Tips for better church signs

I’m not really a fan of signs outside churches. Mostly because nobody is, and they’re never quite as clever as the person writing them thinks they are. But seriously. If you’re going to have one you need to make it original.

“God answers knee-mail” wasn’t funny fifteen years ago when email was relatively new. A pun on Email? Do you seriously think that posting this outside your church in 2010 is going to inspire a chuckle? Has anybody ever “found themselves in church” as a result of a dud sign? The Holy Spirit works wonders – but do we really want to put obstacles in his way by writing puns that aren’t clever or clear?

You get style points for trying something relevant to current events or technologies. You actually lose points, as in your sign has a negative effect, if it’s hackneyed, unoriginal, or stuck in the previous decade.

And don’t try to be too clever. Obtuse puns don’t work on a public sign. Especially if they can be interpreted two ways. And especially if a plain reading of the sign says something wrong or heretical.

“God is nowhere… read that again” still reads “God is nowhere.” People are driving past these signs at speed – and you’re putting “God is nowhere” on a sign. Dumb.

Those two signs were on the same church – one I drive past regularly – in the last two weeks.

But even worse are those churches that pull verses out of context to provide trite moralisms or ridiculous promises – like Jesus wants you to live your best life now… you can’t explain how that can possibly be the case (Biblically) on a sign.

I have never seen a sign promising suffering. They just inflict it on Christians who have any idea about marketing.

The author

Nathan runs St Eutychus. He loves Jesus. His wife. His daughter. His son. His other daughter. His dog. Coffee. And the Internet. He is the campus pastor at Creek Road South Bank, a graduate of Queensland Theological College (M. Div) and the Queensland University of Technology (B. Journ). He spent a significant portion of his pre-ministry-as-a-full-time-job life working in Public Relations, and now loves promoting Jesus in Brisbane and online. He can't believe how great it is that people pay him to talk and think about Jesus.

7 thoughts on “Tips for better church signs”

    1. Malcolm,

      Those are mostly better – but they have, in the main, no real call to action. They’re funny, occasionally thought provoking, but if you’re going to have a sign outside why not use it to actually promote what’s going to happen in your services on a Sunday?

      1. Nathan,

        I agree that it's vital to be communicating what's happening in the church program outside the church. I also believe in church posters that challenge people to move towards Christ and a Christian worldview.

        You say our posters "have, in the main, no real call to action". This isn't true but even if it was you're assuming a particular and, it seems, limited goal for posters. That is, they should all be 'call to actions'. We see them as a conversation. No one has a conversation where every part is a 'call to action'. Natural conversation has observation, question, reflection, challenge, and so forth. There's also a range of tone from whimsy to serious. That's healthy conversation.

        I'm not a big believer in participating in these kinds of debates on blogs – so if you want to reply we could talk privately on email at andover[at]optusnet.com.au
        Malcolm

        1. Hi Malcolm,

          I mostly agree with you – I don't see us as debating – and nor were your posters the original target of my ire. I don't think any church relies entirely on a poster or sign out the front as "marketing" – I would like to think it's just a cheap and easy way to "converse" – or more importantly – to proclaim. My problem with the signs I mentioned in the post is that they are too obtuse or culturally irrelevant and cringeworthy. I don't think yours fall into that category, in the main they are provocative "conversation starters" – the type of thing a Christian in the workplace might be able to use to have a conversation with a colleague who travels the same way to work. The strength of your posters is that they are current and "cutting edge" – they don't look like they've been being trotted out since the 80s.

          While you might perceive them as a conversation, you've also got to ask how they're perceived by people driving past. They're the ones I'm thinking of when I suggest a "call for action" is appropriate. I know, based on conversations with other marketing people, Christians, and non-Christians, that posters (and indeed billboards) are seen largely as "awareness" raising – rather than as a conversation.

          For what it's worth – I would rather the people driving past my church each morning have a thought provoking insight into what will be addressed from the pulpit the next Sunday than some trite Christian cliche (like the above). That to me serves a better purpose. But I have a hard time justifying any "marketing" without a call to action. My definition of a call to action being answering the question "what's the point of this piece of communication"…

          Which is where we might disagree on the nature of your posters. I think they are thought and discussion provoking, but only if you've got people willing to actually have the real conversations. People don't talk back to posters. I don't feel like I'm conversing with the churches whose signs are mentioned above (except perhaps for the nasty things I think in my head).

          Conversations are a two way street. I can see where you're coming from with the posters, and can see how they form a useful part of "conversing" with a community – but this works better in the Barney's example mentioned by another commenter where there were two parties carrying on an actual conversation for the benefit of a broader audience.

          In my experience the best poster campaigns (particularly on university campuses) are the ones that inspire a like response from other groups – like when atheists parody Christian mission posters. That creates a bit of buzz.
          My recent post Tips for better church signs

  1. I absolutely agree Nathan. I've had to restrain myself a few times from mounting the footpath in the HR and driving through them.

    I reckon they nearly always confirm what most people think about us.

    1. Anonymous – I assume that’s about the Barney’s v the pub across the road sign “war” – I had them in mind when I said you get style points for being relevant.

      I think they’re by far the exception – and it’s a pretty difficult set of circumstances to reproduce.

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