Signs From God

The curious history of church marquees.

The pun-laden signs you see outside churches have always intrigued me. “Seven days without prayer makes one weak.” “Forbidden fruit creates many jams.” “We have a prophet-sharing plan.” They’re funny and a little bit alien, if you’re not a regular churchgoer. And it’s hard to tell whether they’re intended primarily to amuse regular congregants, or to attract soul-searching passers-by.

Whatever the intent, such signs have certainly gained the notice of the secular world at large. There are Web sites devoted to the phenomenon—including one where you can generate your own church sign and another that envisions an amusing “church sign smackdown.” And in March, Overlook Press published a book called Church Signs Across America that’s being sold in, among other places, the housewares department of hipster-pop emporium Urban Outfitters. The book, by photographers Pam and Steve Paulson, features images from nearly 50 states and shows just how ubiquitous these signs have become. But where did they get their start?

Click here to read a slide show on the cultural history of church signs, illustrated with images from Church Signs Across America.

Thanks to Darren Grem of the University of Georgia, David Morgan of Valparaiso University, Pastor Mitch Caudhill of Mt. Moriah Baptist Church, Daryl Black of the Chattanooga Regional History Museum, and Eileen Luhr of California State University-Long Beach.