Posted on: 2017-03-30

The Church signboards contest

Church signboards have taken on a whole new dimension all across the world. Their function has evolved from the traditional one of simply showing the name and location of a house of worship.  From the creative to the ridiculous, one can write a doctoral dissertation on the metamorphosis of this phenomenon. I was greatly amused when I saw the signboard of an evangelical Church in Texas, United States which in addition to the name of the Church, read: “Come right in: trespassers will be baptized”. That message, though funny, certainly shows the concern of the congregation. Are Churches not meant to baptize people into the faith? Message meant, message received! Many Church sign boards in Nigeria today carry similar thought-provoking messages indicating the perspective of the community which attends such Churches.

A personal experience

It is safe to say that Church signboards are traditionally meant to indicate the presence of a church in a locality and give necessary information about it. Sadly today while most Pentecostal and new-age churches have almost taken their signboard activity to the level of a ministry in itself, more traditional churches have either remained static or seem to have altogether jettisoned the importance of signboards for their churches. I regret to place the Catholic Church in the second group, considering the general picture. This fact is difficult to explain, given the Catholic Church’s tradition of using visual aids to promote religion and evangelization over the centuries. Even in this age of pervasive social media culture, websites, blogs and social media platforms cannot really eliminate physical means and instruments like the signboard in the paraphernalia of religion. As a parish priest I have had the pleasure of welcoming new members who only found the Church through the signboard which announced its presence when none of the members even knew such people were in town.

Travelling all over

I have had the privilege of traveling wide in Nigeria and as a student of communication I tend to be keenly observant. As a case study, check and see the ubiquitous presence of signboards and banners of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, RCCG, especially in the Southwest of Nigeria, sometimes even to the level of intimidation. You can easily find five of such signboards on one single street. This strategy, adopted by this institution follows two notable principles. One is that repetition generally engenders belief. The sight of so many signboards makes the public believe that that Church is everywhere and has tens of millions of members. The other principle is more technical. All the signboards of the RCCG are made in the same colour and are therefore easily recognizable. That is the same strategy used by successful multinationals, like MTN, GLO, COWBELL etc. This, of course follows a deliberate policy of the Church’s that there should be an RCCG church within five minutes of every household. I personally slightly differ and believe more that people need to do a little “pilgrimage” to the house of God and meet people from further beyond their mere street and neighbourhood. However one cannot counter the effectiveness of the signboard strategy, given the impression it creates. I have often stopped my car to look for the RCCG churches of the multiple signboards on a street I am passing through. I often found no church but only family sitting rooms and houses where people meet for prayer. This is no different from the long-standing but little implemented Catholic Church strategy of having every family as the domestic Church and the policy of small Christian communities in every streets and neighbourhoods. But what is our operational strategy

There is Work to Do

This piece is not a panicky outcry on which Church is spreading most but about learning good lessons wherever they are found. I read a social media survey last week about which church has the highest number of “parishes” all over Nigeria. Many respondents named the RCCG, but a good number still insisted that the Catholic Church remains number one. Wherever the truth lies we need to pay more attention to our Church signboards. We live today in a visual culture globally and so churches should be better indicated and easily located especially because of guests who might need to find them. Not only this, some information about pastoral activities should be exhibited on them Signboards do not eat or drink but they function 24 hours per day, giving out information. Too many Catholic Churches today have no signboard at all. Some signboards have disintegrated and have not been restored for years or even decades. Some have crumbled and have been discarded altogether without the priests, catechists or people showing any interest in restoring them. No evangelizing church should continue this way. Witnessing to Christ goes beyond what we do or say. It extends to helping others to find him. Signboards should be strategically erected at important junctions leading to all our churches, many of which are located off the major roads. The name of the Church should also be signed at the very spot where the Church is or on the building itself, lest the house of God is mistaken for a store or an event centre. Erecting such visible, attractive and appropriate signboards for our churches is a good form of witnessing and it should not be left to priests and catechists alone to care about. Visibility is a main aspect of our credibility and cost consideration should not discourage us.