Co-written by Rev. Keith Haney, Mission Facilitator, LCMS Northern Illinois District
We see them all the time while driving down roads. Some brick and mortar, others monument, and the most recent trend - the led message center signs.
Question: Who do you think signs are meant for? Your response plays the key role in the design of a sign.
My Response: Signs are meant for two basic groups of people: visitors looking for a specific location/business, and to create interest (bring in people) for those unfamiliar with a specific location/business.
Really consider this. Notice that I did not include the business owner or employees of a business. There is no need for them to have a sign in front of their location, correct? Now translate that thought to church and school signs.
Church and School Sign Design
If we are to consider church/school visitors or those unfamiliar with our church/school – the unchurched – as the purpose of having signage, then the design elements must be directed towards these two groups, and most importantly, the unchurched group.
Every church I know says they want to reach unchurched people. One issue is that our model of church/school sign is designed to reach those who already know of our existence. So, what elements of a church or school sign can be directed to the unchurched passerby? That’s the focus of this blog.
Basic Elements of Design
There are very specific elements of sign design that need be considered. Some of the key components are:
- Size of text
- Quantity of information
- Quality: From a FedX survey, 68% of consumers believe that signage reflects the quality of a business’ products or services. So, maintenance of your current sign is important. If you have weeds hiding it or broken parts, those that do not know you may see your school or church as having “weeds” or “broken parts” inside. It’s just not attractive.
- Number of Words: A normal reader can read 1 word approximately every .7 seconds. Now that changes with sign size, traveling and distance, but it is a starting point. What that means is that less is best. And a logo counts only as 1 word.
But, again, these apply to every sign. So what considerations do churches and schools need to consider to reach the unchurched?
The church’s mission
The church’s mission is the focus of all you do, including signage. What then is a church/school sign about? This touches on two important issues:
- Focusing on those outside of God’s grace
- Removing barriers to the Gospel
Focusing on those outside of God’s grace
It all comes down to the audience, designing your sign around ministering to the unchurched. The mission of your church plays into these decisions. You want to use it to effectively engage the unchurched public as they drive by.
Let’s be clear, if those unchurched are to be “attracted” by your sign, it probably is not your sign that is attracting them. It is what your sign communicates about how you will be able to address their heartfelt needs.
Does your sign scream that your church is like the show Cheers, “where everyone will know your name?” In other words, "Here you will find community. We are there to help you navigate the complexities of life with the Word of God and the foundation. We are here to love and care for your family and like Jesus not judge your faith journey. In this place we will point you to the source of hope and healing in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
That is what those are outside of God’s grace need to see in your church sign It is a high calling yes, but isn’t that the high calling Jesus laid out to the church, “You will accomplish greater things than even I did.”
Key components will be your name and worship times, but there is a catch here, which bring us to the next issue – removing barriers.
Removing Barriers to the Gospel
People often drive by a church building without ever considering it for simple reasons:
- They feel the church is indifferent to them. – A sign that only identifies the building may seem indifferent to an unchurched person. Think about that from their perspective. "If they don’t want to let me know what they are about (the mission), why would they care?"
- They have a natural fear of the unknown. – There is a distance between your sign and the inside of your building. “Something” on the sign has to communicate who you are, and what your missionis; what you are about.
- It could possibly be worse, though. Your sign may be sending a message of exclusivity. – Really? Could this be possible? Some unchurched may think so. I’ll use a school sign as an example. Some denominations require that the students be baptized into their particular faith in order to attend. (Personally, I think they are missing a major opportunity to reach the unchurched.) An unchurched person, by definition, will not know your school’s enrollment requirements. So, to say you are such and such Lutheran School, may imply that you need be Lutheran to attend. Some schools and congregations are replacing the word “Lutheran” on their signage with words like “Christian” or “Community”.
Please do not misunderstand, the church should never be ashamed of it’s heritage. More importantly, the church will not abandon its theology.
For those that know the Lutheran Church, our cross (blue or red), and our acronym (LCMS) are very familiar and meaningful to us, to say the least. Any member knows what they are and what they mean. And we can and should use them for identification on signage.
Practically speaking, this does speak to the design elements. Remember that it takes .7 seconds to read a word. A logo or an acronym can replace that word. So, instead of saying, The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, (which the unchurched are not even familiar with), replace it with our Synod’s cross and/or LCMS.
What do you think about all of this? More importantly, what do you think the unchurch think about this?
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