How often, when we see a person standing on a street corner, do we roll down our window and give them money?
We all wrestle with this decision but my guess is we may be unsure of how our monies might be used. We may be more inclined to engage one standing on the corner because of their sign.
One gentleman in Richmond stands on a corner only blocks away from our campus, with a sign reading “Smile, it isn’t that bad!” and it wasn’t long ago that another young man found a seat just down from my neighborhood in Durham with a similar sign, “I bet I can make you smile.” Just the suggestion of a smile inevitably makes me smile and even laugh a little bit.
Then there are those signs that tell a brief story of health concerns (a gentleman who cleans up the parking lot at our Food Lion has one on his book bag stating that he has a history of strokes, both as warning if something happens and a story of his life) or stories of war (the wounded veteran who sits at the exit about I-40 nearing the Raleigh-Durham airport). Some signs simply state, “Any help is appreciated.”
These individuals use their cardboard pieces to share their story, to tell where the money goes and why it is needed. They grab our attention and pull us into their story as participants, whether through our smile or our money. Their story is meant to tug at our heart-strings and engage what some might call a guilt complex. And it works. If it didn’t, we wouldn’t see them so often.
As I thought about this sitting at a traffic light the other day, I began to wonder what might happen if our congregations told more stories. What if we told our parishioners where our money is going? What if we showed pictures and put faces and other images with the needs? The very next day, I got my answer when I visited Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, NC.
Standing outside of the sanctuary and mentally preparing for worship, I glanced up at a bulletin board with a cut-out of a hand water pump. This isn’t an image I see every week, so my eyes began to follow the other images and I took a moment to read the story being told. Here, in the hallway connecting the Sunday School rooms with the worship space, was a visual explanation of the special offering for this season and why it was so desperately need.
The children’s sermon during worship that morning also focused on this offering and helped the kids to understand the need for clean water and the ways to help other children have similar opportunities to their own for the clean food and bodies.
The message was powerful and present. The need was shared in multiple ways, and the congregation was urged to give to this offering so that together they might purchase a water pump for a small community. I do not doubt that they will be successful in this campaign!
Stories pull us in while pictures and written word captures our mind’s eye. Whether it is a cardboard sign held by a scraggly person or a thoughtfully designed bulletin board and Children’s Sermon, these campaigns make us pause for even the briefest of moments as we consider what is being shared with us and asked of us.
The Church is asking a lot of individuals– money, attendance, time, and prayer just to name a few. There are also many questions and concerns about the successes of these “asks” and it makes me wonder how we are sharing our story.
This week, take time consider what images fill the bulletin boards and guide your congregation from discussions to worship, what words are shared and proclaimed with even the youngest of members, and finally– what does your cardboard sign say? These are the images that will stay with us even when we might forget the faces behind them and grab the attention of the passersby, and the stories that will capture the hearts of those who might linger nearby. These are the images and stories which will carry God’s Word into this world!
Make a sign!
Think about your congregation and what IS seen and what you would LIKE to be seen.
What is the story you will share with those passing by your church?
Are you asking for something or opening an invitation?
Are you encouraging the passersby or offering a judgment?
Rev. Jordan B. Davis