Sunday, July 31, 2016

Walmart Doesn't Have Visitor Parking

There’s been much talk about visitor parking at churches. Some people are very thrilled with the idea. Some people…not so much. I rode past one of Sikorsky’s buildings the other day and saw a whole row of visitor parking. I jokingly said that we should paint the visitor spaces at church purple, to match the visitor card. But what I noticed about Sikorsky’s visitor spaces was that it was obvious that they were visitor spaces. The background is blue, not purple, but it makes them stand out. It is helped by them being vertical, instead of horizontal. If we’re going to do visitor parking, this may be something to think about. And, I’ll have to say, I’ve read some things that make some very good arguments for visitor parking. Thom Rainer mentions parking in his article “5 Things the Unchurched Notice at Your Church.” So keep in mind, that regardless of what I say here, visitor parking may be a very good thing to have. But let me present a different point of view.

Walmart Doesn’t Have Visitor Parking

As I rode past the Sikorsky building, a question popped into my head, “Why does Sikorsky and companies like it have visitor parking, but Walmart doesn’t? And why is visitor parking such a big deal for churches, but not for Walmart?” Granted, it is easy enough to make the case that churches are confusing places, with buildings going everywhere, while Walmart is just one building, with obvious entrances. As it turns out, the Sikorsky building is one building, with a very obvious front entrance, but it has visitor parking.

If you don’t know what Sikorsky is, they make helicopters. Their parent company, Lockheed Martin (which recently acquired them), is something of a one-stop shop of military and government equipment and services, with a few related civilian technologies on the side. This is where a big chunk of your tax dollars go, after they pass through Congress’ hands.

You know what Walmart is. Walmart is that place where people wear their pajamas, because they’re rushing out to pick up something and they don’t want to take the time to get dressed. We joke about that sort of thing, but I suspect that tells us something about the difference between Walmart and Sikorsky, and why Walmart doesn’t have visitor parking. Notice in the picture that Sikorsky has a sign on the door that is a couple of paragraphs long. I didn’t stop to read it, but what I think it says is that guns are not allowed in the building and the company reserves the right to search and seize the belongings of anyone who steps through those doors. I didn’t go inside, but I’m certain that is a desk inside at which there are a couple of armed guards tasked with making sure that no one goes in that building who doesn’t have the appropriate badge. If you happen to be a visitor, you won’t be greeted by someone who says, “Let me show you to where you are going.” Instead, they will ask questions like, “Who are you here to see?” Then they will call this person, to come escort you. You won’t even be able to go to the restroom without an escort nearby. This is the kind of company that has visitor parking.

Walmart, on the other hand, is the kind of place where they welcome you inside. They don’t check badges. They actually encourage you to grab a cart or a basket and to wonder around. They actually want you to handle the items on their shelves. They encourage you to taste stuff. They don’t care how you dress. They want you to feel at home in their store. And yet, when you look at the parking lot, you can’t tell the cars of the visitors from the cars of the employees. Why?

Visitor Parking Isn’t for Visitors

Why do companies like Sikorsky have visitor parking? It isn’t so that visitors will feel welcomed and loved. Visitors to companies like this are kind of like employees, they’re just employees of different companies, or government agencies. They’re getting paid to be there, just like the employees are and if there were no visitor parking, they would still show up. The company is actually trying to discourage visitors, except for those who have a need to be there. That tells us that visitor parking serves a different purpose. What could that be?

Think about what happens every day at a building like this. Every morning there is a stream of traffic flowing into the parking lot, as the employees make their way to work. The employees park their cars and walk across the parking lot to the entrance, which may or may not be the front door. Now, add visitors to that mix, what happens? The visitors aren’t used to the parking lot, so they may drive the wrong way down a lane. They may not see a crosswalk. So, you have employees who take longer to get to work. You also have safety risks from the drivers who don’t know where they are going. So, visitor parking is for the safety of the employees and to save the company money.

Visitor Parking Says, “You have no part with us.”

Companies like Sikorsky have no qualms about singling people out and labeling them as visitors. They’ll do it in the parking lot. They’ll do it at the front door. They’ll even give you a special badge with a big V on it, so they’re employees know to quit talking when they see you in the hallway. To them, visitor parking is just part of the unwelcoming process. They want you to understand that, as a visitor, you’re there because you might be useful to them, but you are a second class citizen and the second they don’t need you, you’re out the door.

Walmart, on the other hand, wants you to feel welcome. They know that if you don’t feel welcome, you have other places you could be. They don’t single you out by telling you where you have to park. If you want to park where the employees park, that’s perfectly okay.

Are Churches Walmart or Sikorsky?

Sometimes I wonder if churches shouldn’t be more like Sikorsky. If you’re willing to be there even after we single you out and try to scare you away with threats of searching your belongings, you are probably the type of person who is willing to do something special to get in the door. But we tend to see churches more like Walmart. We want people to feel at home. Why then do single them out?