By D E Edwards
Non-existent signage tells the outsider, the newcomer and the unchurched that “This church is for members only.” Or, “There is limited membership space available, and they’re all taken.” Or, “If you know a card- carrying member, perhaps you will be invited.” Poor quality, amateurish, faded and otherwise inadequate signage tells the prospective guest and newcomer that “Not much has been happening around here for quite a while. Minimal signage that is “User-Friendly” to the newcomer and outsider will be installed at three levels:
LEVEL 1: On Highway and Street Approaches
County-seat churches and small town churches will place signs on the highways leading to town from all directions a mile or more distant from the city limits. Signs should be simple and straight-forward, preferably black on white, large block letters, no more than 3 lines. A simple, warm welcome to one and all to your town is sufficient.
Locating signs for churches in cities and suburbs is more challenging. City ordinances can be very restrictive, but there are ways. Criss-cross the cross-streets leading up to the church and identify strategic locations where most of the traffic flows and find ways to place simple directional signs that point in the right direction. Avoid multiple lines that clutter the sign with locations, times, names; just show the church name and the direction.
LEVEL 2: On The Church Property
The first-time guest should be able to find the following before they leave their car: 1) “GUEST PARKING”, 2) Nursery, 3) Pastor, and 4) Worship space. A church that wants to have an open-end welcome to first-time guests, newcomers and the unchurched who have a spiritual itch will reserve 10% of its parking as “GUEST PARKING”. “GUEST PARKING” spaces will be visible from the street and close to the front door of the worship space. In many churches, “GUEST PARKING” can be painted on the parking blocks at wheel-level. The point is to encourage active members to leave the spaces open for first time guests. Tall, official-looking metal signs sometimes make the first-time guest feel like a marked pigeon for the evangelism committee, and thus encourages them to avoid parking in the courtesy space. Of course, special spaces for persons with handicapping conditions should be given top priority closest to the front door of the worship space.
AVOID prominent signs that announce
“PASTOR ONLY” or “STAFF ONLY”.
They signal the wrong message, making it look as if the pastor and staff are the priority “customers” of the church. Staff should park farthest from the doors to the church leaving the closest for members and guests.
LEVEL 3: Inside the Church Building
A church is user-friendly to outsiders, first- time guests and the unchurched when it provides clear, accurate directions inside any door a first-time guest might enter. The following signs are most important: 1) Rest Rooms, 2) Nursery, 3) Pastor and 4) Worship space. Many first-time guests may be reluctant pilgrims, not sure that organized religion can actually speak to their spiritual hungers, but wanting something more than the crazy, dangerous world for their children. Good, clear, accurate signage that helps the first-time guest find the above spaces, communicates that you have been expecting them, and that you intend for them to make themselves at home without further permission. It can be disconcerting to an outsider to enter the church and need to ask a well-dressed stranger how to find the rest room.
The best example of good signage is the suburban church in Austin, Texas that has four separate buildings. They have organized a system that utilizes a handsome transparent maroon Plexiglas shaped like a church window with embossed script lettering in white that gives multiple directions. They have placed the multiple-direction signage at five intersections that experience the most people-traffic. Then they have identified each building with its own individual transparent maroon Plexiglas sign. The maroon color complements the outside color trim of the church.
Another church, a mega-church whose building is constructed on five levels, has re decorated the hallways with color-coded bold stripes, with a different color guiding the first-time guest to specific destinations.
A church with no direction signage at all simply says to the first-time guest “This place is for those who belong: if you have to ask, you obviously do not belong.” If that is not the message you wish to give, put up some appropriate signage.
Almost nine of ten of the churches that used the One Hour Consultation in Southwest Texas did not have adequate signage.