Catchiness is next to godliness on church signs
By Melissa Renteria for the CHICAGO TRIBUNE
We've all seen the spiritual one-liners and biblical puns posted outside churches.
The attention-getting messages--including "Forbidden fruit creates many jams," and "Dusty Bibles lead to dirty lives"--are intended as daily doses of Scripture to worshipers when they pull into a parking lot and to motorists as they wait for a traffic light to change.
The messages are one-sentence sermons that help attract followers and preach to passersby, church leaders said, so making sure they are relevant and catchy is important.
"We try to put things up there which will trigger people's minds," said Mark Adams, associate pastor at First Baptist Church in Beaumont.
A recent sign at the church had the posting, "You can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead."
Adams said the message came from a sermon to be given that week by a guest speaker. He said it's common for sign messages to come from sermons, but others have come from the church staff during meetings.
"Sometimes someone will say they heard or read something interesting," Adams said. "We look for things that will give people something to think about and stimulate their minds."
Sign postings can reference pop culture or a current news event, like the Terri Schiavo case. Movies and social trends are popular choices.
Recognizing society's obsession with diet fads and makeover shows, some churches took note.
Assembly of God church in Vidor, Texas, had the recent posting, "Exercise your faith, walk with God."
North End Baptist Church in Beaumont used a play on words to spread its message on spiritual fitness: "Down in the mouth? It's time for a faith lift."
If pastors and preachers are looking for thought-provoking messages for their church marquees, there are plenty of resources available.
The Internet has dozens of Web sites for church pastors to exchange ideas and purchase books to help them write sermons, including the one-sentence variety used on church signs and in church bulletins.
Churchgoers, pastors and those who are fans of the creativity that goes into church sign messages have started blogs to share photos they've taken of signs.
James Harvey, a former Sunday school teacher and college dean in Michigan, is a Christian writer who advises churches on how to create a sign ministry.
He has written two books on the subject: "701 Sentence Sermons," and "701 More Sentence Sermons." Both are collections of photos taken of church signs around the country.
"I try to convince churches they have a drive-by ministry of thousands who might not ever step inside their church, but they can still reach them," Harvey said by telephone from his home in Caledonia, Mich.
The importance of signs is catching on with church leaders across the country.
"It's their handshake with the community. They know it's important," sign vendor Tom Johnson said by telephone from his office in Torrance, Calif.
Johnson joined the sales staff at Signtronix a little more than a year ago, working in its newly created church sign division, Signs of Faith.
The sign company, founded in 1963, started Signs of Faith because of increasing sales demand for church signs.
Johnson said many churches are buying marquee signs that can accommodate the spiritual sayings and biblical puns that have become popular across the country.
At prices ranging from $2,000 to $25,000, a marquee sign can be a big purchase for some churches.
A sign can pay for itself if a church can attract more members, Harvey said, because larger church congregations can translate into increased revenue for the church.
Some churches will blatantly advertise for followers and their donations.
As one church sign posted on the "Trinity Humor" Web site said, "You give God the credit. Now give God the cash."