by Terry Wilhite
One of the best tools a church has to communicate is often the laughing stock of the community. Sometimes that is okay. Sometimes it is not. The sign in front of your church can speak volumes about your ministry. Of all the forms of ministry communication that I've addressed over the years, I've never addressed church signs and there's much to say about the matter, the most important of which is this:
If I were an unbeliever, I would not darken the doors of most houses of worship because of the snooty church signs that I see in front of them. Humor is a fragile thing. Just as you're warned in seminary to use humor wisely in seasoning your sermons, so too must you be cognizant of what you put on your church sign. Funny messages are quite acceptable but delivery is everything when it comes to humor. Often a one-liner that can be delivered by the pastor orally can be a huge flop or worse yet, a monumental turn-off to drivers who read it on your sign. As we decide what messages are used, we have to put ourselves in the shoes of the unchurched. How would you react to this sign if you'd not been in a house of worship in a long time or ever? Would you want to go inside, based upon the message on the front lawn?
One of my pet peeves is that there is typically way too much text on the church sign. We'd be wise to take a lesson from the billboard companies on this one. A driver must be able to comprehend your message in eight seconds or less. Graphic designers speak of "white space," the "air" visually around the message. This unused space will give you power that helps communicates your message-whether it is a newspaper ad, a billboard or in our case, a church sign.
Furthermore, I see way too many big church words like "salvation," "atonement," and "justification" on church marquees. While these words and concepts are very important to us as believers, they mean nothing to the lost-the very people we are trying to reach.
However, the issue that causes me the greatest amount of heartburn is the judgmental messages that I see. We are to be "lights on the hill" and I would submit that this is also the purpose of a church sign. While most messages are not intended to be judgmental, far too many of them actually are-and this can be the church's biggest turn-off. An ad agency would never berate a driver with a message but would instead cleverly pique his interest and entice a viewer with an offer that cannot be refused. Your church sign also reflects the personality of the pastor. Judgmental sign, judgmental pastor. Loving sign, loving pastor. Perception is reality.
Further, way too many church signs look ratty. Does yours? If your church sign uses slide-on lettering, are the letters the same size, the same color? Are the letters spaced evenly? I often see church signs that look like they should be advertising a cheap used-car lot instead of a beautiful house of worship. The corporate advertising world believes "image is everything." We as believers should also believe that because the Bible teaches that we, indeed, are created in God's image. Our church signs represent God! Signs that are deteriorating tarnish the image of the church and convey that maybe your church is cheap, disorganized, and perhaps even mismanaged.
Another problem is that messages stay up far too long. Usually the messages should be changed weekly.
But most amazingly, church signs rarely include the time of worship services. I've been on a mission lately to see just how often I see worship times posted on church signs and the answer I've found is almost never. Please post your worship times on your church sign and if there is no room for your message and the time, put your most important information on your sign: your times of worship, the pastor's name, your phone number and Website address.
Finally, is your church sign lighted? I cannot tell you how many times I've traveled to rural churches at night and got no help at all from dark church signs. This is paradoxical. We're trying to lead people out of the darkness spiritually but here we are, in the dark with our church sign.
Just how important is this matter? Check the traffic count on your street. You'll discover more people will read your church sign than will hear your sermon.
Terry Wilhite is a communications and multimedia specialist.