February 01, 2018 by: Ben Heimsath

Modern churches have consistently been planned to accommodate transportation based on the personal car. Church promoters have advised congregations to provide an abundance of parking spaces, as many as one space per two seats in the assembly. This has resulted in most new churches filling their properties with oceans of asphalt.

I've blogged before about innovative transportation but things are really heating up! Today, Uber, Lyft, and a coalition of major cities have signed on to a visionary document, “Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities.” It may seem impossible that cutting-edge transportation trends might have any impact on churches. But radical changes in transportation will spur major changes in the way cities develop and the impact on churches is not too far away.

Toyota was recognized at the 2018 CES for its e-Palette concept vehicle. With no driver and no steering wheel, this concept car will provide an alternative to both mass transit trips and drives to the corner grocery store. CEO, Jim Hackett of Ford Motor gave a presentation all about the city of the future. With so few privately-owned cars, he predicts new uses will be found for the streets we currently use for roadways and parking.

self driving google car

Google tested its fleet of self-driving cars for a long time in Austin.

Other coalitions of city and transportation groups are coordinating their efforts to promote innovative transportation and urban infrastructure. The National Association of City Transportation Officials released its “Blueprint for Autonomous Urbanism,” expanding on the themes of redesigning public spaces with the widespread application of new technologies.

“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” Joni Mitchell

 Church Parking Lot

Most modern churches plan for maximum parking.

It’s about time those of us who plan for churches rethink our automobile-only approach. What happens when church-goers arrive in self-driving cars? Those cars might drive off to a distant location to park themselves. Or maybe, like Uber and Lyft, church-goers may simply call up a driver to deliver them back home after services. How differently will churches function when elderly or mobility-impaired members can rely entirely on technology to transport them door-to-door?

By rethinking car-centric site planning, new opportunities may present themselves now or in the not too distant future. For example, a covered drop-off may alternatively serve as a gathering space. When self-driving cars are summoned for drop-offs and pick-ups, then in between the covered drop-off may be an actively programmed space.  Churches may consider adding charging stations for electricl vehicles.  As a result, the church may become a place for drivers to stay and feel welcome as they wait for car charging.

Any church in the early planning stages should take a close look at how they layout parking and automobile circulation. We already encourage churches to explore shared parking arrangements with surrounding businesses or public uses. For new developments, I would recommend thinking broadly before expanding parking or placing new buildings, drives, and parking areas on undeveloped sites.

Transportation/ Master Planning/ Church Site Development/ Church Change