One of the first impressions that a church gives a passer-by is its church sign or marquee. In recent years, it has become chic for churches to quote presumably pithy sayings on these church signs. It is my assessment that most of these church signs “suck” (by CMS’ definition of the word), especially when taking the “Church Marketing” perspective. What follows, then, is a Top Ten List (of sorts) that outlines when church signs suck.
1. When a church sign makes its author seem smarter than or superior to the reader, it sucks. What potentially new parishioner wants to attend a church that humiliates those that read its sign? Example: “It’s a new year, why don’t you do something new: go to church.”
2. When a church sign contains poor theology, it sucks. Let’s do give the world something different to look to, rather than the proverbial same old, same old. We do believe that Christianity is something radically different, right? Example: “Faith in yourself has won many a race: never quit trying.”
3. When a church sign tells a joke that isn’t funny, it sucks. The world already thinks the church is out of touch with our culture’s realities. How exactly are lame jokes helping change that idea? A good rule of thumb is that if you have to question whether a joke is funny or not–it isn’t. Example: “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”
4. When a church sign tries to sound “deep” but just ends up being confusing, it sucks. Often these church signs fall under the category of what I call “Fortune Cookie Church Signs”. Example: “He who rows the boat doesn’t have time to rock it.”
5. When a church sign makes light of hell, it sucks. Today’s culture doesn’t take the idea of hell seriously at all. Churches who make jokes about it on their sign only make it worse. Example: “Stop, drop, and roll doesn’t work in hell!”
6. When a church sign contains poor grammar and/or spelling, it sucks. A rather sad, new phenomenon (within the last few dozen years or so) that churches are dealing with is the often mistaken idea that the general populace is more intelligent than those involved in the ministry. In older days, priests and pastors were some of the most well respected academics, and I feel that should be the case now. That is sadly no longer true in many parts of the country and world. Poor grammar and spelling on a church sign only proves this point for those that believe it. Example: “Will the road your on get to my place? -God”
7. That last sign reminds me: Church signs that purport to quote God suck. The Bible does such a good job quoting God, do we really want to try and top it?
8. Church signs that ask questions without providing answers? They suck. A common misconception is that a question on a church sign will persuade someone to attend the church in order to find the answer. I have found that it is far too easy for a passer-by to simply turn the question into a rhetorical one, and consequently it can be ignored. Example: “Whose child are you?”
9. Church signs that use outdated pop-culture references suck. This is actually a great way to get a youth group involved (in a small way) in the ministry of the church. If you are wondering if a pop-culture reference is outdated, simply ask the youth group. It will show that the church is not only eager to connect with them on their level, but it is eager to seek their opinion on matters as well. Example: “Walmart is not the only savings place.”
10. Church signs that use homophones in an attempt to appear clever suck. This goes for rhymes, homonyms, alliteration, assonance and all those other fun devices from freshman English class. They are generally not very clever, funny or profound. Example: “No time to pray makes easy prey.”
Most churches would admit that their church signs serve one of four purposes. First, the church sign can encourage current members to attend. Second, it can encourage non-believers or those who currently do not attend church to attend. Third, a church sign may improve the church’s image in the community. Fourth, a church sign can be another outlet for a church to glorify Christ and make Him known. Church signs from the above ten categories do none of those, so why use slogans and sayings like them?
I am often asked, “What then should we put on a church sign?” I have found that the following ideas work very well:
- Bible verses. (Note: Please choose Bible verses that make sense on their own and do not require a theology degree and three chapters of context.)
- Service times.
- News of how the church is working in and with the community. As a special bonus, not taking the time to think up these slogans actually leaves time for a church to work in and with the community.
- General church news (new pastors, exciting growth, new programs, new buildings, etc.)
- Upcoming sermon titles, provided they do not breach any of the above 10 categories.
For a rather extensive archive of church signs that suck and reasons why they suck, you can visit Crummy Church Signs. You may also want to check out church sign trivia, the church sign generator, a really sucky church sign and our very own church signs poll.