While more churches adopt large projection screens and multimedia technology to draw new believers and the unchurched, one church communications specialist points back to the traditional church signs that stand outside sanctuaries for more effective outreach.
"It may sound like a line from the 70s, but people will ask, 'What's your sign?' A sign should be a primary ministry touch-point that encourages people to visit your church," said Woody Murray, who has worked for 30 years in communications and marketing in advertising agencies and at a major Christian organization.
Bottom line is either get a church message sign if you don't have one or keep your current one fresh and updated, and maybe even assign someone to make church signs their ministry, Murray suggested.
Why the emphasis on marquees?
"Your best prospects probably live close to the church," said Murray. "They very likely pass by it every day. They're on the way to and from work, going to the grocery store, or running other errands. Many of these folks probably go by your church more than once a day."
And a marquee message as simple as "Join us this Sunday for Worship 11 AM" can help draw those passer-bys.
"People respond to invitations," Murray stressed. "Make your message an invitation as often as possible."
Whether the sign has to be changed by hand or electronically, Murray recommends changing the message frequently to catch the eye of prospects, especially if there are special services and events happening at the church.
Earlier this year, more churches across the nation used their church signs to advertise their big-screen Super Bowl gatherings to attract crowds that may otherwise huddle at bars or places inappropriate for children to watch the big game.
When it comes to clever messages, however, Murray offers caution.
"I feel a little uncomfortable saying this, but be cautious in how you use Scripture on your sign," he noted, warning against churches that opt to choose "fire and brimstone" messages with the intention of frightening people into coming to church.
Such message signs run a greater risk of turning off people to your church, he said.
As Joel Bezaire, an attendant of West End Community Church who runs the website CrummyChurchSigns.com, stated, "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!'"
Another piece of advice Murray gave is: "Think twice about humorous signs, too."
"The world already thinks the church is out of touch with our culture's realities," said Bezaire. "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."
Also, be brief, said Murray.
"People can't read a long message in the second or two it takes to pass the church," he noted. "Put too many words on your sign, and folks won't even take a look."
The rule of thumb is seven to 10 words.
Some ideas Bezaire suggests for church signs include service times, news of how the church is working in and with the community, general church news, upcoming sermon titles, or Bible verses that make sense on their own.