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What’s in a church sign? A ministry

“Try Jesus. If you don’t like him, the devil will always take you back.”
“Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or non-smoking?”
“The best vitamin for a Christian is B-1.”
In case you hadn’t figured it out, our topic is church signs.
First up, meet Kim Graefe. As a little girl, she and her family often drove past a church that changed its sign frequently.
Kim and her sisters would crane their necks, hoping to be the first to spot the latest phrase and recite it.
“I enjoyed the sayings on a purely entertainment level,” Kim said. “But I also … felt a kinship of sorts with that church. I felt invested in their ministry.”
Probably some would argue that teaching preschoolers, filling communion trays and visiting the sick are ministries — but certainly not arranging the letters on a church sign.
Kim would beg to differ.
When her husband, Paul, began preaching at the Folsom, Pa., church, the sign at the corner had sat dormant for months. Kim set out to change that, hoping to inspire others as she had been inspired.
Her first sign: “Know Jesus. Know Peace.”
Others over the years have included:
• “Exercise daily — walk with God.”
• “The world’s greatest gift came wrapped in a manger.”
• “God works as steadily in rust as in rose petals.”
• “God is dead — Nietzsche. Nietzsche is dead — God.”
• “Sign broken — message inside.”
• “This church is prayer-conditioned.”
• “We have a happy hour every Sunday.”
Kim said she looks for “brief sayings with a punch” anywhere she can find them — in books, on Web sites, on bumper stickers. She’s limited to three lines on the sign, so she must be succinct.
“Over the years, I have found two of the more critical areas — besides the message — are grammar and frequency of changing the sign,” she said. “It is very important that the sign is spelled and punctuated properly.”
While in Missouri recently on assignment, Erik Tryggestad and I saw this sign at a Christian Church: “Christians, like pianos, need frequent tuning.”
We both chuckled and one of us joked, “Now, you won’t see that sign at a Church of Christ!”
On a trip through northwest Arkansas, Bill Brant remembers seeing the following sign outside a Church of Christ: “HELL Here Sunday.”
Said Bill: “I assumed it was the sermon topic and not a commentary on the preaching.”
Wayne Newland recalls this sign from a cartoon in a religious publication: “97 weeks since a church split.”
In Anthem, Ariz., the Canyon church is having trouble with folks dumping trash on the property where the congregation is about to build. Minister Tom Riley has a couple of sign ideas:
• “Dump your burdens on the Lord, not on our property.”
• “No dumping. Violators will be baptized.”

The Mitchell, Ind., church has a two-sided sign on Main Street. One week, the minister put this message on one side of the sign: “We believe in rock and roll.”
Folks had to wait until their return trip to see the other side: “He’s our rock and we’re on his roll.”
An elder called from the barbershop that Monday. The barber had seen the first part of the sign, and everybody getting their hair cut was very confused, youth and worship minister Gary Spear said. “We all had a good laugh,” he recalled.


Other congregations steer clear of cute messages and use their signs to invite the community — often with much success — to events such as marriage enrichment classes, debt management seminars and special sermons on topics in the news.
At the Concord Road church in Brentwood, Tenn., the sign lists new members and the names of those baptized.
“You’d be surprised how many people from the community watch our sign every day to see who is new to the congregation,” minister Phil Sanders said. “By putting names up, we have shown the community that we are growing … that this is a congregation where people are welcomed and wanted.”
The Central church in Rupert, Idaho, promotes events or shares Scriptures from recent sermons on its sign. David Ryzak said he can’t say the messages inspire anyone to visit the church. “But we keep trying,” he said, noting that the area is 60 percent Mormon and “hard to convert.”
Check out the Web site of the Hastings, Neb., church at www.hastingschurch.org for a great list of signs. Some favorites:
• “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.”
• “The Bible is most helpful when it is open.”
• “Children need models, not critics.”
• “Aspire to inspire before you expire.”
• “Swallowing pride is nonfattening.”
• “Don’t be so narrow-minded that your ears rub together.”
• “Egotism is obesity of the head.”
• “Pessimists need a kick in the can’ts.”
• “Truth needs no crutches — if it stumbles, it’s a lie.”
Oct. 1, 2006

Filed under: Inside Story

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