Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Tripped by the church curb

REALTORS WILL TELL you that many a home sale is sealed or lost in the first few moments, when prospective purchasers pull up outside the front door. It’s all about the curb appeal.

This came to mind recently after a series of extended road trips took me past scores of churches—from storefronts to mega-campuses—that left me wondering why anyone without any kind of faith background would ever set foot inside one.

Just as home hunters make all sorts of judgments based on how tidy the lawn is, or the peeling paint on the front door, I suspect many passers-by draw some unhelpful conclusions from our frontage and signage. From what they are often presented with, they might be forgiven for thinking:

We are cheesy. There may have been a time when a pithy sign stood out and caught people’s attention as they drove past. However, that’s long gone in the meme-saturated world of social media. Especially when our jokes are so lame. Posting the likes of tired clichés like “seven prayerless days make one weak” should be a fineable offense.

We are cultish. Inviting people to “come and worship with us” may seem inviting, but only to those who know what that means. It’s “insider language,” preaching to the choir. Is an unchurched person going to feel comfortable thinking they have to act a certain way in “worship” if they come? Are they going to be made to feel uncomfortable?

We are celebrity-driven. Why do we have the name of the pastor on the sign? I haven’t noticed any businesses with the names of their CEOs in block capitals out front. Rather, they “sell” their service (by which I mean what they actually do, not just the time they are open).

We are condescending. We know that Scripture is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12), so posting a Bible verse must be a good thing, right? Without a context or a personal “carrier,” it may just as easily come over as preachy, whether it’s extolling God’s grace (hidden message: We know God’s love, you don’t, so we’re better than you) or His wrath (hidden message: You’re going to hell, we’re not, so we’re better than you).

We are cheap. It’s true that coupons and deals get people in the doors of businesses, so I guess one could argue that providing details of upcoming flea markets and jumble sales may be a community service. But shouldn’t we be focused on a public message that’s more transformational than transactional? Namely, one that says we’re about more, not less?

We are “cool.” Admittedly, as I get older I’m becoming a bit of a curmudgeon who thinks that any place without the word “church” in the name is probably trying a bit too hard to be hip. Still, I believe that, ultimately, people are going to be drawn somewhere that is willing to stand out rather than want to fit in. Downplaying difference may make people suspicious: What are they hiding?

So, what about your church’s curb appeal? Does it trip people up, or is it a good access point?


Photo by jon rubin on Foter.com/CC BY

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