Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What Should You Put On Your Sign?

The most obvious means of inviting people to your church is something every Episcopal Church has, your sign. True, some of you added to this with a listing in the yellow pages. Many of you have added a website. Very few churches actually advertize in the local media. I know of no Episcopal Church that uses billboards. I know some new congregations that advertize in a movie theatre just before the previews start. But all of us have a sign.

What is on Your Sign?

If you have heard me speak on evangelism, you will know that I do not like most Episcopal Church signs. The essential problem is that most of our signs are aimed at the wrong people! Here is a typical example on what is on most signs.

St. John’s Episcopal Church (in bold letters)

Services: 8am Rite I Eucharist

10am Rite II Choral Eucharist

9:15 Church School for all ages

The Rev. Beth Smith, Rector

Clear enough? Actually, notice that this sign is aimed at Episcopalians and primarily current members of the Church. For example, no denomination in America calls it morning worship a “Eucharist,” not even the Greek Orthodox! What is a “rector?” The Roman Church and all protestant churches call this person the “pastor.”

You need to look at your sign as your opportunity to tell the community, particularly the un-churched why they should join you. So, I like to see churches put on their sign a one sentence or one phrase statement that would attract un-churched people. Of course, add the times and other items but do it in less “Episcopal Speak.”

For examples:

Why not “Worship Service” instead of “Eucharist?”

Why not “Nursery available?”

Why not “Pastor, Beth Smith (put Rector in parenthesis)?

For 8am, why not “Traditional”

For the main service “Family,” or “Main” or “Contemporary” (if the word really fits.

And, why not “Christian Education” or just “Education for all ages”

Now for the sentence; should you put your mission statement? It might be better than what you have now. The better alternative is to say to the un-churched what the mission you offer will do for them. Of course such a message must be both relevant to your life (it must be true advertizing) and it must make sense in your community. For example, an Anglican Church in Canada has “All Tribes” on its sign. Given its location near a first nation’s reserve, this was effective.

Here is my favorite from Grace Church, Georgetown, Texas.

“Grace Church - The Family Church of Georgetown.”

It helps to know that Georgetown is the location of Texas’ Sun City for retired adults.

Finally, don’t put on one of those catchy or clever Christian messages like “a day that starts with prayer, doesn’t unravel.” No one has ever attended a church because of a cute message.


  1. Kevin....
    Thanks you for your posts....I seem to discover your new blogs now and then.

    Let me preface this by saying I have all your books and helped plant A Great Commission
    (seeker sensitive) church in 1993.

    While signs, inviting, etc. are nice things to do....I don't believe they really address the decline of TEC. What you are stating has been said for years.

    What I saw in the new plant (which was successful reaching 400 on Sunday in 2002) was that we had to change the foundation of the church. That is we had to move outside the boundaries of a typical EC. We needed to understand the market and present an unique product to those we were trying to reach. Our purpose was really to present the Gospel....not perpetuate an EC.

    In Your Five state unless we understand the Popular American Culture....the future looks dim for mainline denominations. Understanding the PAC is a significant change in the foundational structure of most EC's and my experience has shown that is extremely difficult.

    Unfortuantely, there are very few people like you in TEC that see a different church. My sense is that TEC has lost the opportunity to reach those outside the traditional church.

    Jim Baker

    PS. The new plant....400 and growing in 2002 with a new building...contemporary style....5o in attendance 2009....Property sold....Diocese wanted only typical EC's.

  2. Well, nothing like going to the heart of the matter Jim. I agree wholeheartedly with the substance of your report. My question would be how such a bold start as the example you gave failed (or even needed the Diocesan vision) since my experience is that a founding pastor's vision is much more significant than that of the Diocese. Perhaps you left?

  3. Kevin....Thanks for the comment. This plant was an unusal startup. It was spontaneously started by a group of people from a local parish. The parish nor the diocese played a significant role. It was off everyones radar in a middle school. In 1996....All Saints, Pauleys Island was doing development weekends and a large group of leaders attended. Around this period....there was an influence of R. Warren, B. Easum, Lyle Schaller and a new church model emerged.

    In 1998....a move to a converted restaurant and a pastor/leader that understood this new model and was willing to lead the real beginning and growth took place from 1998-2003.

    New building in 2001 and debt...with strong growth. 2003 loss of people and resources. 2004 Pastor leaves.

    2004-2008....Ineffective leadership....difficulty in finding a different thinking pastor or anyone willing to venture into the diocese. 2009, Debt becomes unmanageable....attendance further declines....Diocese becomes involved....sells property.

    The lessons learned:
    1) There has to be clear, consistent, meaningful realistic, communicated vision (not the usual church stuff)
    2) Real leadership must be in place with a pastor/leader that understands and studies leadership in today's environment.
    3) In this case, the Diocese had no vision (other at the end to sell out)

    Yes, we eventually left (though we stuck it out to almost the end!)

    Jim Baker