Visibility isn't Legibility

Yesterday afternoon, as I sat at a stop sign waiting for a car to pass, I glanced to the right and saw a handmade sign about 12 inches tall and 2 feet across..   It was like a half dozen others at that corner that offered free kittens, childcare, and an opportunity to lose weight while working from home (or something…).    This one stood out to me because it was mounted five or six feet up on a telephone pole with a nail that bordered on spike territory.  I looked at it and thought “whoa – that guy really wanted that sign there…”.

Then I read it.  Or tried to.

It had 3 lines of text.   The top line read FOR SALE.  The bottom line listed a phone number.   The middle line – vital information because it actually mentioned the item for sale – looked like 2sfkj3r39sd from where I sat.  I stared at it a while – literally waiting quite a while after the car had passed in front of me – trying to read it.  No luck.

I finally decided it must be an address – this guy was trying to sell his house – but even after a minute or two, I couldn’t read the address.   I was tempted to climb out of the car and scribble FAIL on the sign, but I didn’t.  I did what most people are doing – I drove away with less information than it would take to actually buy the house if I were interested.

On the way home, I began to feel sorry for the seller.  He’d staked out a prime spot for sign placement and actually posted it higher than the others so it got noticed.  He had serious visibility…then, once he had our attention, he failed miserably at actually conveying the message he was hoping to give us…which of course, got me to think about church planters (because most things do).

There is a lot of money being spent in church planting right now – and I understand it.  In a heavily marketed world, it takes something for unchurched people to notice a church, much less be curious enough to visit.   What was a cottage industry ten years ago has grown to semi-big business of helping church plants place their signs (figuratively and literally).  You can land on a branding, coordinate a mailing, slap a logo on a trailer and design your church tattoo several one-stop-shops on the web.

You can buy visibility…it doesn’t mean anyone can read your whole message.

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I rarely meet church planters who are insincere.   It’s too hard of a life to do it for the glamor.  In 99.999% of the cases, they really want to communicate a message, but many of them fail to move past the marketing to the message.   Enamored with the print, they fail to pay attention to the words.  The sign gets printed but the message is blurry.   In the end, people drive away, intrigued but not affected.   We make a killer presentation, but this is how Jesus ended up being perceived as a homeboy, not a bridegroom, king and judge.

Whatever you’re doing today – planting a church, writing a paper, running a meeting – don’t get so wrapped up in clever presentation that you fail to properly represent.  There are people staring at your presentation who could really use in information.

And if it’s not that important to you, take your sign down.

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