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.
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?