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December 26, 2008

Catch-Phrase Christians



Here's my up-front disclaimer: I'm not fond of Christian jokes and one-liners. I might be a terrible stick-in-the-mud, but when I pass a church marquee sign posting a "Christian" message, I wince. Although I fight the urge, I read it. And sometimes I need to seek God's forgiveness for the thoughts that enter my mind after my car has passed by.

I live in a small town where church marquee signs are prevalent. Before Election Day, one sign read, "To find God, turn right and go straight." A left-leaning friend was outraged by what she believed was a political message. Granted, the church was located on the right side of the road, but I wondered if the pastor realized that, if drivers decided to "go straight," they would eventually end up at the Davison Bacon & Sausage Works down the road. (Can God really be found between tubes of hanging salami?)

Another local church sign once read, "If God gave you the same priority you give Him, would you be saved?" My instinctive response was a low growl. I wasn't being convicted by the Holy Spirit; I simply have an adverse reaction to being smacked in the head while traveling down Main Street. It doesn't seem to reflect our Savior's style.

Several Christian websites are dedicated to help "spread the gospel rapidly" by posting catchy one-liners such as "God answers knee-mail," "God loves everyone, but probably prefers ?fruits of the spirit' over ?religious nuts'," and "Sitting in church doesn't make you a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes you a car." My response is always the same: "Huh?"

Or consider the church sign I passed while jogging on a terrifically hot day. It read, "WARNING! Exposure to the Son may prevent burning." Sure, I get it. But why does it make me crazy?

I feel especially provoked by one-liners like, "Why do some people change churches? What difference does it make which one you stay home from?" and "Don't make me come down there--signed God." Statements like this are patronizing, condescending,, and place the reader on the defensive side of living.

Do we really want to guilt people into worshipping with us? When people read these messages and the out-loud response is, "See?THAT'S why I don't go to church!" we've failed our community--and our faith.

Before I gave my life to Christ, reading "Be ye fishers of men. You catch ?em; he'll clean ?em," would have never worked for me. If I believed, prior to my darkening the doors of the church, that some wanted to "catch" and "clean me," I would have swum for my life. I have always had a highly developed fight-or-flight instinct, and I had no interest in being caught or cleaned.

Instead, God gently moved in on me, seemed to sit beside me and softly spoke. Suddenly, I realized that he and I were in the same place at the same time. I learned, through relationship with others, that he had a genuine interest in my life and wanted in. I said yes to God and took those first wobbly steps of faith.

Are we really trying to reach out to those who are far from God? If the answer is "Yes," we need to speak the words that others understand and will respond to positively. Our audience is comprised of moms and dads, children and grandparents, friends and neighbors. They are overworked, tired and stretched to the limits emotionally, mentally and financially. They laugh too little and worry too much. They are searching for something meaningful in their lives and often look in the wrong places. And, once in a while, they timidly walk through the doors of our churches.

If we insist on using catch phrases to attract our community, perhaps we should run the quote-of-the-week by our unchurched friends before placing them on a sign. Ironically, we may need to have others tell us the truth about the Truth we're trying to share. Filtering language through those who will be honest with us might keep us from displaying critical or silly phrases about God to the community. And, it might result in an interesting one-on-one conversation about the most powerful words of all.

We have an incredible opportunity to invite people on a journey of faith. As for church marquee signs, perhaps we simply need to say, Sunday Services: 9:00 and 11:00 a.m. All Welcome!

With God's spirit, those words might be more than enough.

Comments

Although I don't get annoyed by the one-liners on marquees, I do agree that the (overwhelming) majority of them do not attract non-Christians to our churches. Those who post sayings need to determine who their audience is, and what they are trying to convey. And if we truly are trying to reach the lost, we need to change the "cutesie" signs to ones that say what we really mean!

Eileen,
I was a bit confused by one-liners before I became a Christian. Since I didn't really understand the Christian lingo, I thought Christians might be from another planet. I agree that some sound cute but they don't really speak the message of Christ.

By the way, I'm not sure if you have Cracker Barrell in the North, but I doubt it since ya'll are sweet tea deprived...they have a book I saw recently and it is all about church signs.
Blessings,
Theresa

Eileen:
I, too, was part of a small church in a small town for a few years. I always felt embarrassed by the catchy phrases posted on the window of our church office. (We were too small to have a marquee.)
The most notorious (in my mind) read: "Don't wait for a hearse to bring you to church."
The people in my church who posted the sayings were well-intentioned -- very sincere, loving people who simply thought the sayings were funny.
But the hidden messages in sayings like this one are just awful! For example, the example I shared...
1. makes light of death;
2. implies that the point is merely to show up at church (rather than have one's relationship with God restored); and
3) like most of those catchy Christian sayings, inadvertently communicates a resounding message: "We think we're waaaaaaaaaaaay better than you!"
I wonder if perhaps this is a generational thing? I don't know a single GenXer who likes cheesy church signs. (I'm sure some exist...but I don't know any.) However, I do know many Boomers who find them entertaining and some who actually think they are good outreach.
What do you think? Do you think generational differences are a factor here?

Thank you for this makes-sense post.

I love the one liners. I am always watching for one more that I haven't seen before. In days like these, we need a little humor in our lives. Don't you think you would feel more welcome in a church that knows how to laugh? Or stiff and solemn?

My beef with cheesy one-liners isn't that they're funny to some (I'm hardly one to rail against laughter in church), or even that they're cheesy, but due to the purpose (and, typically, result) of a one-line joke. That being, you get a cheap, quick laugh without having to think about it.

Or, as the case may be, a cheap, quick insult without having to think about it.

Either way, there still remains the "cheap", "quick", and "without having to think about it."

And I agree with Kelli's comment. It's quite possible to be funny without being flippant. I especially hate the one-liners about salvation and hell - these are not flippant issues. They're already discussed plenty tritely on popular Gen X/Y shows like "Family Guy". As a 20-something with seven years of post-secondary ed. behind me - ie. lots of regular exposure to my peers, and not a Christian colleges - I have yet to see anyone taking a trite joke about hell and salvation on a church sign any more seriously than they take a trite joke about hell and salvation on "Family Guy".

I suppose this generation gap - that being that there are a lot of boomers who find this stuff funny and think it effective - raises another crucial question: how does a church split the numbers in terms of how many people an advertising tactic will attract, versus how many people that same tactic will drive away? How do we count the value, the cost, of such divisive advertising?

I agree with you! No tolerance for one liners. I am very weary of Christians making themselves (and perhaps God) look silly!

I think the non-Christians have enough pithy sayings to read, and enough empty comments thrown at them daily to last a life time.

Let's give them authenticity and excellence in all we say and do, that would be something they don't come in contact with often!

Gosh, I thought I was the only one that am irritated by these church signs. Thanks for validating my annoyance! Just today I read one that actually made me sad - 'If Christ wasn't in your Christmas, you had a Happy Hollow Day!' WHAT??!! So, basically this church was telling everyone that they were wrong, and as Kelli said, they are waaaaaaay better and have a better Christmas holiday than anyone else! Man, I hope they are ready for the thousands of people who will be running to their doors so they can have a happy holiday someday. I don't think Jesus would introduce himself that way, nor would he entice others to him by insulting them. But I do believe that the people at these churches do mean well - they do want people to come to their church and connect with the God that they know and love. I just think it's very misguided marketing!!!

Wow.... of all the things to complain about. How petty and thoughtless of when the Holy Spirit truely convicts someone most likely those already exposed to the Christian way of life wich btw is just as important as reaching the lost. Perhaps you failed to think of how God can prompt those to think of just how short our lives are that they can be snuffed out in the twinkling of an eye and that most people thankfully are far more focused on enjoying the abundant life than griping about (of all things) messages designed to prompt others to things of the LORD. sad, truly sad
You should study what "born-again" "Spirit-filled" Christians have known about for quite some time: it's called resisting the flesh, those things that make you look more like the world that you're supposed to be in and not of. Beth Moore and Joyce Meyer have excellent resourses on this topic. So relevant for our spoiled country. Focus on something really important like protecting the unborn.

Personally, I like the sayings & quite a few people have come to church because the sayings made them think.

I just can not believe this article or most of the accompanying comments. You all really need to get a grip. You are being WAY too overly sensitive about these marquee remarks. Most the people I know think they are funny and give their day a quick hit of humor, and yes that includes GenXers. I agree with the comment that says you need to focus on the really important, life changing events going on around you and truly effecting people's lives and quit being so petty and trite.

As one who is responsible for writing the marquee phrases at my church, I can tell you that I understand where you're coming from, but I don't appreciate your approach. Many of us don't use recycled catch phrases and spend several days and nights in prayer and meditation to write a phrase that is relevant to the season or to the sermons topic at the time. I can honestly say that God always puts a phrase on my heart. With that said, I have nothing against the "cheesy" phrases, and have howled laughing as I drove by them on more than one occasion. The commenter who said it's just as important to reach professed Christians as it is to reach the unsaved is correct. We all need reminders. Why don't you ask to become the marquee writer at your church instead of belittling others. Use your feelings to make the situation better. If you don't want to do that, simply move along and don't bother to read marquees. But please, don't mock others or take away their joy.

I think we loose sight of the fact that people are different and therefore different things affect them as well as convict them. If Marquee sayings are not your thing, just be thankful that some ARE being blessed by them. I know for a fact, as I do our church marguee. When our sign was hit by a drunk driver, and out down for 2 months, even I was amazed at those asking when it was going back up! Some even told me that they had other shorter ways to get to work, but would drive by my church on purpose just to read the sign! Sometimes the message is funny, other times thought provokeing. But the point is to draw others to Christ...whichever route that may be!
God Bless and to all Marquee Coordinators - keep your ministry gift going!

The cheesy signs bug me. I actually googled "cheesy Christians" to see if there was anyone out there who agreed with me. It's not that it's life changing, but I do believe many people (especially young people) will never go to church because of the "cheesy-ness". I'm 18 years old and I know that people my age stay far away from those churches. Fortunately, there is a church nearby that was started by collegians and has been very successful. People my age are swarming that church because the teaching is "real", the worship is "real", and people don't try to be funny to get people to come. It's all about loving people and building relationships. No one wants to come to a church where they try to be funny to get people to come. People want someone to want them to come. Someone to care that they are there. Not someone to entertain them with their funny (or not funny) one-liners.

Who ever said that catchy phrases on marquees were meant to bring in new members only? Maybe they could also be meant to just plant a seed in the mind of the lost. Or maybe just to make you smile or laugh. I would much rather read something funny or touching or thoughtful on my way home than the 57 political posters and 12 yard sale signs that liter every corner from here to there. I look for the signs to be changed every week and am disappointed when they are not refreshed. I have read some that make me think and some that I would not agree with, but that does not stop me from looking. Yes the church is trying to reach the moms and dads and children and grandparents and yes those who are far from God. But also those moms and dads that are within the family of God. The Marquee is meant for all that take the time to read it. Its meant to say "Look,there is a church that is open for buisness and their friendly and they want you to smile and yes they want you to come in for a visit or to remind you that we are still here and we love you and we hope you have a nice day." It's a ministry with more than one objective. I'm curious. Does the church that your husband pastors have a sign and what does it say?

"Can God really be found between tubes of hanging salami?"

Sure, why not?

"Are we really trying to reach out to those who are far from God? If the answer is "Yes," we need to speak the words that others understand and will respond to positively."

Preach on!

I believe that everyone sees and experiences things differently. For you those signs may be annoying or irritating but for some they may be the thing that keeps them from jumping off a bridge or driving their car into a tree. Yes, some of them are a bit corny but they serve a purpose. God calls each of us in different ways, for you He just eased His way into your heart for others He may use laughter to get to them or a marquee or a billboard. You stated that some people don't have enough laughter well sometimes those billboards or marquees are there to provide laughter. A way to escape into a fantasy world. I personally love the billboard that reads something to the effect of: "I created traffic jams so you could have time to talk to me. -God" It made me think. And allowed me to appreciate the one on one time I have with God while sitting in traffic. Sometimes now even when not in traffic I turn off the radio and just talk to God while driving. Thank you for your thoughts but try to have an open mind next time you see one and think about how it might affect someone else rather than yourself then it might not be so bad.

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