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RVing on a Prayer: How to Stay Overnight In Church Parking Lots

Sometimes RV life throws you a curveball. You might even say your prayers while looking for a spot to park for the night. However, just because you see an empty church parking lot doesn’t mean you can legally park overnight. While the big man upstairs might not have a problem with it, local authorities might. Still, some churches allow overnight parking.

So how do you know when you can park in a church parking lot? Let’s help find an answer to your prayers!

The legalities of parking overnight in a church lot vary by the location. Churches are private property, and local ordinances can prohibit overnight parking. If you park in a church parking lot without permission, you could hear the dreaded knock on the door and have to leave.

While many churches are non-profit organizations, they’re also businesses. Some insurance policies limit a church’s ability to host overnight guests on their property. This is typically out of fear of a potential lawsuit should something happen during the overnight stay. To avoid any potential risks, many prohibit overnight parking on their property.

RV parked in church parking lot for overnight stay
If you’re praying for a place to park overnight, a church parking lot may be the answer to your prayers.

How Do You Find Churches That Allow Overnight Parking?

Unfortunately, the online database “Faithful Parking” is no longer active. This was an excellent resource for RVers and nomads to find churches that allow overnight parking. Finding these locations isn’t easy.

Some of the most extensive databases, like Campendium and iOverlander, do not have a filter for places of worship. If you’re specifically looking for a church, you have to first filter by free parking and specifically look for churches on the list.

Luckily, a popular overnight camping program, Harvest Hosts, has seen the potential for church parking lots and travelers. Keep reading to learn how they are changing the game!

Pro Tip: Get the inside scoop on How to Find the Best and Safest Overnight RV Parking.

Is Harvest Hosts Adding Churches to Their Membership?

Harvest Hosts is a membership program that partners with various businesses to host traveling nomads for the night. Thousands of locations all over North America have joined the program. The idea is for travelers to support the business by making a purchase or donation to show their appreciation for the hospitality.

In the past, most Harvest Hosts locations were farms, wineries, and even museums. However, Harvest Hosts added churches as a new category to their lineup. In September 2022, they announced that more than 200 church host locations have joined their community.

Joel Holland, CEO of Harvest Hosts, said, “We are proud and humbled that so many churches see value in partnering with us and have been able to use the additional donations to give back to their communities.”

So while you may not have ever imagined sleeping in a church parking lot, if you’re a Harvest Hosts member, it might be your next stop.

Screenshot from Harvest Host website
Check out Harvest Hosts to search for church parking lots you can camp overnight in.

Can I Call Any Church to Ask for Permission to Park in Their Parking Lot?

If you’re looking for a spot to park for the night, you can call a church and ask permission. Never just set up camp in a church parking lot. Trust us; always ask for approval before getting comfortable. Since many larger churches operate during normal business hours, you’ll want to plan accordingly.

Open Google Maps and look for churches along your route. Use the satellite and street view features to ensure the parking lot is accessible for you and your rig. If it is, call and tell them you’re passing through town and need a place to stay overnight. It’s best to keep your stay to only one night and let them know your intentions when making the request.

Not every church will be as welcoming or able to offer hospitality. If they do not grant your request, be respectful and move on to the next best option. You may be frustrated, but acting rude or disrespectful won’t help your situation.

European church with RV parked in front
Always ask permission before you park overnight in a church parking lot.

What Is the Etiquette for Staying Overnight in a Church Parking Lot?

Follow some etiquette if you can stay the night in a church parking lot. While it may not be the Ten Commandments, there are some things you should avoid. Let’s look at how you can be a good overnight guest while staying in a church parking lot!

Stay Only One Night

An overnight parking spot is for one night only. There is rarely a situation where you should extend your stay to more than a single night. Being a good guest means limiting your stay to a single night and not overstaying your welcome.

In these situations, it’s often best to arrive late in the afternoon and leave as early as possible. You don’t want to be in the way of any activities taking place at the church.

It’s also a good idea to consider the service times for the church. You don’t want to try to arrive in the middle of a service, especially if the parking might be limited. You also may have a hard time navigating a parking lot packed with cars.

Don’t Set Up Camp

During any overnight stop, you need to avoid setting up camp. It’s not the time or place to pull out your camping chairs and make yourself at home. In these situations, you’ll likely spend most of your time inside your RV.

Setting up camp at an overnight spot can attract attention. Typically, any attention that you attract will be negative. If you need to cook, ensure you do it inside your rig to avoid any potential issues

Leave No Trace

One of the rudest things that guests can do is to leave a mess when they depart. Always practice leave no trace principles when staying in a church parking lot. As we’ve seen with other businesses, this is one of the leading causes for spots to shut down.

If you have trash or garbage that you need to dispose of, ask for permission. Don’t take advantage of their hospitality by filling up their dumpster with your trash. They have to pay for disposal, and it typically isn’t cheap.

You should always leave the spot cleaner and in better condition than you found it. When parking on grass, ensure that it’s not wet or saturated. You could stick in the mud and leave quite a mess behind.

Church parking lot with RVs overnight parking
If you’re going to park your RV overnight for free, only stay one night and clean up after yourself.

Will a Church Expect Me to Donate If I Sleep in Their Parking Lot?

Most churches won’t expect donations if you sleep in their parking lot. However, that’s not always the case. Any time you stay at a Harvest Hosts location, you should prepare to donate or support the business.

Since they’re likely not providing you with power, water, or any amenities, the amount you donate doesn’t have to be immense. It’s a simple way of thanking them for their hospitality and supporting their mission.

Pro Tip: Ditch the campsite! Download these Best Boondocking Apps and Websites for Amazing Free Camping.

RV on a Prayer in a Church Park Lot

If you’re tired of RVing on a prayer, a church parking lot may be the answer. Many of these parking lots are expansive and convenient for even the largest rigs to navigate. However, just because it’s empty doesn’t mean it’s fair game. Obtain permission before getting comfortable, and do what you can to show your appreciation to churches that allow overnight parking. Not only can you have a safe place to park for the night, but you can also support their efforts to positively influence the community.

Would you stay in a church parking lot overnight? Tell us in the comments!

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About Cait Morton

Co-Founder, Logistics Queen, Business & Content Manager, and Animal Lover

An Upper Peninsula of Michigan native (aka a Yooper), Caitlin is the organization, big-picture, and content strategy queen of our operation. She keeps everything orderly and on track.

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J&S

Sunday 26th of March 2023

I've been thinking this was a great opportunity for Harvest Hosts for a long time. The churches get "eyeballs" overnight, thus reducing security risks, plus at least some evangelical opportunity (you're likely to visit their website to donate for example). If I was the church, I'd put up a couple of signs welcoming RVs and providing QR code/website for more info. In communities where street parking is tough, often churches are still allowed to have a lots and could open up unexpected opportunities (we go to a downtown church).