Saturday, March 20, 2010

Reach out and touch someone...

A few years back, friends of mine found a website where you can make (a picture of) your own church sign. Considering I’m the token Christian in their lives, they sent me a link. The concept is simple- Picture something like what we’ve got, but you can type your own message. Naturally, this allows folk to be as reverent (“I Love You” -God), creative (Jesus Saves, He Passes to Gretzky, He Scores!!!) or irreverent (…) as they want, without having to slog through mid-winter snow. I found it clever. After all, Christian or not, most people know about “Church Signs.” They’re a cultural, and not simply religious, artifact of American life.

But I’ve been often wary of church signs. I remember an Assemblies of God church I drove by in Maine, and the sign said something like, “Don’t Want Jesus? Hell’s a Hot Alternative.” Booooo! I think that’s the worst kind of church sign theory- using the sign to lecture or condemn your neighbors (not to mention my strong disagreement with that theology!).

Still, there’re other ways to think about church signs. Take the advertising theory. Many churches have few marketing funds or expertise, but we’ve got signs, and think, “Let’s use that to advertise!” It’s a good thought. Indeed, that’s how I’ve thought of PCCC’s sign since I’ve been here. But I’ve noticed, that when we have used the sign as advertising, our efficiency rate is, basically, 0%. As best I can tell, I’ve not met one person who’s attended our services because of our sign. After all, folk visit a church because they know someone, or if not, these days they explore the website first so they don’t waste a Sunday morning! So a sign may not get folk in the door, but it might encourage folk to Google us…

Which brings me to church sign theory #3, which I began exploring last Fall, when Steve Weaver asked me to think deeper about using our sign. I started giving him sermon titles, and he’d put them out there (thanks Steve!). The reasoning was, “Perhaps the sermon title will pique folks’ interest, and maybe get ‘em in the door…” A good thought, but again, it wasn’t working. Then, someone helped me glimpse the deeper truth of Steve’s thought- The sign isn’t about nudging people in the door to consume something, ala TV advertising. It’s about doing what church does– initiating authentic relationships with neighbors.

So here’s the new church sign theory- Let’s invite people to experience our intimacy! Let’s not advertise our programs, but our selves! And as folk get to know us- our values, questions, approach to Jesus (not to mention our sense of humor)- perhaps it will minister to them, or be intriguing, or at least, they’ll know better who they live near. If you were at church on the 14th, you’ll notice that what’s on the sign currently is one person’s sense of what she took away from worship. She thought, “Perhaps those thoughts might give folk driving by the church something worth pondering...” And next Sunday, perhaps someone else (you?) will find something interesting about the sermon, scripture or music, or will be reminded of a quote or song lyric. If so, put it on the sign. If you don’t know how, ask me. Again, the idea isn’t, “Scare people, lecture people, make others gag.” That’s not how we do church, after all. We’re an open-minded, thoughtful, relaxed and fun-loving (and occasionally irreverent) bunch, who thinks Jesus transforms us and our world the more intimate we get, the deeper we live those values with each other. And that, if you ask me, is something valuable we can offer our neighbors. It’s why I’m proud I’m a member of this church. Our church sign isn’t the only way to bless others with those values. But it’s one way, perhaps, and I invite you to join the effort, to boldly share what matters to you about this church and its God! And if not this way, then I trust you’ll find another creative way to initiate loving, authentic relationships with others. Because that’s much of why we do church, right?

Grace and Peace,


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