I have a love/hate relationship with church signs. OK - most of the time, I confess, I hate them. While I have seen a few good, effective church signs, 99% of them (by my calculations), are tacky, cheesy, rude, hateful, or just plain stupid. If you want proof, just go to Google images and search for "stupid church signs" (just prepare to laugh, shake your head, scratch your head, be disgusted, and waste a perfectly good afternoon). Those signs actually do more harm than good. I saw a new one the other day ...
"We Believe in Sunday School"
My first thought was benign, "Hmmm, that's nice." But soon I began to delve deeper into the issue. Please note two things right off the bat: 1.) This is not an attack on Sunday School. I like Sunday School (sort of). I have taught, led, promoted, and trained all things Sunday School related for several years. Sunday School can be a wonderful method of reaching out to make Jesus known in the community and reaching in to build up the local body of Christ. 2.) This is not an attack on any local church. I don't now anyone at this particular church, and so I'm somewhat reading my own observations into the situation. OK - so that's totally what I'm doing. I think I am correct in my thinking, but I could be wrong. I simply want to use this little rant to provoke some honest thinking of the methods all churches use in their local contexts, especially as they relate to evangelism.
I want to ask a few questions about this idea - "We Believe in Sunday School". First, what would lead a church to make a sign that said this? My theory is that this church, and many others like it, see other churches moving away from "traditional" methods (1950's-60's, give or take a few decades), toward more "modern" methods of cell groups, small groups, in-home fellowships, etc. Many are threatened by anything new that might change how "things are done around here". So, in reaction to the changing church landscape around them, this church decides to hunker down deeper into their traditions and declare, "We Believe in Sunday School"! Nothing inherently wrong (or right) about this so far.
My next question, however, is what is meant by the word, "believe"? Surely, they do not intend to indicate that the members of this church are trusting in, or placing their faith in, some sort of man-made method of evangelism/discipleship called Sunday School. Not in the same sense they would use the word "believe" about their personal trust and faith in the person of Jesus Christ, for salvation. Let's give them the benefit of the doubt here that they really mean that they simply enjoy and have decided to utilize the method of Sunday School to evangelize their community and disciple one another. So, again, nothing wrong other than a bad choice of words.
Third question about this sign - who are they trying to communicate to? Are they simply reminding the church's membership to come to Sunday School? If they truly believe in it, then why would they need this reminder to attend? So, maybe they are declaring what kind of church they are to other Christians who are looking for a new church to join. Perhaps this is their way of weeding out those who are looking for a less traditional model of church and attracting those who see things their way. Believe it or not, there are several churches out there who have found a niche by promoting themselves in these traditional ways. Some churches tell you that they are "King James Version only", or "Pastor led", or even "Male leadership". Basically, they are saying that they are not like those other guys down the street. I do wonder if this church thinks that putting this sign in front of the church building will help them in their evangelism efforts in their community, assuming there are such efforts being made. I do know of churches whose evangelism consists of putting up bright, colorful, and expensive signs (I know of a church that spent close to $100,000 for a sign, because the pastor received a word from the Lord), letting all who see that they are welcome here.
All of this leads us to taking a look at the real issue here. For me, the issue is that this church (and thousands just like it across the world), have lost touch with the community around them. I'm not talking about being relevant here. I'm really talking about compassion. Honestly, most churches don't care enough about their neighbors (who are lost without Christ), to do anything about it. Those that do feel compelled enough to act don't seem to know how to effectively reach out and share the gospel. They resort to safe models and default to doing things "the way we've always done them". In other words, these churches are employing methods that may have been successful at one point in time (probably decades earlier), to reach a community where those methods are now ineffective, foreign, offensive, and even harmful.
My suggestion is simple - Allow the context of your community to determine the methods you use to reach them. Don't begin with a predetermined method of evangelism, even if it's the only routine you know. Start with the community around you. And yes, I realize the community around most of our churches has drastically changed (and is continually changing). Most churches don't realize this. Begin by getting to know the lost in your community. Just as a good Sunday School teacher might exegete Scripture, the members of each church should exegete their own neighborhoods. It's really simple, because it is just getting to know (and growing to love) your neighbors. Once a church begins to understand the people living, playing, and working around them, then they are well equipped to choose which methods will work best to reach them. Perhaps it will be Sunday School. Perhaps not.
Just down the street from this particular church is one of the nation's most diverse communities, with people gathered from all corners of the globe. Most of them have no clue what Sunday School even is. Most have never stepped a foot inside a church building. And many of them have not even heard the name of Jesus. Who will go to them? Who will tell them the good news of Jesus? Who will make disciples of these nations? I'm afraid the answer from this particular church is, "someone else". And, unfortunately it will take someone else with more compassionate methods.
Please, don't let your tried and true or old and worn methods limit you in the task of preaching the gospel to every creature, whether you believe in Sunday School or not. Do you believe in Jesus? Do you love your community? Will you obey? No church signs required!
Here's another little rant I wrote a while back on Pastors and Disciple Making