This seems a little silly to even me, but one of the things I missed most when we left Baltimore was the sign outside of the church around the corner from our house. I never set foot inside that building, but I saw the sign every day as I drove back and forth to wherever I was going. It was a rather ordinary sign, the kind you might see in front of any church in America, and it wasn’t the color, size, shape, or style of the sign that made it stand out to me. No, the reason that I noticed the sign, over and over again, was the fact that every date on the sign, consistently, had already happened.
“Come to our Christmas eve service,” the sign would proudly display every January. “Potluck dinner: March 9,” it would say on March 25th. No matter when I drove by and looked at the sign, it was always out of date. At first I thought that maybe I was just missing the days when they would change, but over time it became clear to me that they seem to be advertising things from the past. Seriously. That thing would advertise Easter services until March 1st, and on March 2nd the sign would change to say “Baked Goods Sale: April 29th.”
I think of this sign these days as I am involved in what sign is in front of my own church, and what it says. One of the questions we always come back to, is “who is it for?” Is the sign for our own members, to let them know what is going on and what to expect each week? Or is the sign intended to attract new visitors into the building? My mother and I used to joke that the church sign in Baltimore was always letting people know what they had missed. We had a great ham dinner last week, and you didn’t come. Too bad you didn’t know about it. If only you were a member of our church…
If we truly want to attract visitors to church, we probably should stop posting sermon titles and dates. People can find that information online, or in the newsletter. If I really wanted someone new to walk in the door, maybe I would post something like this:
“How often do you walk by this building? Aren’t you just the teeniest bit curious about what it looks like inside?”
“Do you have answers? Well, we’ve got questions. Please come in and talk to us.”
One day I drove by that sign in Baltimore, and I saw that a had car smashed into it, completely destroying it. It was gone for quite some time, and I kind of missed it. How was I to know what had previously gone on? When it finally returned, in a brand-new shiny form, the sign simply read “The drive-through is now closed. Please come in for service.” I have to tell you that if I hadn’t already had a church that I was going to, that might’ve been enough to get me in the door. That was a sign that you didn’t have to be a member to love and understand. That was a sign for me, the average passerby. I think signs can be very effective, when used properly. But the first thing you have to do is answer the question, “Who is it for?”