Jason Wright: Does your church sign tell the truth?
Last week I attended church in Romney, West Virginia. It’s a cozy, quiet town where even the church mice whisper.
The beautiful trip to Romney from my home in Woodstock, Virginia, isn’t a drive. It’s a painting. Embedded in the scenery are roadside church signs announcing service times, special guests and both inspiring and quirky quotes. They invite everyone from the first timer to the widow who hasn’t missed a Sunday since ’77 to walk through their doors. Perhaps, above all, whether they spell it out in plastic letters or not, these signs suggest what to expect when you enter.
The last such sign I noticed before arriving at the small chapel said:
“All Christians Have The Same Boss”
I nodded, smiled, pulled to the side of the sleepy street and took a picture. The photo quickly disappeared into my iPhone, but the message lingered all day long.
I thought of the many church signs I’ve passed through my years on five-lane highways and rural roads barely big enough for the squirrels and me. Are all those signs really telling the truth?
Perhaps your church, like mine, doesn’t have a sign 15 feet from the road. But if it did, what would it say?
“Join us! We’ll save you a seat.”
“Come in. We’ll love you!”
“Welcome! Our family isn’t complete without you.”
Maybe. But, would it be true?
Have you ever been a member of a congregation where other signs might be more accurate and painfully honest?
“Join us! But don’t sit in my pew.”
“Come in! We’ll judge you!”
“All are welcome! Unless you’re in blue jeans, then we might stare.”
“We’re glad to have you! But, let’s be real, just this Sunday. We’ve been a small church for a very long time and we feel like family. We welcome you today, but don’t let the chapel door hit you on the way out.”
Fine, so that last one might not fit on the sign, but the spirit of it sure would.
Those must be the exceptions, right?
Certainly at the humble church I attended in West Virginia, which also didn’t have a sign, none of those negative hypotheticals would have fit.
Theirs could have said any of these.
“Welcome! We will serve you.”
“Come in. But don’t sit anywhere except next to me!”
“Join us! We’re not a family without you.”
At the end of a very long Sabbath day I pulled into my driveway and sat for a moment. I thought of the signs I’d passed next to churches ranging from large enough to hold 1,000 visitors to perhaps barely big enough for the pastor and his immediate family. All of them, I choose to believe, were warm, inviting, kind and accurate.
Then I looked at the patch of melted snow soggy grass near my own home and wondered. What if my home had a roadside sign? What would it say? How would it promote what to expect inside?
“Come in! But if you stain the carpet, we’re sending you the bill.”
“Welcome. But don’t stay too long, our favorite show is on.”
“Join us! We’ll love you! But only if you look like us, pray like us and believe precisely what we believe.”
I certainly hope none of those reflect what to expect. But I fear on some days, they might. Thank heaven the letters are changeable, especially on the imaginary signs.
If your church has a sign, I invite you to consider whether it accurately reflects the collective personality and behavior of your church family. And if you don’t have a sign, consider what it might say if you did.
As for me, if I could design a sign in front of my local chapel, I would want it to say that we know God lives. We know that he loves us. We know that he loves you, too.
It better be a big sign, because there’s more.
This isn’t our house. It’s his. The pews, principles, even the words we speak and the air we breathe belong to him.
Trust us, we’re imperfect. We’ll stick our feet in our mouths and sometimes we’ll fumble around as children of God are meant to. But no matter what you look like, where you’re from, or whether you have a Ph.D. or dreams of a GED, we will love you. In fact, we already do.
Now that’s a church sign worth aspiring for.
Come to think of it, I want that one in my front yard, too.
Guess I’ve got some work to do.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of 10 books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The 13th Day of Christmas.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or http://www.jasonfwright.com.