What Your Church Sign May Say About Your Church Vision

I recently heard a pastor compliment another church for being a church that was actually moving forward, being “alive” and “contemporary,” brushing away the ecclesiastical cobwebs and making a Kingdom impact. Leaning in to hear the breakthrough, he said: “What was it, 13 years ago? Why, they were the first church in the county to have a digital sign out front!”

Oh my.

It would be easy to hear such a statement and snicker.

I didn’t.

I grieved.

I could imagine that small church sacrificing to invest in the digital sign. Discussing it at business meetings. Experiencing growing excitement when installation began, and coming that first Sunday after its launch expecting new attenders and a fresh wind of the Spirit. I could imagine them feeling proud that their church was actually doing something; that life had come to their sleepy enterprise. Even something “modern.”

Again, I don’t write a single word of that in condescension.

I write it as a lament.


We all know the sign did next to nothing. There isn’t a sign in the world that could—not in the face of the American church’s situation.

A new study from LifeWay Research has found that “6 in 10 Protestant churches are plateaued or declining in attendance and more than half saw fewer than 10 people become new Christians in the past 12 months.” Approximately one out of every 10 had none. The study also found that most Protestant churches in America “have fewer than 100 people attending services each Sunday.” One out of every five has fewer than 50.

There are many reasons that could be cited for this declining state of affairs. But let’s state one of the more obvious ones:

The digital sign mentality. 

Let’s paint the church, restripe the parking lot, put in new carpet, freshen up the landscaping. And if we want to be radical, put in a digital sign out front that can flash service times and pithy spiritual sayings. The sentiment is that whatever the church needs is cosmetic. 

It’s an alluring idea. Cosmetic touches are easy on the existing constituency. They cost nothing in terms of the real sacrifice needed, which is dying to themselves and living for a mission. Cosmetic changes do not represent real change, only the illusion of it.

The problem with the American church today is simple: It’s turned inward toward the already convinced instead of outward toward those far from God and, as a result, does nothing of an informed nature in terms of strategy or tactics to reach those far from God. Even those growing are, for the most part, doing it through transfer growth at the expense of other churches.

Shameless plug: We’re offering a pair of identical Pastor’s Workshops at Meck on how to improve communication to the unchurched, raise strategic resources for Kingdom expansion, and grow numerically from the unchurched. I hope that sounds like something worth an afternoon. You can get details HERE.

So mourn a digital sign.

Not simply for the squandered expense,

… but the squandered vision.

> Read more from James Emery White.


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James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you Ed for sharing your insights into the Church Growth Movement. I have my reservations with Church Growth models because it has done more damage than good in the Body of Christ. Over the years, western churches are more focused on results, formulas and processes with little or no emphasis on membership and church discipline. Pastors and vocational leaders are burnt out because they're overworked. I do believe that the Church Growth model is a catalyst to two destructive groups: The New Apostolic Reformation and the Emerging Church. Both groups overlap and have a very loose definition. They're both focus on contemporary worship, expansion of church brand (franchising), and mobilizing volunteering members as 'leaders' to grow their ministry. Little focus on biblical study, apologetics and genuine missional work with no agenda besides preaching of the gospel.
— Dave
comment_post_ID); ?> Thank you for sharing such a good article. It is a great lesson I learned from this article. I am one of the leaders in Emmanuel united church of Ethiopia (A denomination with more-than 780 local churches through out the country). I am preparing a presentation on succession planning for local church leaders. It will help me for preparation If you send me more resources and recommend me books to read on the topic. I hope we may collaborate in advancing leadership capacity of our church. God Bless You and Your Ministry.
— Argaw Alemu
comment_post_ID); ?> Amen!!
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