Typically, when we think of church parking lots, we consider issues of traffic flow, volunteer attendance, maintenance, and how many parking spaces we need to support our weekly guests. But during this COVID-19 season, we’re seeing a shift in thinking about parking lots.
They’re no longer merely a means to access the building. If your church has the luxury of a large lot, this expansive, open-air space can become an extension of the building and a crucial part of relaunching ministries in this COVID-19 era.
In the following post, church design experts, Aspen Group, share innovative ideas from their design team for how to maximize your church parking lot for weekly ministry during the pandemic and beyond.
Architect, Craig Dobyns, and Landscape Architect, Mark Underwood, have been hard at work reimagining new uses for parking lots. Using a site plan of a church in Illinois, here are their day-by-day inspirations for how to leverage your church parking lot to relaunch ministries in unique, safe ways.
Day 1 – Sunday: Drive-in worship
How might we be able to continue to gather inside or out in safe, healthy ways? Aspen explored the indoor question back when it looked like many churches would be going back to meeting.
But now, we’re seeing many churches around the country opt for outdoor innovations, including drive-in worship. This is a great way to make use of the vast space of the parking lot for churches that aren’t ready to open their doors for inside gatherings.
The event could be set up so the stage and screen back up to the building. Cars would be directed into rows toward the stage/screen for easier viewing and allow for an easy in-and-out traffic pattern after the service is over (or in case someone needs to leave early).
The screen could be repurposed or rented, and there are many options for audio—smart phones, radio stations, or simple speakers spaced throughout the parking lot (taking into consideration the surrounding neighbors and noise levels).
This concept doesn’t have to be reserved only for these socially distanced times. It could even be a permanent worship option for your church post-COVID if it worked well for your congregation.
Day 2 – Monday: Pop-up park
A pop-up park is a unique, temporary way to make the most of your parking lot. These outdoor spaces are perfect for parents and kids to gather and play at safe distances. The pavement could be marked in colorful geometric or animal shapes, to add a fun theme, and at the same time, create “safe zones.” These spots could also double as a traffic pattern for clear in-and-out access.
You could add umbrellas or canopies for shade, potted plants, and other natural elements to bring more life to the park. These pop-up parks could be visually appealing ways of attracting those in the community to your church, and at the same time, offer a welcome retreat for parents looking for a safe place for their kids to play.
Day 3 – Tuesday: Farmer’s market
Most communities host local Farmer’s Markets in their town centers. What if you were to host one in your church parking lot? This could be a great way to support local farmers, artisans, and businesses, as well as connect your church and community to great local products and people.
Canopied kiosks could be placed at safe distances in a central location within the parking lot, with sufficient parking surrounding them. The center walkway could be left intentionally wide to give room for people to move comfortably from kiosk to kiosk, without feeling crowded in.
The same way worship is part of a Sunday rhythm, these Farmer’s Markets could be part of a weekly rhythm that brings the neighborhood and community to you and gives the church an opportunity to minister to them.
Day 4 – Wednesday: Drive-thru prayer
Since COVID-19 forced us to distance ourselves physically from each other, we’ve learned to pray remotely – over the phone or on a video call. There’s something powerful, however, about praying together, even when we’re distanced safely. Parking lot drive-thru prayer meetings can be a simple solution.
This design shows a traffic flow diagram for how to host drive-thru prayer. Clear signage will direct people where to enter. Church leaders will greet them and direct them to drive to a “tent station,” where they’ll meet and pray (masked or at a distance) directly with a pastor, church leader or volunteer. This could also be a good opportunity for the church to give out care packages, books, or other church materials.
This is also a simple way to introduce those from the community who are new to prayer to interact comfortably in a prayer service. Even when in-person gatherings resume, those who do not feel they’re ready for gatherings might find this the perfect solution to get out and have safe community and prayer without coming into close contact with others.
Day 5 – Thursday: Outdoor dining
Restaurants have had to make intense changes during the pandemic in order to keep their doors open. They’ve had to rely on take-out and, in summer months, outdoor seating. What if you created an outdoor dining space in your church parking lot and partnered with a local restaurant that might not have patio space? This would be a great way to show your support to local restaurants and get the word out about them.
Perhaps you could host local food trucks to come for a pop-up event, with plenty of space for seating for the community. This space could also work for families or small groups who want a safely distanced space for an outdoor picnic. Be very careful to make the directions for how to remain at a safe distance clear to restaurant customers.
Day 6 – Friday: Pop-up community art fair
Another way to bring the church and community together and make great use of your parking lot is to create an art event on your property. This would provide opportunities for local artists and artisans to showcase their talents and give the community a chance to experience art and culture in an outdoor setting.
You could make it as simple as covered tables, spaced apart to accommodate individuals or small groups. If you want to create something more elaborate, you could use mobile trailers, connected by canopies, and marked with traffic patterns for a comfortable flow of traffic in and out of each trailer. Because of the portable quality of these units, they could be moved to different locations on the property or used for other church initiatives.
Day 7 – Saturday: Community events
Church parking lots can be the perfect place to host community events, such as a drive-thru back-to-school supply pickup event, or even serve as a pop-up venue for a weekly drive-in movie. Many towns have erected big screens and created makeshift drive-ins for the summer months. Could your church parking lot be used for a similar purpose or fill another need in your community? Use this option as a way to look for new opportunities to serve those around your church property.
The church parking lot beyond COVID-19
During this season of uncertainty, it’s easy to think of these ideas as temporary. However, many of these ideas could be adopted into your regular ministry line-up. Depending on your church’s unique DNA and the types of programs you offer, these outdoor spaces could be useful on days you don’t need full parking.
You might consider alternative pavement options. What if you created a sort of oasis in the middle of your lot with grass, landscaping, and seating, where people could rest during the week? This image shows how the future of your parking lot could transform to not just be about parked cars, but a permanent gathering space for the community and a key extension of your ministry.
These innovative ideas for your parking lot and outdoor spaces could open up your church to the community and reach people that you might not normally reach on a Sunday. Outdoor spaces represent a big way to increase ministry impact on your church property.
We hope these day-by-day ideas will spark innovative solutions for your church. Visit relaunch.church for more resources to help you reimagine your church facilities during COVID-19 and beyond.