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Signs of Life

Lots of people walk or drive by your church building each week. What does it say about you?

You keep the place fixed up. It’s accessible to people with disabilities. You make sure the landscaping is kept up. What else can you do to get your neighbors to visit your church? To pique their curiosity?

In a neighborhood where I used to live, a United Methodist congregation worshiped in an older church built of dull brown-grey brick. Had nothing changed on the outside, casual passers-by would have assumed that it was home to an aging congregation fighting to keep its membership. However, something did change. During each of the major liturgical seasons, this congregation would cover the front doors with flat plastic in the liturgically correct colors. In addition, they would line both sides of their sidewalk with a dozen or so small flags (like the kind you sometimes see on bicycles) of the same shade.

Through inexpensive and simple means, this church presented itself with creativity and spark—and it just begged to be visited.

What Attracts? Detracts?

The way we perceive things is complicated. Entire marketing and branding industries are obsessed with figuring out what attracts people to a product or service. Likewise, you are going to have work hard at figuring out what about your church might attract (or put off) your neighbors. Here are a few questions to get you started.

  • Is there visual confusion about where to park or where the entrance doors are? Banners and posters on doors can do wonders.
  • What exterior visuals are going to coordinate with the fixed architecture while standing out and giving a fresh appearance?
  • For the money, what is going to have the most impact? Large-scale graphics can be expensive.
  • What will not only make a splash but be sustainable as well? Don’t plan something that takes two dozen volunteers to install. You’ll quickly tire of the administrative work and the planned changes won’t be made. Ragged signage is worse than no signage at all.
  • Do your neighbors have a perception of you that should be enhanced or minimized somehow? If you know from talking to them (doing so is key!) that they think you are stuffy and out of touch, do something radical. Too contemporary? Visually give a nod to tradition.

As with any kind of advertising, represent yourself well and honestly. If you have something good going on the inside, don’t be shy about showing it off on the outside.

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For additional material from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, click here.