Church Signs: Who’s Your Audience?

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I have written a couple of blogs on using various captions on your church sign—and especially today, using digital signs on which the captions can change over the course of an hour. That way the sign doesn’t just become part of the landscape no one sees any more.

One of my respondents to my first blog on the church sign felt strongly that the typical viewer of his church sign was someone prone to make snarky remarks about the caption. He said he was tired of “the superior sneering at those unchurched motorists who drive by every day.” To him, the sign (managed by another church member) did more harm than good; it only increased bad feelings about the church. (Moreover, their sign could only display one line of a caption at a time, which is unfortunately indeed.)

I do not doubt that such people drive by a church, and that a caption can stir up ire in some people. But as this respondent went on to say, “such signs have to be part of a well-considered, intentional ministry to our community.” I agree, and I personally have a much more hopeful idea of the typical viewer of our captions. There are a lot of people who grew up in the church who no longer attend church. But these people face the same stresses that all of us do. They have financial problems; they have relationship problems; they have loved ones who are sick; they have problem children; and so on. But they face them without the Savior. So I try to put on captions that might trigger something from their past—a word of hope, a word of encouragement, a song they used to sing, a Bible verse that sounds vaguely familiar, and a reminder they can pray to a loving and caring God.

Since we have had our digital sign installed, frankly, we have seen an increase in attendance at our church worship service. This is in spite of the fact that we have cut way back on our main two sources of advertising (the local newspaper, which no longer has a Saturday edition, and the yellow pages). When we ask people attending our services for the first time how they found out about our church or what made them want to attend our service, one of the primary reasons they give is the church sign.

I firmly believe the church sign can function as a testimony to the people driving by as to what we stand for and what sort of message we proclaim. My hope is that at least a portion of these people will receive a blessing from the messages. Yes, undoubtedly, some will take offense and make their negative remarks; that’s their business. We cannot control other people’s reactions. But for every person who has little use for the church, I am positive there is another person—maybe even more than one—who receives a blessing from the message. They may not even realize that they are looking for some word that will address them right where they are at, while waiting at a traffic signal or just driving by. I think of them as I regularly change the captions and I pray every week that what is on the sign will trigger a word of hope and cheer into their lives. 

What captions have you found effective? And what captions have you seen that are counterproductive to the kingdom?

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I find that signs that try to be funny rather than uplifting make me roll my eyes and not want to go to that church. Examples: "Our church is prayer conditioned." "What's missing in our chrch?"

Participant

Driving past the Evangelical Free Church in Winnipeg today, I saw a sign reading "The keys to heaven are hanging on the cross" or words to that effect.  I liked it!

Thank you, Verlyn, for your recent posts on church signs. Our church has recently changed its name and is installing a new double-sided sign, with a 2' x 8' back-lit fixed portion (with name and website) on top of a 2' x 8' color LED portion for messaging. We pray fervently that the Lord will use the sign to bring more guests to our worship services and we are preparing for that possibility.

Your book, Your Church Sign, is one tool I can use to be thoughtful and intentional in our messaging.

My questions relate to details of how you are using the digital sign differently from non-digital reader-boards. For example, Do you usually have 3 or 4 or more rotating messages? How many seconds do you leave a message displayed before rotating them? (Our sign is perpendicular to a road with a 35 mph limit.) How many days/weeks until one message is replaced in the rotation by another message? Do you mix the "pun-type" messages with announcements of upcoming special events. Do you put the time/temp on the sign so people know there will "useful" information on the sign at some point? Have you used graphics and do you have a recommended source for graphics? Basically, I'm interested in whatever you have done to which you attribute your stated "increase in attendance." We want to use our new tool as intentionally and as well as possible. We'll trust God for the results.

Perhaps you are planning to address these types of questions in a future blog. If so, great, I'll wait. Thanks for your sharing your experiences in this realm.

Thank you for your post, Andy. In answer to your questions, I generally post three to four new captions every Sunday morning. I usually vary the themes (partly depending on the season, both physical season and church season), rarely taking more than one caption from the various chapters in Your Church Sign. I almost always have one under the theme of encouragement and another under the theme of evangelism (sometimes a Scripture text will serve as one of these). I will often have one with a play on words, but never one that is too cutsey. As a standard caption, I always have one with the time and temperature and our church's website. Unfortunately, the city of Grand Rapids has strict rules for digital signs. There may be no moving parts (hence, no graphics), and each caption has to stay on for at least five minutes. Since I had signed that agreement, I keep to it (except for the time and temperature, because then the time would be five minutes off at the end of five minutes). I personally believe the sign captions help people understand what your church stands for, and especially for a drive-in church, that is important.