This morning, I spotted not one but TWO churches who had the same indecipherable Bible verse on their billboard.
In a second, I’ll tell you what verse they chose and why it just. Doesn’t. Work.
But first, let’s look at why some churches have billboards outside their worship centre (why advertise), and what they’re hoping to achieve (the advertising goal).
Let me say at the outset – I’ve been to a lot of churches, and they’re not all great expressions of God’s love – but some are! I have attended a few great churches.
Churches where the people show God’s love in practical ways to the world and to each other during the week.
Where the people show genuine affection for each other when they hang out.
Where the people show love for God in how they worship on a Sunday.
And I love God. 100%. I wish more people knew how awesome his love is.
Why churches advertise
Churches typically have three interrelated goals when advertising:
- Invite the reader to seek God. This is the core aim of reaching out to the world (in church speak, evangelism).
- Invite the reader to join their community of faith (fellowship).
- Invite the reader to learn more about their set of beliefs (doctrine).
And these are the goals that all outward-facing, publicly-visible materials should be judged against, if that church is indeed trying to reach out to the communities around it.
That’s why things like your church’s website, Facebook page, Google maps entry, billboard, and social events calendars, are all vitally important, and must be working towards those three “advertising” goals.
Bible verses you should never put on a billboard
The one I saw today was the first lines of John 1:
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.John 1:1 (NLT version)
So why this verse???
It’s a confusing AF part of the Bible – and I say that as a God-loving person who’s been studying the Bible since I was a small child.
In fact, the first chapter of John was not written to be understood by most people. John wrote it as a poem or allegory (story) to be read as a sort of mystery for Christians who’ve read the rest of the gospels to discover layer by layer, like an onion being peeled and cooked. And like an onion, if you try to bite into it raw (without reading something simpler first, like Mark or Matthew or Luke), it’s likely to end in tears, confusion, and disgust.
If you take nothing else away from this post, remember this – if you’re new to the Bible, don’t start at the beginning (Genesis) and don’t start work John. Try Mark, Matthew, or Luke first. These books can be found about 3/4 of the way through your Bible, and they tell the stories of Jesus’s life, what he taught us, and how he lived and died to show us how much God loves us. And since his life and death are the main point of the entire Bible story, these chapters are a good place to start.
So why would both churches think this verse, the mystery of the trinity doctrine, is a good choice to advertise God, community, or Christian beliefs?
I have a few theories –
- In the 90s, my Sunday school teachers all said John was a good place to start reading the Bible, because it contains that classic line, John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” And since that verse talks about how God loves us, it definitely is be a great place to start reading. But you don’t need to read the rest of John until you understand what you’re reading, in my opinion.
- Some churches just rotate through a bunch of verses each week of the year, and this week coincidentally happened to be the week for that verse for two churches.
- Church one saw that church two had it on their billboard, and thought hey I love that verse too, so I’ll use it as well.
What I would put on a billboard instead
If I was in charge of a church billboard, I would rarely put a Bible verse on it. Because almost nobody except for Christians – and even then, not all Christians – are going to feel a sense of positive emotional connection to seeing religious scripture on a billboard.
But it’s still an effective advertising method for foot and road traffic, so I’d still use it for advertising events and other community projects.
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But if I was going to use a Bible verse, here’s the ones I would pick…
I would pick these verses because not only would they give a powerful message of God’s love and hope to someone who is searching for love our hope – but they also inspire people who are Christians to be better Christians, and better humans.
- God is love – 1 John 4
- Faith moves mountains – Matthew 17
- Anything is possible with God – Mark 10
- God cares about your anxiety – 1 Peter 5
- Nothing stops God’s love – Romans 8
- God can do more than we can imagine – Ephesians 3
- Don’t be afraid, God is with you – Deut 31
- Overflow with hope – Romans 15
- Be strong and courageous – Josh 1
- Trust God – Proverbs 3
What verse would you use to spread God’s love in public?
(C) TJ Withers-Ryan, 2020.