Green Stop Signs in Church Marketing

Green Stop Signs in Church Marketing

July 26, 2010 by

Why don’t we have green stop signs? This is a simple question with a simple answer. A green stop sign is confusing. Our culture’s sub-text says red means stop and green means go. It is obvious why we don’t have green stop signs. But how many churches and pastors prepare communication pieces that could be considered just that—green stop signs?

Pull out your trusted bulletin/worship folder/program. Look at just the words, your content. Look at the number of words. Do you have an entire paragraph dedicated to asking guests to stay after the service for a “meet and greet”? Have you announced the same youth event in three different paragraphs on three different pages? Now look at the container, the way it is presented;  font types and sizes, backgrounds and print quality, inserts and paper color. In an attempt to be thorough and catchy are you using ten fonts three ways with varying sizes trying to make it fit?

Green stop signs. You clutter your message with too many words in too many ways.

Consider why a stop sign works.

First, the content is clear and correct. The transportation people want you to stop. So, they ask you to … stop. They don’t write, “Slow.” Slow isn’t the response they want. They don’t write, “We the D.O.T. insist you desist forward momentum at this time bringing your current conveyance to a halt on this prescribed location.” Ridiculous? Yes. How many words did you use in your announcement Sunday morning? How jam-packed was the slide asking for volunteers? How many words did you put on the billboard you think everyone can read as they drive by at 65 mph? Is it possible your communication is lost because your content is cluttered or unclear? Stop signs work because they say “stop” and nothing else.

Second, the stop sign works because it is red, just red. The container does not hurt the content. It helps the content. A green stop sign still says “stop” but not as effectively. Yes, blue is pretty and less offensive and urban grunge fonts are all the rage but those creative decisions dampen the message’s effectiveness.

The stop sign works because it fits the situation. I’m in a car. I can read it at a distance. It is big enough, bold enough, high enough and neat enough. Your communication might be lost because you haven’t considered your reader’s context.

Pull out your church’s top communication pieces. Look at your invite cards, inserts, bulletins, announcement slides. Do you have any green stop signs? Are you expecting people to understand something when you have made it virtually impossible to receive or take seriously? Use this filter:

  1. What is the content calling for? This is the response question. If you don’t want people to respond then why are you saying anything? They’re busy.
  2. Does the container hold the content but not inhibit it?  Communication isn’t just the content. Communication includes how you present it. One filters into the next. It isn’t a cool font if it deters your message.

In a world where more and more people are hanging up signs on this metaphorical road called life your church can’t afford to get lost in the crowd. Slow down. Make it clear. Don’t hang a sign people will drive right by.

Post By:

Paul Hickernell


Paul is the Pastor of Creative Arts at ZION Church, a multi-site church in western Pa. His passion is helping the local church and its communicators share the best possible message to their context and culture, which he writes about on his personal site, paulhickernell.com.
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16 Responses to “Green Stop Signs in Church Marketing”

  • bondChristian
    July 26, 2010

    Great analogy… very Seth Godin of you (though way too long to be his post). :>)

    This makes me reconsider so many things in my messages… and makes me want to prune them down. Even at my blog right now, I can think of a couple things I should work on to make it clearer.

    Thanks for sharing.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.


  • Jill
    July 26, 2010

    Great thoughts. We have been working toward better communication for the last couple of years. Some things we are doing well and others, lets say, not so much.
    Thanks for sharing.


  • deweb
    July 26, 2010

    fantastic post. maybe we should prune down the three pages of announcement inserts in the bulletin each week…


  • David Tonen
    July 26, 2010

    Excellent commentary. And, don’t forget – a stop sign uses “common” language – not insider’s jargon. It is crystal clear to everyone. Let’s get rid of the church-speak!


    • Paul Hickernell
      July 27, 2010

      David excellent point. It is hard to see the jargon because we know the lingo. Do you have some recent examples or top “church-speak” infractions we are most guilty of?


  • Teresa
    July 27, 2010

    We try and stay away from “Sanctuary” and use “Worship Center” instead among others.


  • David Bunce
    July 28, 2010

    Common jargon sins include “stick around for fellowship” when you mean “we’d love to get to know you over a cup of tea”, “we’d like to offer you ministry” when we mean “we’d like to pray for you”, “we hope you feel blessed” when we mean “we hope you feel welcome and that you could meet God through this morning”, or “come and be washed in the blood of the lamb” when we mean . . . well to be honest, I still haven’t worked out WHAT we mean by that one ;)


    • Paul Hickernell
      July 28, 2010

      First, David Bunce, I love your sight and the video you posted. Thank you. What are ways we can slow our communication down to avoid putting up green stop signs? What are questions we can ask? What are things you do in your organization and teams to avoid these mistakes? I would love your thoughts.


  • David Bunce
    July 28, 2010

    Thanks for your comments re: my site!

    I think primarily we need to recapture our identity as people on a mission. People on a mission are concerned they are understood and they are concerned with being relevant to people – not because the message changes but because the experiences of their hearers does and therefore the message needs to be translated into each new context.

    We need to remember what it is to love the stranger deeply, because loving is knowing and knowing means we understand where the green stop signs will be before we even say them. Most importantly, we need to be God’s people in God’s world in all its variety – not becoming at one with culture but inhabiting it and understanding it so we can be salt and light.

    As for me, a lot of the stuff I do with web design is trying to get people to understood how they are heard as a church, trying to get clients to move away from the idea of “a website a notice board for church members” to “it’s a fundamental part of our mission and it is going to be the first indicator of who we are as a group of people”.

    In terms of local church – I speak the language of those I’m around. So, when ‘gospelling’, I don’t use the abstract language of sin and atonement, but tell stories. Stories of brokenness. Stories of this sense that there is something deeply and profoundly wrong in this world. Stories that resonate with people and point them towards God. Does this mean I don’t talk of sin? No, of course not, but it means I take the deeper meaning of sin, the fracturing and evil and attempted self-sufficiency that it betrays, and I tell it in a way that resonates with people’s lives.

    The best way to tell stories that ring true? Know our own story, know our doctrine, know our church history. Then be able to articulate it in the context of someone else’s story and translate it into their life experience.

    Sorry – long post, very little structure and mostly a thought dump. I’d sum it up with: I’m a language student (German and Russian), so communicating in a way that is understandable to people very different from me is a lot more second nature than for other people :)


  • David Bunce
    July 28, 2010

    Oh, after thought, sorry!

    Regarding the questions we can ask: one that’s essential to ask for any sort of cross cultural communication, whether it be on a global scale or cross cultural between different subcultures in our own countries, is to take our subject matter and try and work out how we’d explain it to a six year old or a visitor from Mars. Chances are, they won’t have vocabularies that speak of sin, redemption or even things like Trinity and divinity.

    Working out how to communicate to such an audience means that we have to stop being lazy with our theology and actually embody the beliefs we hold so we know how they ‘work’ inside out. But it then means that Green Stop Signs jar on us as well as on people we communicate with!

    Also, it has been noted by a theologian in the UK that it’s quite possible to talk to the average group of people in the UK and tell the story of the Prodigal Son and have the same suspense and tension that would have been there in the original telling, because people just don’t know the ending any longer! I think one of the first understandings we need to have is how unknown the Biblical narrative actually is, certainly over here in the UK.

    Right, I finally have finished this time!


  • Sheila
    August 3, 2010

    Some examples of church speak from my church:

    Benediction
    Communion
    Hymn/ Hymnal
    Tithes/ Offerings

    We simply don’t seem to realize that these terms are no longer part of common language in North America, and at our worst, we even think that it’s okay to be obscure. I’ll quote our church secretary, “We’re supposed to be different”. Well that’s one D word to describe us but not the one I was thinking of!


  • Carol
    August 3, 2010

    “Blinded by familiarity”= we don’t notice stuff we look at it all the time. It helps to have mystery visitors who make observations about meeter/greeter, signage, church “lingo”, etc.
    In our 26th year we still struggle with communication.


    • Paul Hickernell
      August 3, 2010

      ZION has been around since 1825. We battle the details of communication all the time. I have often thought about planting guests to give us some fresh eyes and fresh ears. Great thoughts, thank you.


  • Diana
    August 4, 2010

    Green Stop Signs – great! and all the posts as well
    D. Bunce – love the video & blog.
    Thank you all!


  • Michael Clark
    September 26, 2010

    I’m sure you’ve seen this video about designing the stop sign. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xwqPYeTSYng Not quite the point you were making, but it’s close.



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