"We do take them seriously because they are a communications level. We consider them to be grassroots," Holland said.
But the messages should be fresh and avoid negative slogans, such as "'hell's waiting for you' kinda thing," said Woody Murray, a former advertising agency worker who in recent years wrote a column about church signs.
"A clever message wears old in a few days, like television commercials that have a joke," said Murray, a suburban Nashville Baptist now working for Gideons International. "Once you see it, you don't wanna see it again."
Sources of the signage run the gamut, from sermons to pithy themes found on road trips. At West Salem Trinity United Methodist Church in southern Illinois' Mount Vernon, Brad Henson gets much of his guidance from the Internet — making the task far easier than when he used a 3-inch-thick book of illustrations.
Henson, whose church sign has sported such messages as "A closed mouth gathers no foot" and "Dairy Queen is not the only place that has awesome Sundays," acknowledged that motorists who see his signs may never come into his church.
But that's not his goal. Henson said it's simply about preaching in a different, sometimes softer way with messages that provoke thought or provide comfort to those passing by.
"That's an awesome ministry, whether they darken the doors of our church or not," he said. "That's really powerful as far as I'm concerned."