Through the Eyes of a Visitor

The Case for Smart Church Signage

Article written by Artistry Labs president, Richard Reising

One of the greatest challenges found within the church is the ability to process our own churches from outsider perspectives. Our denominations, church buildings and websites all say something to a visitor about what we value. Guess what? So does our signage. And quite poignantly, it actually says something to visitors about how much we value them. Too often, it says, "Sorry visitor, this church is just for people who already know their way around." Sometimes it says, "We only had the plans and resources to put up the walls, not to guide you through them." Or perhaps, "We are scrappy and less professional than your children's elementary school. Each room has its own sign style, depending on what decade it had our attention"

Sorry for being so direct, but as institutions that have been given a mandate for providing direction to a lost world, churches lag dramatically behind when it comes to providing direction within their four walls. Many churches have defaulted to expecting visitors to ask for directions or to find their way to an information booth. There is only one problem with that: the average un-churched visitor is suffering from complete anxiety about being there in the first place. You might as well put a spot light on them and announce their presence via loudspeaker.

The next level in signage is about welcoming.
Visitors are not supposed to feel like an imposition. They are our guests. They deserve our forethought, our care and direction. Greeters are important but can never replace a sign that gives direction to the restroom from someone exiting the service. Signage is a part of your fundamental infrastructure for acclimating people, helping them feel comfortable and at home.

When you walk in Starbucks and see their latest graphic on the iron stand, or when you see the light-post banners lining the entry at Disney World, two things are happening that you are likely to miss. One, your expectation level for what is being offered goes up, and two, subconsciously, you are ascribed value by them and you begin to feel all the more welcomed. Just like the "happy birthday" sign strung across your living room doorframe, or the "welcome home" signs at the airport for the soldiers returning from war, signage tells people they are valuable. It is a deep thing that you rarely recognize, but once you notice it, is it any wonder you are polarized to be a part of it and want to make it a part of you? Great signage simply does that.

Ask yourself, "Is my church built to make visitors feel as if you thought of everything for them, or does it make them feel as if they are an afterthought; uninvited to the party?"

The next level in signage is about branding.
Gone are the days of white letters etched in brown plastic. I was recently in a meeting with a church of about 10,000 members when the Director of Marketing asked me to describe my take on the style of the church's interior. We were fast friends so I tongue-and-cheek replied, "historic contemporary", and moved on. It took a second to sink in and as I talked on in another direction the Media Coordinator burst out laughing. "Historic contemporary is about right!" We all had a good laugh and we knew what our obstacle was. The décor was reminiscent of a decade gone by. It was a reminder of the time in which that style was contemporary, but everyone knew that time had passed. Guess what the major perpetrator was? The signage.

It is not sufficient to just have signage. Signage, and anything else overtly visible for that matter, indicates the era in which you are most highly invested. If it is not contemporary, it simply indicates that today is not as important to your church as yesterday was. The style and
quality of your signage are value indicators. Are they boring or colorful? Are they busy or simple? Are they respectable or "cool"? The answer goes a long way to telling a visitor what you value as a church.

What that means is that smart signage solutions will have to be able to adapt to changes in style. Furthermore, smart churches will use their signage to reinforce the growing spirit of their brands: the essence of who they are as a church. It ultimately becomes part of your intangible asset list that makes visitors all the more respect you, and regulars inherently more proud to belong to your church. Let's face it; it is hard to lead a team these days with poster-board and magic markers. There was a day we could do that as a church and get results. The challenge is simply that low standards equate to low vision. The standards by which you communicate tell the world about the worth of what you offer as a church; challenge is, the world has pretty high standards for communication.

Ask yourself, "What does our signage tell the world about us? What does it indicate about our values?"

Before you make a signage change.
Understand that signage is an investment in both the welcoming of visitors and in the sense of belonging of regulars. If you are not able to do it right, wait until you can or do it rightly piece by piece. Signage belongs everywhere a visitor or a regular might be entering, standing, or simply wondering, "Where is the??" It belongs on the outside of your church welcoming us in. It belongs in the entryway. It belongs at the base of every check-in line. It creates flow. It removes anxiety. If you make it professional and consistent, it creates positive intangibles.

Another major factor to consider before you blanket the church is modality. Smart signage can grow with you and adjust to you over time. It should be an investment that you can carry to a new facility. It should be updateable so you can grow as a church and turn the "Pre-K" classroom door sign into a "4 Year Olds" sign as you break into multiple classes. It should allow for adaptations to your branding efforts and create a single investment point that yields many years of migrating design style.

A client recently called me to share the effect of a recent signage overhaul. He laughed, "I have had more people come up to me and tell me they were excited about what was going on at the church than I can remember. I even have had some people step up and make major financial commitments towards the vision. This all within the last two weeks and all we changed was some paint and our signage." My friends, signage welcomes, it enhances a sense of belonging and it indicates the standards of your vision. It is an intangible with great effect. Your vision is in your signage. "Write the vision and engrave it so plainly upon tablets that everyone who passes may [be able to] read [it easily and quickly] as he hastens by." Habakkuk 2:2 (Amplified)