On Captions

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In my January blog, I wrote about the value of church signs, especially those that have the option of putting on captions that change from week to week to catch the eye of motorists and pedestrians walking by. What makes a good caption?

First, a caption has words, so whatever message you plan on putting on will have words. The best captions are those that make clever use of words. The judicious use of puns is generally appropriate. Some puns are based on English homonyms (two words that are spelled differently but pronounced the same). For example: “We have a prophet-sharing plan.” Other puns are based on two different meanings of the same word or phrase. For example: “Home improvement. Take your family to church,” which taps into two different nuances to “home improvement.” And sometimes a workable pun is based on two words that sound almost the same. For example: “Come in for a faith lift.”

Another type of effective caption is the use of a metaphor; obviously, it has to be a clear metaphor that is understood immediately. For example: “Exercise your faith; walk with God.” “Smooth seas don’t make good sailors.” “God’s lease on life never expires.”

What about the use of humor? I have seen some wonderful captions that make good use of humor, but I have also seen some that have made me cringe. Once I saw this caption: “Sign broke; message inside.” Obviously the church using it was gently suggesting to people to try one of their worship services. By contrast, I have never liked the caption I have seen during the hottest days of the summer: “You think it’s hot here!”

Another important principle for a caption is to use as few words as possible. Depending on where your church is located, remember that those driving by have only a couple of seconds to read a caption, and they are either past your sign or they need to turn their attention back to their driving. I do not recommend any more than three lines to a caption and, if possible, less than ten words. It’s amazing sometime how a caption can be edited to fit within those parameters. For example, suppose you wanted to put on, in fall time, the caption: “If you are reluctant to change, think of the beauty of autumn.” That’s twelve words, but they can be edited down to seven: “Reluctant to change? Think of autumn’s beauty!” (A lot of “if” clauses can be converted to questions, by the way.) For this, of course, you need a good set of punctuation marks (naturally, if you have a digital sign, that’s not a problem).

I'm always looking for great church sign captions. What are some of the best ones you've seen over the years? 

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