May 20th, 2010
08:56 AM ET

Pastor-iReporter: How I devise my church sign messages

Editor's Note: After Illinois minister Darrel Brandon submitted one of the most popular pictures in CNN's recent church sign iReport solicitation - of the sign in front of the church he pastors - we asked him to write about how he devises messages for his sign..

By Darrel Brandon, Special to CNN

As pastor with the Illinois Clay City Christian Church, one of my responsibilities is changing the message on the sign in front of the church. But it’s more an opportunity than a responsibility. Our building is on Main Street, the busiest street in town, so hundreds of people see my messages on the sign who will never hear my messages from the pulpit.

I put a lot of thought into what goes on that sign, getting ideas from a variety of sources - including thoughts that come to me during sermon preparation. I must keep in mind that I only have room for 20 characters and spaces per line, with a maximum of four lines.

To keep people reading, I change the sign once a week.

We use it to announce special events at the church and I get teased because as soon as a program is over, I change the sign. I don’t want people driving by and reading about an event that has passed. I’ve been caught at midnight changing the sign. Once a deputy stopped because he thought if someone was messing with the sign at that hour it had to be a vandal.

I want to target the audience that does not typically go to church, so I try to post something catchy and avoid religious jargon.

One sign that caught the attention of the local newspaper was the message I put up after Michael Jackson died last year. It read:


The sign that generated the most comments may have been:


My intention was to use a double entendre - to demonstrate a sense of humor and cash in on the fact that many people think sermons are too long. Since I am only 5 feet 6, it seemed to work.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Darrel Brandon.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Houses of worship • Opinion

soundoff (207 Responses)
  1. John

    As a non-religious person, these signs drive me crazy. It takes a complicated message on faith and belief and makes it a trite blurb. It seems like america's short attention span has reached every facet of our society.

    May 28, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • Darrel Brandon

      John, I understand what you say. But the speed limit in front of our church is 30 MPH. People would not have time to read a lengthy treatise on the serious verities of the faith. So I keep it short, not to accommodate their attention span, but to match the speed of their vehicles. I'd rather write 15 words that are read than 50 that are ignored.

      June 1, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  2. Allah

    Should say, "Come join us this Sunday to compare clothing and give us your money."

    May 27, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  3. Justin

    Awesome! Anyway to save a soul, I don't knock the Pastor

    May 27, 2010 at 5:37 pm |
  4. Kay

    Stick to King James Scripture. It moves heart and feeds the soul. The popular "cutesy" sayings are meaningless.
    "Fear not, for I am with thee, be not dismayed, for I am thy God." will speak to someone and help them, like the Cupid's proverbial arrow. Trite, there is plenty of, Truth, not so much. Man needs Truth.

    May 26, 2010 at 9:19 pm |
  5. deidre

    there is a baptist church i pass everyday on the way to work and i look every week for the new billboard message...i love them..the pastor there (or whomever it is that does the sign) has a great sense of humor and i love that!! i have seen some great messages on church boards...

    May 26, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  6. Dorothy

    I read a church billboard that said, "Sometimes you act like i don't exist." God. I thought that was great and very true even for me.

    May 26, 2010 at 4:42 pm |
  7. Connie Jenkins

    The best and funnest church sign I ever saw was on a Methodist Church in Atlanta and I took a photo of it.
    Pop, Pop, Fizz, Fizz
    Oh what a relief Jesus is!

    May 26, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  8. James

    Just Brilliant! The message brought a smile to my face and a song to my heart and most importantly made me pause and think!

    May 26, 2010 at 3:42 pm |
  9. szz121

    A church in Baton Rouge has a sign with noteworthy quotes weekly. I love it.....I think this pastor is doing a great job.

    May 26, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  10. jennifer

    I once read a sign that read: "Billboard broken; come inside for message." I thought it was BRILLIANT!

    May 26, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
  11. Kaitlyn

    Why aren't there more comments? This is so cool. There is a church I pass when I go to Bristol, TN, and it's so much fun to look forward to what the sign will say. I think you would get along very well with my pastor. You both have wonderful imaginations and a sense of humor. Keep this up! It's awesome!!!!

    May 26, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  12. Ruby Craft

    I happened by your post and wanted to say I think you are doing a good job catching your audience with the billboard. Keep it up!

    May 26, 2010 at 11:07 am |
  13. beckit86

    The article wasn't about theology, it was about signs in front of the church. I will say this pastor seems to be quite creative.

    May 25, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  14. Boldly

    Wrong Wong. As I have already observed, you just do not seem to have it in you to be respectful of those with whom you disagree. And you are clearly not open-minded about the issue. So I will waste no further energy trying to reason with the unreasonable and the unreasoning.

    If I passed a sign or a building that I found offensive, I would just not look at it. I have enough self-discipline to be able do that. Unless you are in traction and unable to turn your head, you might want to try it instead of insulting what you do not understand.

    And I am still waiting to read why you think it is OK for everyone to use message boards except churches. I'm not a big fan of Blizzards and I think they are overpriced. But I'm not going to send letters to DQ telling them not to put anything about Blizzards on their sign. (It is an age-old tactic that if you do not have an answer, you just ignore the question. Politicians have made an art of it.)

    May 25, 2010 at 9:18 am |
  15. Boldly

    Ah, yes...the article. That was the part where the pastor said "I want to target the audience that does not typically go to church, so I try to post something catchy and avoid religious jargon." And then you said that the question that no one is asking is who the sign is written for. The article. Got it!

    I did not find the "King of Pop" comment the least bit offensive. But then again, I don't wear my feelings on my sleeve. And I am not so "shamelessly opportunistic" as to take a blog about how a pastor comes up with ideas to put on a church sign and hijack that as a chance to attack people who believe in something I do not believe in.

    Again, Mr. Wong, read what you and the other non-believers have written and just for a moment think about how you all come across to others. You're all kind of shrill and unkind. Even if you think you are right, that's no reason to be rude. Both signs that were quoted were pretty creative.

    And I still want to know why DQ gets a pass on their signs and you expect churches to leave theirs blank.

    May 25, 2010 at 7:25 am |
  16. Denny

    Thanks, Matt. I am not sure that adds much to the CNN request of how to write a good sign, but thanks for checking in.

    May 24, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  17. Darrel Brandon

    I want to thank everyone who took the time and effort to post a comment – whether I agree with it or not. They all made me think and I believe I've grown a bit because of them.

    To those who thought I was disrespectful to Michael Jackson because of the sign that referred to his death: I did not mean that to be disrespectful. I made no comment about his lifestyle, his music, his manner of death or anything else that was personal. I did refer to his death but that was a matter of public record (it was in all the papers). It ought not to surprise anyone that II believe in the resurrection and the message of Easter. To put the two in juxtaposition was simply an effort to be culturally relevant. I do not see that as "shamelessly opportunistic". No more so than the newspapers that used notice of Mr. Jackson's death as a headline on the front page, above the fol, so they could sell their papers. We were not the folk selling MJ memorabilia or offering special deals on his CDs and music videos.

    I have not and would not post messages asserting that Hurricane Katrina was God's judgment on NOLA. I've not said that AIDS is God's judgment on anyone. Nor 9/11. Nor the oil spill. Nor the volcano in Iceland. Nor did I say that Michael Jackson's death was God's judgment on him. No one can dispute that he died. Most Christians believe that Jesus also died but that he rose again. That is the message of our church and that message was put on the sign. I guess I still don't believe it was in poor taste but to whatever extent anyone else felt it was, I apologize for offending your sensibilities in that matter.

    Again, I want to thank each person who took the time and effort to comment, whether on the subject or off the subject. It has broadened my understanding. And it has helped me remember how important it is to communicate kindly – especially when I am disagreeing with someone about something (s)he holds dear.

    I also want to thank CNN for initiating this exchange by asking me to write about how I come up with the messages for the sign. And I want to thank Al Gore for having invented the Internet so we could have this little chat.

    After over 600 messages here (and scores more to my email address), I suspect this has about run its course. That's probably a good thing. After all, the sign was only 11 words in length.

    Now you all have a good week and be nice to one another. There is way too much meanness in the world so don't add to it.

    May 23, 2010 at 10:16 pm |
    • Michael Wong

      Well, I'm glad to see you weren't consciously INTENDING to use Michael Jackson's death as an opportunity for a sales pitch. Hopefully you can understand why I saw it that way, though.

      I know this wasn't you, but I remember a funeral service where the preacher used the eulogy as an opportunity to warn everyone in attendance that they should get baptized before they die. This UNBELIEVABLY tasteless use of a person's death as an opportunity for religious self-promotion left a deep impression on me.

      May 23, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  18. Denny

    So, anyway, back on the subject. How do you personally, whether believing or not, write engaging, inviting signs (or posts) that allow people to feel safe and welcome into your world? I detect the self-protective thorns but miss the fragrance that so draws me to the blossom of reason that I want to pause to hear more. In a marketplace of ideas shrill never will.

    May 23, 2010 at 6:43 pm |
    • james

      Signs dont get that many people into church, relationships do. The harvest is great but the workers are few.

      May 28, 2010 at 6:17 pm |
  19. Islander

    Church sign: If you were put on trial for being a Christian; would there be enough evidence to convict you?

    May 23, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  20. Steve

    Yes, it was nice chatting. Unlike my friend above, it doesn't bother me when people say, "God bless you", provided you don't get offended by our motto: "There probably is no god, so stop worrying and enjoy life!"

    Whether you believe or not, enjoy life!

    May 23, 2010 at 11:33 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.