Recently I heard the sirens of an emergency vehicle approaching from behind me, and so I slowed down and moved to the side of the road. A large fire engine passed me with lights flashing. As it drove by me, I noticed a number of decals highly visible around the various compartments, doors, knobs, switches around the truck. And as it moved ahead of me, I saw the huge reflective sign on the rear of the vehicle that read: “Stay Back 200 Feet!”
I can easily imagine why this sign is necessary. As fire fighters do their work at an accident scene, a rescue operation, or a house fire, they need plenty of room to maneuver and they need to be free of interference by non-professionals, on-lookers, and wannabe helpers. “Stay Back 200 Feet” makes good sense on the rear of a fire truck.
This stimulated some thoughts about other places I’ve seen similar signs, but not in bright reflective paint and decals. I remember a friend in seminary who might as well have worn a sign around his neck “Stay Back 200 Feet!” everywhere he went. He had an explosive temper and he used his anger to manipulate people. Being around him always involved walking on eggshells, trying to be careful not to set him off. Everyone was fearful of saying the wrong thing or doing the wrong thing, and so they tried to please him to avoid conflict. Or they simply stood back a couple hundred feet and avoided him! As the years unfolded, ministry didn’t work out well for him.
Some of our churches have signs that read “Stay Back 200 Feet!” but most of them don’t realize it. For parents with young children, a church that has an overgrown, unkempt, dangerous-looking playground has a sign that reads, “Run Away and Take Your Children with You!” A filthy nursery with chipping paint and awful smells says that same thing. A church with several solid wooden doors facing the parking lot and with no sign indicating where to enter in effect displays a sign to visitors that says, “Stay Back! Enter at Your Own Risk! You’re On Your Own.” A church located away from the main roads and without directional signs on nearby streets might as well put up a sign that says, “Stay Away! We’re Hiding! Good Luck. Bring a Compass!” A congregation without a plan for welcoming visitors and following up with contact, welcome, and information might as well pass out name tags to its members that read, “Keep Your Distance! Don’t Interfere in Our Family Gathering! Stay Away!”
What kinds of “signs” do your church building, behavior, and people communicate? Do your church facilities, appearances, signs, worship styles, ushers, greeters, class members, staff, and members say, “Welcome in the name of Christ! We’re glad you’re here! Come again!” Or does they say, “Stay Back 200 Feet!”
Yours in Christ,