Think about times you’ve been embarrassed.  What was the context?  How did you feel?

It wasn’t good, was it?  Being embarrassed is a terrible feeling.  When I’m embarrassed, I’m tempted to turn around and run.  And that’s what I see from you too!

I hang out at a coffeehouse where there’s great service and lively conversation.  But I’ve been unsuccessful in getting management to make a change in signage.

We all know the importance of good restrooms.  People will make choices based on such.  But you also need to make it clear how to get to them.  When people ask at the main counter where the restroom is, the answer is it’s down the hall to the left.

Well, the first left will take you into the kitchen.  I’ve seen at least 50 people start going into the kitchen and then stop short.  Most get a terribly embarrassed look on their faces.  If I’m close, I point them in the right direction and say that that’s the norm for people to go into the kitchen when looking for the restroom.

But I’ve seen not a few who are so embarrassed that they turn around and run away without taking care of their need.  I’ve encouraged management to put up a simple perpendicular sign on the wall by the second left turn indicating the presence of the restroom.  I’ve heard from them that that’s a great idea.  But it never happens.

Church.  Take notice.

I know well where the restroom is at the coffeehouse.  I use it often.  Likewise, church leaders and current members know well how to negotiate one’s church campus.  Sadly, but thankfully, you don’t remember what it was like when you first experienced your church.

So you need a first time person to evaluate your signage.  And it would be good for you to go visit a couple other churches and experience the uncomfortable feeling of being new and not having a clue where to go.

I did a church consultation once where almost everyone would come from the same direction when approaching the location.  But the first “entrance” was blocked off, and the second was labeled as exit only.  There was no indication that what you should be looking for was the third “entrance.”

Indeed, when you finally got to it, it wasn’t marked as “entrance.”  I actually drove by that entrance and had to turn around.  Not a good way to impress a church consultant.  Certainly not a good way to embrace a potential first time visitor.  They might just run away.  Personally, I would’ve been tempted to forego visiting this church just because I felt tricked and embarrassed.

So hospitality starts with signage.  Make it clear where people should enter the area for parking.  You may even need to put up a sign saying “not yet” if people have to go by what first looks like a place to go in to find a parking place.

Okay, you’ve got the people in the area for parking.  Of course, you have people helping direct traffic, including to the next part of signage.

There are two key areas of parking for hospitality:  guest and handicapped parking.  Make sure there are sufficient numbers of these available at the most convenient location to the main entrance – with signage that helps people traverse your lot to know where to go to find these offerings and clear markings when a person gets to them.

This leads to that issue of the main entrance.  Even small churches often have multiple doors.  You know the right one.  But visitors don’t.  At another consult, I first arrived on an afternoon when I was expected.  Visually, there were two entrances of equal looking importance.  No indication of which way to go.  Okay, pick one.  I picked wrong.

It was a week day when the church had office hours.  But there was no indication where the offices were or where the sanctuary was for choosing a parking space.  I walked up to an entrance with multiple doors.  Looks good.  They were all locked!  Again, not a good way to impress the consultant.  But what if I was a person coming in to ask about the ministry and found a bank of locked doors.  I’m outa there!

Make sure you have clear signage which indicates the best doors to use for sanctuary, offices, etc.  Then, of course, you’ll have office hours listed on the best door location to get to the offices.  Right?

At this church where I found the locked doors, I got back in my car and drove around the church to the other bank of doors to give them a try.  No signage for why one would enter there.  They would turn out to be the ones closest to the offices, but no signage of office hours.  Worst of all, this “main” entrance for the office during the week was not handicapped accessible.  And this was a very large church with huge financial resources.  No excuse.

But I did finally find an unlocked door!

So your first time person parked in a wonderful location being led in a hospitable way to “make the way straight.”  Excellent.  And you have it clearly marked which entrance to utilize.  Cool.  Now they enter your building.  And what do they see?

Most people will enter your church facility first on a Sunday morning for worship.  So they should immediately see signage that points them in that direction.  Indeed, just in case they come in the “wrong” door, there should be signage for the worship center which is visible throughout your entire building.

The worship center is the first of three essentials for interior signage.  The second is nursery.  People want to know that you’ll take good care of their children and how to readily get to those services.  In my church, we did a renovation which moved the nursery to immediately in front of people as they enter the main doors with a wall of windows to see clearly into the nursery space.  We make a visible statement that your kids are of utmost importance to us.

Then the third, but hardly least, important piece of interior signage is the aforementioned restrooms.  When you really need a restroom, nothing else matters.  You don’t want to have to ask someone where to go.  That’s a bit embarrassing too.  Plus, you might be a bit distracted by your focus on your physical need; the signage must be clearly available anywhere people might be.

So here’s a basic checklist:

  1. Signage to enter the parking area.
  2. Signage for where to find guest and handicapped parking.
  3. Signage for appropriate doors for worship, offices, etc.
  4. Signage for office hours.
  5. Interior signage for worship center.
  6. Interior signage for nursery.
  7. Interior signage for restrooms.

People make up their minds whether they are willing to return in the first few minutes, before they ever hear the scintillating sermon.  Signage says a lot about who you are as followers of Jesus.