BY GLENN HANNIGAN
I enjoy talking and teaching about communications. It is a topic that never gets boring. It is always a challenge and often frustrating.
Though I have been a journalist most of my life, I would never call myself an expert in communications. I know better.
Just when you think you have done everything just right, and spared no effort in properly communicating a message, you soon realize something has gone wrong. People were left out of the loop or, worse, received the wrong message.
Communicating is often a humbling experience. And it is often cited as the reason for failure in government, business, marriage . . . even church.
Is the message you want to send the same one that is being received?
I am often amused, and baffled, by the messages I see on so many church signs. Every communication we attempt should start with two basic questions: Who is the audience? What is the response we seek?
Which brings me back to church signs. While, I admit, I am often humored by the messages I see on church signs that I see while driving around town, I am left with one overriding question: Is that message supposed to make me want to visit? If so, church signs often fail miserably. Instead of being inviting, many could be considered insulting to a seeker or non-believer.
Here are examples of messages found on church signs:
“Read the Bible – it will scare the hell out of you.”
“What part of Thou Shall Not do you not understand?”
“Artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity.”
“Do not wait for the hearse to take you to church.”
“Forgive your enemies – it messes with their heads.”
“Try Jesus. If you don’t like him the devil will take you back.”
“God does not believe in atheists, therefore atheists do not exist.”
“Don’t be so open-minded your brains fall out.”
“If you think it’s hot here, imagine hell”
“Salvation guaranteed – or your sins cheerfully refunded.”
“Dusty Bibles leads to dirty lives.”
“Cars are not the only things recalled by their maker.”
While these messages might be witty or pithy and make people think or laugh, would any of them make you eager to wake up early Sunday morning to visit that church? Sure -- “How will you spend eternity – smoking or nonsmoking?” – might reflect a doctrinal reality, but will it help draw visitors to your church? And, if not, then what is the purpose of the message on your church sign? For many people, the message on the front of a church is the first impression they will get of that church. There is an old adage: You do not get a second chance to make a first impression. Make the first impression count.
Our communication failures can have unintended consequences. Here is one of my favorite botched message attempts (from a United Methodist Church that will remain anonymous):
“Don’t let worries kill you. Let the church help.”
Do you have an example of an effective church-sign message, one that is inviting and helpful? We want to know. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will publish the best examples of church-sign messages in a future edition.
Glenn Hannigan is the editor of the North Georgia Advocate. E-mail him at email@example.com.
This article recently ran in the North Georgia Advocate, the official print source of the North Georgia United Methodist Conference. For more information about the North Georgia Advocate, or to subscribe, please visit www.ngumc.org/advocate or call 678.533.1376.