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Signs & blunders: Baptist Press misses the mark[eting]

Woody Murray’s recent article in the Baptist Press entitled ‘Church signs are key to outreach‘ once again exemplifies the failure of the Church to understand the impact of individual and household web usage on various community outreach and marketing initiatives. Here’s why:

Denominations aside, which of the following signs is likelier to get you in the pews on Sunday morning?

The first sign, entitled ‘Trinity Church,’ was created by me using the online ‘Church Sign Generator.’ Tragically, the second sign from the ‘Church of the Cross’ is a real-world example of good intentions paving the way to h-e-double-toothpicks.

Here’s my point. While on one hand, Mr. Murray is correct to instruct us to consider marketing using methods outside of the digital realm when he states:

“… make sure the messages are very inviting and that they stay fresh. That is where many churches make a crucial mistake –- they don’t devote enough time to their messages …

… a message as simple as the following can be much more effective than any humorous or clever saying …”

He’s incorrect in thinking that a simple “you’re invited” is all it will take. Not in a day an age where people tend to investigate their worship options online before ever stepping into the door.

Not convinced? Then consider this recent stat from the Leichtman Research Group:

Nearly three-quarters of households in the U.S. now subscribe to an Internet service provider and high-speed (broadband) Internet accounts for over 70% of all online subscribers at home.

Note, that’s 70% of households. Couple metric with the 2004 factoid from the Pew Internet & American Life Project:

” 64% of wired Americans have used the Internet for spiritual or religious purposes … 17% have looked for information about where they could attend religious services …”

And it all implies, through some admittedly amateur statistical analysis, that:

  • roughly 87 million U.S. households are online
  • of that number, 61 million U.S. households are hi-speed users
  • of that number, almost 40 million households use the Internet for faith-based activities
  • of the 61 million, roughly 10 million households use the Internet to shop for a church.

So while Mr.Murray is correct about leveraging highly visible non-web entities to communicate invitations – he also needs to update his thinking on what goes on said signs to take into account the changing Internet usage and related church-selection habits of their surrounding community.

Now some may argue that basically only 11% of the U.S. population are shopping for churches online – so a web invitation is not necessary. I would argue that of the 302 million Americans – how many make decisions as to which church to go to on Sunday?

In other words, in the same way we speculate on Sundays that Jesus actually fed about 15,000 in Matthew 14:13-21 – because head counts back then only considered the adult males – in a similar way I’m suggesting that we need to realize that signage not aimed at surfing is a marketing opportunity lost!

So rather than consuming manpower and time to manually modify such signage one-letter-at-a-time on a weekly basis – direct such resources to consider the likelihood that the person driving the car by the sign is also likely the person making the decision where to worship based upon their online research!

In short, use church signage to state when the services occur, and where to learn more about the church online – sans the space wasting “http://www…

This way passersbys are invited not just to visit, but to explore the personality and purpose of the church through:

  • the enumeration of events;
  • detailed driving directions;
  • print-outs of 1st time visitor’s guides;
  • podcasts on popular and pertinent topics;
  • surveys of online sermons, and
  • pictures & videos of smiling face.

All elements that can’t be conveyed on a simple sign – saving all said human resources to maintain the website.

All that said, I do think Mr. Murray makes one very valid point that is a important for church home pages as they are for church marquees:

“Another important point to remember is being brief with your sign wording. The goal is not to fill every inch of the sign with words. People can’t read a long message in the second or two it takes to pass the church. Put too many words on your sign, and folks won’t even take a look. The rule of thumb (and it also applies to billboards, should your church have them) is to say what you need to say in seven to 10 words -– even less if possible. “

Case in point:

It also doesn’t hurt to have proof readers for both the web and the sign, as aggregated at the website:

Other related articles:

4 Comments

  1. Where did you get that Church of the Cross sign? I ask becaus emy parents go to a “Church of the Cross” United Methodist Church, but I’m pretty sure that’s not their sign. I hope not, anyway. :-P

  2. As a data point, we saw a definite increase in website traffic when we added the url to our sign out front.

    The web just *is* how everyone researches everything these days, and putting the url on the sign lets potential visitors or those driving by look you up and learn without the ‘risk’ of having to walk in the door first.

    Frankly, as our webmaster, I was a little embarrassed that I hadn’t thought of putting our URL on our sign a few years before we did… and it was someone else who thought of it. ;-)

  3. While we’re on the topic, here are some funny church signs…

    http://www.wilk4.com/humor/humorc13.htm

    Amazingly to me, people have actually written quite a few books on church signs, funny & serious…

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