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They abound in our American culture. Our roads and highways are covered with signs of all shapes and sizes clamoring for our attention and proclaiming various points of view. We are told when to go, when to stop, where to shop, what to buy, whom to vote for, even which soap works best. Not to be outdone by their competition, many churches have started pushing some sign gospel of their own, but the news is far from good.
Most American churches make little, if any, impact on their local communities. Even mega-churches that boast thousands of members are little more than social clubs with a regular weekly meeting. In a noble but misguided attempt to be “ultra-relevant,” the church is quickly becoming completely irrelevant. By trying to meet people’s felt needs, the church is always one week behind (at best). The pressure to be contemporary and relevant is nowhere more evident than in the “thought-provoking” drivel that adorns most marquees and welcome signs of churches across the country.
• Forbidden fruit creates many jams.
• Dusty Bibles lead to dirty lives.
• You can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.
• Down in the mouth? It's time for a faith lift.
• Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin Robbins.
• Fight truth decay—study the Bible daily.
• Do not wait for the hearse to take you to church.
• Running low on faith? Step in for a fill-up.
Now, before you get the wrong idea and label me as a killjoy for taking this light-hearted fare too seriously, I need to explain myself further. Like it or not, most people already have an opinion about “church.” That’s why they don’t go. Whether it was a bad experience as a child, a pushy fundamentalist brother-in-law, or just “too busy,” most people can come up with a reason (usually many more) as to why they don’t go to church. Not that they are good reasons of course, they are excuses to mask the real reason—they simply don’t see any reason to go. The church has nothing to offer them. They pay their bills on time, they feed their families, they take their kids to ball games, what do they need the church for? Yes, this completely misses the point of why the church exists, but now look again at those “sign sermons” listed above. How are you ever going to convince your neighbor of his total depravity and selfish sin-nature when your local church is willing to admit that they are only slightly better than a trip to Baskin Robbins? How can you dogmatically claim that turning to Christ is their only hope of escaping eternal separation from God, when the church on the corner tells them that what they really need is a “faith-lift?” And don’t even get me started on “truth decay!”
We can’t soft-sell the gospel. The Bible is a big book. Is that because God is long-winded or is it because the gospel is more than just John 3:16? We know the answer. God and His truth cannot be encapsulated on a greeting card, much less a church sign. If God thought it necessary to use 66 books to communicate His truth to us, what makes us think that we can repeat it with one sentence? How many pastors are content to give one-sentence sermons on Sunday? Even churches that only put up Bible verses on their signs often end up using these verses way out of context. The Bible is a whole that is greater than the sum of its individual verses. Maybe universities could begin to put this tactic to use and post a new sentence on their sign every week. Then, after four years of driving by and reading you could stop in and get your bachelor’s degree. There would probably need to be two sentences a week for the master’s programs though. It sounds ridiculous because it is.
James Harvey, who has written two books for pastors and church leaders to give them ideas for their own “sign ministry,” has stated, “I try to convince churches they have a drive-by ministry of thousands who might not ever step inside their church, but they can still reach them.” I agree, and the most important way a church can use its sign to speak to these thousands is by putting the service times on it in big, bold letters and be done with it. At least then people will know what time to show up for their “faith fill-up.”