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The Nobel Prize for Parking Lot Volunteers

by Charles Krouse

As I was volunteering at church this morning, I was thinking about the purpose of serving in the parking lot. I’m talking about the people in the neon yellow vests who are typically seen walking around parking lots on Sunday mornings and directing traffic to open parking spaces. Growing up, I was given the impression that parking lot duty was given to men who were socially awkward and unable to communicate effectively with church visitors. If a boy was quiet, awkward, or a nuisance to the adults, then that person was relegated to parking lot duty. Being a parking lot attendant was not seen as a glamorous or sexy job. Now, as a grown adult, and as a man once again serving in the parking lot, those childhood impressions of parking lot attendees migrate to the front of my mind. And, I realized today that these impressions are simply a result of how I viewed myself as a boy. As a socially awkward, unwilling, and headstrong boy, I was unable to serve in any other capacity, and as a result, I established a perspective that relegated parking lot attendee to the lowest position on the hierarchy of volunteers. Who wants to stand outside in the rain, snow, sun, ice, and heat? Who wants to enter church service soaked in sweat because it’s 110 degrees in the sun, or with one less finger because it froze off from frostbite? Only the most noble, humble, and skilled volunteers can handle this. Parking lot volunteers are not the lowliest positions, but rather the most highly regarded. As I’ve matured, I have learned humility and how to find value in every small act. Oh how my perspective has changed! I think that there should be a Nobel prize for parking lot volunteers!

I think it’s one of the sexiest and most crucial positions at Sunday morning church. As a parking lot volunteer, you are the first person that a church guest sees. You are responsible for establishing the foundation of every person’s Sunday morning worship experience. Not many people can handle the enormous burden of providing the crucial first impression. A positive first impression will boost anybody’s mood, but a poor first impression will cause just the opposite. Greet a person with a smile, and the joy of that person’s morning just increased by one notch. Greet a person with a sour face and glum expression, and that person’s joy just decreased by two notches. That’s how our negativity bias works. That’s why an effective parking lot attendee is the most important volunteer position.

What should the job description of “parking lot volunteer” be? I mean, the point is certainly not to help people navigate the parking area and find parking spaces. I think that most people are competent enough to realize that the painted white lines in the large paved area indicate parking spaces, and the spaces occupied by other cars are not available. If people can park themselves at the grocery store and at a Walmart, then surely they are competent enough to park themselves at church. If helping people find a parking spot is part of the job description, then I think we missed the point. Similarly, I don’t think the point is to walk around the parking lot with hands in pockets, mumbling to oneself. Rather, the role of the parking lot volunteer is to welcome people with an enthusiastic wave and glowing smile. Give them a knock-out first impression that says you will surely feel welcomed, and you will be spiritually filled, at this church.

The Nobel prize for parking lot greeters would go to the guy who faithfully and enthusiastically serves every Sunday morning, greeting every church guest with a genuine smile and enthusiastic wave. He would perfect the timing of his wave, so that every person leaving and exiting the parking lot would notice his joy. For the guest that tries to avoid eye contact and avoid the social obligation to issue a return wave, the parking lot greeter would relentlessly pursue week after week, never losing hope that one day this guest would acknowledge his efforts. For the family van full of children, he would imitate the enthusiastic waves of each child, flashing the peace sign, a two-handed wave, and a side-to-side wave in rapid succession, and then conclude with a standard wave to mom and dad in the front seat. But he would not let the family van distract him from greeting the next person entering the parking lot, nor the next person after that. He would be skilled enough to give the simple bro nod to the guy with Oakleys, but also jump up and down to match the enthusiasm of the woman with perpetual energy. For the gearhead with the tinted windows, he would wave and flash his best smile, despite the fact that he receives no feedback through the dark windows. Every person would receive a unique greeting, personally tailored and guaranteed to increase his or her mood. Beyond the wave and smile, the Nobel prize winner might also be the person who plays music, and dances, and provides entertainment for all guests, while simultaneously greeting every person the aforementioned skill. Am I there yet? Ha! No - but I strive to be. And maybe one day, I’ll earn that Nobel prize.

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