I have consulted with hundreds of churches. One of the most common first steps I take is dealing with myths in churches. And myths about signage and websites are pervasive.
Here are five of them:
Myth #1: Everyone knows where our church is. No, they don’t. I have been in retail establishments across the street from a church, and the clerk could not tell me where the church is located. In fact, most of the time, they’ve never heard of the church. I have been in churches in small communities where you assume everyone knows where everything is. They don’t. It is an elitist attitude to assume everyone knows about your church.
Myth #2: Our church is small. We don’t need signs for people to get around. Wrong again. Your guests don’t know where to take their children. Your guests don’t automatically know where guest parking spots are. And your guests really don’t know where the restrooms are. Don’t assume your small size lets you off the hook. It doesn’t.
Myth #3: Church websites are really not that important. Whenever I hear that statement, I am tempted to scream. Of course, I don’t, but the temptation is there. Please hear me clearly and carefully: most guests go to your church website before they ever set foot on your church property. What they find on the website could very well determine if they will be your guests or not. It’s just that important. I’ll address this issue in more detail later in this chapter.
Myth #4: It’s easy to get around in our church. True story. I had a friend over to my home recently. Before he left, he asked to use my bathroom. Of course, I told him it was fine. For a few seconds, he just stood there. Of course, he did not know where the bathroom was located. My friend had never been to my home, and he did not know how to get around. Do you know why it’s so easy to get around in your church? Because you go there. You worship there. You mingle there. You have years of familiarity with your church facilities. Your guests do not.
Myth #5: Signs and websites are human-centered methodologies. They are not central to the gospel. Sigh. I get it. A church sign is not a gospel essential. It is nothing compared to the centrality of Scripture. But why do we have to make such either/ or choices? Look, heating and air conditioning are not central to the gospel. Why don’t you just do away with them? These may not be issues of the first order, but that does not deem them unimportant. God has gifted us with these technological advances. We should steward them well.
A Primer on Church Signage
Good church signage is a statement of your church’s hospitality. It means you are expecting guests; and it means you desire for guests to come to your church.
Bad or no church signage is a clear sign of a lack of hospitality. It means you are not expecting guests, or you don’t care enough to get ready for guests. It means your congregation is focused on itself instead of others.
So let’s take the signage issue seriously. Let’s see what we can do to become a more welcoming church. Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of others who have never visited our church. And let’s go through a checklist to make sure our signs really communicate that we are ready to welcome guests.
What are some key signage issues a church needs to consider to be a hospitable church? Though this list is not exhaustive, it is a good checklist and beginning point.
Signage is not for members. Remember, signage is not for church members on the inside; it is for those who are on the outside, many of whom have never visited your church. Strive to have “outsider eyes” when evaluating your signage. Think of that single mom with three small kids. Think of that couple coming to your church for the first time in their marriage. Think of that single man who is looking to your church for the first time as a church home. Look beyond yourselves. Serve beyond yourselves.
Quality signage is very important. You don’t have to spend a ton of money to get quality signage. There are many good and inexpensive sources to find high quality material. And, at the risk of being a grammar cop, please use good grammar on your signs. People do notice. And they think your church really does not care if your signs look cheap, or if someone did not take time to proofread the verbiage. I saw a sign recently with this message under the church’s name: “Welcome Back from Spring Brake.” Yes. Really.
The primary external church sign is also very important. Many times zoning authorities will have specific restrictions on the size and type of signage. If there are no zoning restrictions, the main church sign should still complement other signage on the street. It certainly needs to be visible; but it should not look gaudy and out of place.
The parking lot should have clear signage. Guests need to know exactly where to park. There should be clear traffic flow signage if needed. Even smaller churches need at least one sign to direct guests.
There should be clear signage pointing to the entry point or entry points of the church. This issue is taken for granted in most churches, but guests tell us it is very important to their overall experience. Simply stated, guests want to know where to enter the church when they get out of their cars.
The two “must” signs are for handicap and guest parking. The church may also, depending on its congregational makeup, have signs for senior adult parking, expectant mothers’ parking, and parking for families with preschoolers, to name a few.
Internal signage must have three basic characteristics: good quality, readable font, and right height. We see a number of churches that do not take into consideration the line of sight of guests. Often signs are either too high or too low to be seen easily.
All signage should be friendly and communicate an attitude of hospitality. The following message we spotted on a sign posted outside a church’s worship center did not communicate friendliness or joy: “Those bringing food or drink into the worship center will be asked to leave.” Ouch.
Mobile signage can be very helpful for guests and for the church. Many churches, for example, don’t have the same parking requirements during the week as they do during weekend worship services. Mobile signage can be uniquely used for just the worship services.
Church leaders should conduct a signage audit at least once a year. Some of the church leaders or members should inspect every external and internal sign for quality and relevance. Over half of the churches we have visited have internal signage to places that no longer exist or are in different locations now. Ouch again.
Before you dismiss this list as trivial or inconsequential, remember the biblical admonitions on hospitality. These signs are one key part of communicating true hospitality. And they could ultimately be a part of God’s plan for gospel conversations to take place. It’s just that important.
What if you volunteered, with the help of craftsmen in the church, to build, paint, or touch up signage at your church? What if, as a first step, you formed a group to brainstorm economically feasible ways to develop well-made signs for your church? Everyone can play a part; you don’t have to be the executive pastor to be a welcoming church member.
Excerpted with permission from Becoming A Welcoming Church by Thom S. Rainer. Copyright 2018, B&H Publishing Group.