From Parking Lot to Pew: Turning Building Users into Worshipers


Many churches provide meeting space for community groups hoping that building users will eventually show up for worship. But for a church to reach new people through its facility, it must engage in an active, intentional process of building relationships with those using the building, according to Kay Kotan and Phil Schroeder.

Who is in and out of your church building on a weekly or monthly basis? Who uses the building? And what is your relationship with them? Many congregations allow groups to use the church and think that somehow by being in the building during the week those groups might somehow decide to come to worship on Sunday.

How do we expect that to happen? Will someone get up on Sunday morning and think because he or she attended a Boy Scout or Girl Scout meeting in a particular fellowship hall on Tuesday evening that he or she will suddenly have an interest in worship? At one time, this might have worked, but in today’s non-church-centric world, it is naive for us to believe this will happen.

Offering presence and hospitality

If a church is to use its facility to reach new people, it must be through an active, intentional process of building relationships with those who are using the building. We must be willing to offer our presence and hospitality in addition to the building.

Consider the example of Grayson United Methodist Church. Their trustees had to consider whether or not to let area homeowners’ associations meet at the church. They debated what to charge the HOAs to use the space. After a great deal of spirited conversation, instead of charging HOAs, the church decided to be evangelistic and offer the space for free and have someone available to greet and welcome the HOA members to the church. That same person invited the attendees to visit the church for a specific event if they did not have a church home. The diverse growth of that church can be traced back to those HOA meetings because the neighborhoods around the church were far more diverse than the church was originally.

From parking lot to pew

People from all over the community were visiting Grayson UMC, so church leaders decided that the HOAs would meet in the church’s sanctuary instead of some other space because they wanted people to be comfortable in the sanctuary as they learned the route from the parking lot to the pew. Too often, we put visiting groups in other spaces, but getting them used to the worship space may be the first step in getting them to worship!

This excerpt is taken and adapted from the book Small-Church Checkup: Assessing Your Church’s Health and Creating a Treatment Plan, by Kay Kotan and Phil Schroeder. Copyright © 2018 by Discipleship Resources, Nashville, Tennessee. All rights reserved. Used by permission. The book is available at Upper Room Books, Cokesbury, and Amazon.

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About Author

Dr. Phil Schroeder is senior pastor at Dunwoody UMC in Dunwoody, GA. Previously, Phil spent seven years on the Bishop’s Cabinet, where he served as the Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence. Phil taught Religious Leadership and Church Administration, as well as Evangelism, Preaching, and New Church Development as adjunct faculty at the Candler School of Theology. An author of several books, his most recent is his second with Kay Kotan, Launching Leader: Taking leadership development to new heights (Market Square Publishing, 2019), available on Cokesbury and Amazon.

Kay Kotan

Kay Kotan is the founder of You Unlimited, a credentialed coach, church consultant, speaker, and the author or coauthor of more than 35 books. She is a former Director of the Center for Vitality for the Arkansas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and served on the Missouri Conference's Healthy Church Initiative Executive Team. A recent book is Being the Church in a Post-Pandemic World: Game Changers for the Post-Pandemic Church (Market Square Publishing, 2021) available on Cokesbury and Amazon.

Be the Welcoming Church cover image of a smiling person warming embracing anotherLewis Center video tool kit resource
Be the Welcoming Church

Learn how your church can make visitors feel truly welcome and comfortable!

The Be the Welcoming Church Video Tool Kit will help you develop a congregation-wide ethos of hospitality and institute best practices for greeting newcomers, making them feel at home, and encouraging them to return. The resource includes engaging videos, a Study and Discussion Guide, and more. Be the Welcoming Church may be used for hospitality training or in adult classes or groups. more. Learn more and watch introductory videos now.