O God, Send Me a Sign!

Who thinks up those goofy, pun-laden slogans seen on church marquees and sign boards, anyway? Are phrases like “seven days without prayer makes one weak” or “forbidden fruit creates many jams” the new hermenuetic of a drive-by world?

Slate magazine’s Doree Shafir explores the background and development of church signs including an interesting slide show.

There is a web-site where you can create your own church signs. Someone took this and turned into a very funny Church Sign Smackdown.

Of course, there is money to be made. There are books to help busy pastors or sign committees with writers block keep their signs current.

Photographers Pam and Steve Paulsen created a book containing 300 images of church signs across the country “Church Signs Across America.” An April 8, 2007 New York Times Book Review says they “have found and documented the uncommon poetry and sly wit used to rouse the flock, and the book is curiously inspirational.”

Most of the slogans are decidedly clever — “Free Trip to Heaven, Details Inside,” at the Ascension Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Mo., appears on the cover, though that’s not even the best.

Here’s a sampling: “Rapture, the Only Way to Fly,” at the Venice Baptist Church in Los Angeles; “You’ve Seen the Movie, Now Come Read the Book,” at the Central Parkway Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla.; “The Easter Bunny Didn’t Rise From the Dead,” at the Cypress Lake Baptist Church in Fort Myers, Fla.; and “Swallow Your Pride. It Contains No Calories,” at the Bridgeton Bible Church in Bridgeton, Mo. But the hippest, at the Montgomery Place Church of God in Albuquerque, is “Jesus Is the Rock That Doesn’t Roll.”

Not all are this witty, but even the somber ones, like “Exposure to the Son May Prevent Burning,” “We Are Too Blessed to Be Depressed” and “Pray Until Something Happens,” provoke a smile. Nor must one be a true believer to savor them. The agnostic who merely appreciates the art of snappy advertising copy will know exactly how difficult it is to write something as effective as the motto for the Christian Assembly Ministries in Stewartsville, N.J.: “Give Your Troubles to God. He’s Up All Night Anyway.”

Curiously inspirational or not, the signs point to the challenge and pitfalls of making the gospel comprehensible.

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