreadway123

    I was on the BACK ROW of the balcony (THE BALCONY!!!!!!!) and they told me I had to go to the front for the Chest of Joash…couldn’t step out of the way, couldn’t step out for a brief period of time….HAD TO GO TO THE FRONT….or I guess I would clog up the system.  (I left)

  • It truly is all a matter of wording, isn’t it? A VERY small, yet HUGE thing. For those of us that are word people, it’s a no-brainer, but for most of the world, saying it one way is the same as saying it the other. Truth. First impressions = huge.

    • If people understood how powerful a first impression is, they would take their parking lots, websites, appearance a lot more seriously.

      • Well, now, I want to go re-evaluate my website… 🙂

  • Sugar Pie

    I got to a megachurch w/ Parking Nazis.  They line up cones so you can’t go down certain aisles, usually the most convenient ones.  They smile, wave, and shake their heads “no” as you approach, pointin you to the left or right.  I can understand it if all the places are full and they are trying to save my driving around for nothing.  But half the places are empty!  They just want me to approach form the back side.  I wonder how many others they scare off?

    • Parking Nazis

      I am one of those so called  Parking Nazis for almost 15 years. To put a bit of a spin on this issue from the “other side of the fence” We pray as a group each Sunday prior to heading out to greet/meet and park. The summation of our prayer Lord give me a willing heart, a smile on our faces and ” patience”. Things are done in the Parking lot for a reason. Cones for Safety, traffic floow and full lots. Signs such a no parking for safety and traffic flow, handicap parking for those who are handicapped and guest parking for guests. We have signage to alert those guests who are coming on campus to put on their 4 ways so that we can greet and give direction.

      The issue > many of those who are coming on campus do not change their attitude or driving habits just because it is Sunday. They ignore instructions, use no turn signals, drive around pylons, park in handicap areas with no handicap parking plate/signage and because they arrive late for the service they feel they can park any place ( and they do).  When leaving the parking lot and the Nazis are trying to create a smooth flow of traffic some already have their cell phone glued to their ear and do not move with the flow and the Nazis has to make motion or raise their voice to make them move. I could go on and on but hopefully you now see what we do and why and the issues that we face.

      There must be rules for safety and well being of all not just a few.

  • AnnJones

    We visited a church for Easter Sunrise service when I was 8.5 months pregnant. NO ONE spoke a word to us. When I asked where the ladies’ room was, the gal just pointed. I had a very obvious conversation starter, and we have always remembered that morning with disgust.

    One other morning, when our son was several years old, we visited another  church where no one spoke to us. Then we got the standard form letter from the pastor telling us what a friendly church it was.

    Both times, I told the pastor what I thought!!

    • Ann, I’m glad you did. Most visitors just don’t come back but never let the pastor know the reason. Feedback like that is very important. Most churches see themselves as “friendly.” The truth is very few are friendly to those outside the church. Sure they all love each other but the newcomer has to break in first before being accepted.

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