Dozens of websites and social media sites collect pictures of church signage, celebrating those that seem to work — "Many Who Seek God at the Eleventh Hour Die at 10:30" — or panning others, such as, "Stop, Drop and Roll Doesn't Work in Hell."
Some even inspired books. Pam Paulson and her husband, Steve, took a four-year, 122,000-mile trek through all 50 states to chronicle interesting church marquees after noticing the changing signs at two churches near their Florida home. With a van full of hundreds of maps, it was a slow go after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, with churches seldom straying from patriotic themes. But around the middle of the decade, Pam Paulson said, cleverer messages began emerging.
"A lot of people we talked to thought it was just a good way to get people to at least acknowledge their church. It was true," the 59-year-old Methodist said. "We weren't looking for the humorous, but they were always the ones that caught our attention."
And that's the point, according to Wes Henson, pastor at the Walnut Street Baptist Church in southern Illinois city of Carbondale. He admitted he once drew an earful from a woman angry about the potential sexual innuendo when his marquee read, "Waking up and shouting, 'Oh God' is not the same as being in church."
"I guess I did that on a day I felt bold and confident," Henson said. "But when you have something on there that catches attention, at least for a moment, it means at least they're thinking about your church."
Churches largely are left on their own when it comes to marquees. The 13 million-member United Methodist Church doesn't tell its congregations what to write, said Larry Holland, the church's global communications chief. But it offers a big suggestion: Make them welcoming, non-judgmental and theologically accurate.