I recently made my first—and by heaven’s mercy, LAST—visit to IKEA. The home goods superstore overwhelmed the senses and dulled the soul. Reflecting on the experience, it struck me that the massive retailer and the large church share some characteristics in common.
IKEA customers park in a Stygian subbasement before a marathon trek to the entrance. The sprawling store occupies two immense floors that stretch beyond the horizon in all directions. Signage directs customers down zigzag corridors like mice through a maze. A bewildering array of home goods beckons on every side.
I reached the nadir of my retail experience after passing the same display for the third time in ten minutes. Legendary pioneer, Daniel Boone, once said: “I have never been lost, but I will admit to being confused for several weeks.” My mental condition went way past confused—I was baffled, befuddled, perplexed, and perturbed!
Many church facilities rival IKEA’s bewildering floor plan. Additions added over decades create a labyrinth of twists and turns with multiple levels and nonsensical or nonexistent signs. First time visitors aimlessly wander the hallways like lost children.
Long-time church members may not recognize the problem. Everyone KNOWS that the third hallway on the left leads to a half staircase that ascends to the anteroom that funnels into another stairwell that descends two floors to the baby nursery—which is two levels away from the children’s department and sanctuary.
One pastoral colleague served a congregation that didn’t even have an exterior sign identifying the church. When asked, the Trustees responded incredulously: “Preacher, why would we need a sign? We all KNOW where the church is!”
Superior signs cost a lot of money; however, inadequate signage costs even more. Best practices from hospitals, airports, and hotels teach the church:
- Invest in excellent exterior and interior signs—it’s a necessity and not a luxury
- Signs should create “waypoints” that easily lead first-time guests step-by-step to their destination
- Crowded hallways obscure wall and door signage—place signs above head-level
- Avoid ecclesiastical code words like sacristy, chancel, narthex, and nave
- If people appear lost, do NOT give directions; instead lead them to where they want to go
The church can be a maze. The church can also be a place where people experience God’s Amazing Grace.
Church, here’s your sign!