Confessions of a Church Sign Reader - Part 1

by W. Clayton Brumby

Churches say a lot even when they aren't saying anything. Like individuals, congregations send all kinds of non-verbal communication about themselves, and about how they feel toward us as total strangers coming by. You don't believe me? Let's take a short ride. Let's see what they're saying, or not saying. I think you'll see what I mean.

To be perfectly honest, I don't know anyone at these churches, so the only way they can engage someone like me is the way they keep their property, and what their signs say. Signs are kind of a hobby for me; I see them sort of like a lens that brings a church into focus. For instance, coming up here on the right is a church sign; one of those you can change messages on: "EASTER SUNRISE SERVICE, 6:30AM ALL ARE WELCOME." Well let's see, it's now the third week in May. Easter was a full six weeks ago. I don't know about you, but I get the feeling this church forgot about me over a month ago. Are they as thoughtless as their sign? I'll never know....

This next church coming up has a little metal message board sign. It's been here as long as the church has, a little over twenty-seven years. The paint has peeled and the top is coated with rust. People can't remember how long ago the glass was cracked in the door that can't be opened because they can't remember when the key was lost. The sign no longer lights up. No one knows if it's an electrical problem or if the light bulb needs to be replaced. As you can tell, the sign can't be seen by traffic unless it's pointed out; it's mounted parallel to the road. Perhaps the church was making a concerted effort twenty-seven years ago to get the families who lived across the street to join them, because that's who the sign has been addressing all these years.

The church coming up here on the right is newer. Their sign looks like it once served as the construction sign for the property. It's been redone several times. It looks like a professional was used originally, but that was a couple of paintings ago. The closer one gets the dirtier it looks, and the corners are rotting. They seem to have money-new playground equipment, resurfaced parking lot. You know; stuff for them. I kind of think of it as the buildings are for them and the sign is for me. And it says a lot about where someone like me, a non-member, stands in the scheme of things.

The three churches we've just seen have said a mouthful. So far, not so good. Next up we find a church that has metal architectural letters attached to a low wall. Kind of looks like a boundary marker. It tells the name of the church, but nothing more. The letters look classic, though, don't they?

We'll turn right here. At the end of this block are two churches that have brand new signs. One was sand-blasted and then painted with gold leaf. Someone spent some money on that one. If I was a faithful member of that denomination, I might be inclined to visit. But I'm not, so I don't.

The church across the street chose a crisp, rectangular cabinet with what appears to be letters cut out of the metal faces. At night, when it lights up, the letters are suspended in the darkness. Very tasteful. Someone was thinking, too, because they mounted the sign perpendicular to the street so it can be seen by traffic from both directions more than a block away.

Both signs add such nice finishing touches to their respective properties, and both show a lot about how the churches feel about themselves. Unfortunately, how they feel about themselves is about all they tell me. Well, maybe not. Do they leave you with the same kind of impression they leave me? As if we are driving by a country club? "MEMBERS ONLY."

(to be continued)

Clayton Brumby is the author of a book on church sign outreach, The MISSING Ministry. It can be ordered at the Web site, stewartsigns.commissingministry.htm or by calling 888-237-3928.