If I ever have a near-death experience and my whole life flashes before my eyes, most of the scenes will be from a church parking lot.
You can tell a lot about a church by its parking lot.
At some churches, the parking lot is always empty. Even on Sundays. Others are always crowded but only because there’s always busyness with endless activities. But the good ones, the churches where people are loving God and each other, always seem to have something going on in the parking lot. These are the churches where people aren’t in a hurry to get home or to some chicken restaurant as soon as the closing prayer is over. These are the churches where the good that has been talked about and sung about inside the building always seems to spill out into the parking lot.
Growing up, that’s how my church was.
It’s the place where my friends and I would hang around after a worship service to talk about what the pastor said or why the Hawks decided to give Jon Koncak so much money.
On Friday and Saturday nights it was where I would meet those same friends before we piled into a car to go to a movie or a baseball game.
That church parking lot was the place where older men like Al Autrey or Brent Benedetti came up beside me to give me a word of encouragement.
I don’t think that parking lot was ever empty. During the week it’s where parents dropped their kids off for school. At nights there was usually some guy who was just passing through and needed some help. He always seemed to find it in that parking lot. On Sunday mornings, it’s where some of the deacons hung out to smoke cigarettes during Sunday School.
In Acts 11, when Luke documents the growth of the church among Gentiles, he says that, “the hand of the Lord was with them” (21). I think that’s why my church parking lot was always so busy. God’s hand was on our church. And we couldn’t get enough of enjoying his presence together.
But some churches don’t like a busy parking lot. They put up signs to keep the riff-raff out of their parking lots.
No Thru Traffic!
No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service!
Those things can certainly keep a parking lot empty. But, there’s an even better way to protect your church from the potential lawsuits and inconveniences that come with thru-traffic, skateboards and kids with no shoes or shirts.
All you have to do is remove the hand of the Lord.
You can still tell yourself that you’re doing his work. You can even carry on with VBS and missions offerings. But just be sure to do it all under your own agenda. Even if you have to convince yourself and others that God approves of your agenda, make sure that yours takes precedent over his.
Eventually word of your agenda will spread. A lot of people will leave but that’s just because they don’t understand what you’re trying to do. But stick with it. Sooner or later, you’ll show up for church on a Sunday morning, step out into the parking lot and notice that it’s just you.
Not you and Jesus.
And your car.
And your agenda.
Sometimes, just for old time’s sake, I drive through my old church’s parking lot. There are a few more buildings in that parking lot but there are never that many cars there.
And it breaks my heart.