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“Hate corny church signs? Amen”: The S&B sits down with United Methodist staff as they write their newest sign

Several+staff+members+at+the+Grinnell+United+Methodist+Church+work+together+to+create+the+rotating+messages+for+this+marquee%2C+located+on+5th+Street.+Photo+by+Sarina+Lincoln.
Several staff members at the Grinnell United Methodist Church work together to create the rotating messages for this marquee, located on 5th Street. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.

At the corner of Fifth Avenue and Park Street, Grinnell United Methodist Church dominates the skyline as it boasts a stone exterior adorned with hundred-year-old stained glass windows. But onlookers may notice something out of the ordinary about this local landmark: a small black marquee with eye-catching messages.

“I have seen the truth and it does not make sense,” “What if doing the hokey pokey is what it’s all about?” “Hate corny church signs? Amen.” — these are just a few of the messages released by the church over the last year and a half. The procedure for choosing each week’s message is a little more intense — and time-consuming — than you might imagine.

When asked if they were the ones responsible for changing the sign each week, pastoral assistant Zach Bey said, “Responsible? [Maybe]. Irresponsible? Yes.”

Inside a small conference room lined with theological texts, church staff munch on snacks and pitch message ideas to one another like big-shot comedians writing for Saturday Night Live. Their ideas often lead to fits of uproarious laughter.

“It usually takes us about an hour. Or two. Depends on how much fun we’re having,” Bey said.

And not everything leaves the writers’ room; Bey noted that “there are some things we get great enjoyment from here that we know will never make it to the curb.”

“We start out with the theme of Sunday,” explained Ashley Risting, the Youth Educator at the church. She laughed and corrected herself, saying “We start out with what the Sunday message is going to focus on, but from there … we find other stuff that’s just funny or has to do with life that’s more interesting to put out there. But that’s where it starts, and it just branches out from there.”

“It’s a pretty haphazard process,” said Pastor David Crow.

Why go through all this trouble for a simple church sign? Crow said, “The purpose of the sign is to generate interest, and from interest possibly curiosity about what this place is about, and also to invite folk to follow up on that curiosity. And if it ties in with the Sunday [message], great. If it doesn’t, well, the latter is the higher priority.”

The church’s decision to feature witty, self-deprecating messages tinged with Christian undertones instead of relying on quotes derived directly from scripture is a deliberate one. “I think [the sign] brings some normalcy and [us] down-to-earth into this big, imposing structure,” Risting said. “We are just people.”

Crow added, “If what’s up there catches their attention, people are bright enough to build their own bridges to where they need to be.”

Although the staff claims their main audience is prospective churchgoers, one only has to sit in on a hectic brainstorming session to know that in some small part, they’re playing to one another, too.

The sign has been in place for just over a year, but it’s something the Church staff intend to continue well into the future. “We do this because it’s fun … It’s cool that people pay attention and look at it every week,” Risting said. “Some people even stand outside and watch me change it and wait until I’m done. And I’m like, ‘You can help! It’s cold out here!’”

Just a few hours after The S&B’s interview, the words on the little black marquee had been changed to read, “When something goes wrong in your life, just yell, ‘plot twist!’ and move on.”

Several staff members at the Grinnell United Methodist Church work together to create the rotating messages for this marquee, located on 5th Street. Photo by Sarina Lincoln.
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