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Offering wisdom in 25 words or less; Area churches hope the sayings on their outdoor signs will inspire readers to stop and pay a visit

Mount Aaron Baptist Church has a message for anyone driving down Genesee Street in Buffalo: "You Can Never Go Wrong When You Follow Christ."

Along Route 5 in the Town of Evans, a faith-based dispatch from First Church of Evans tells motorists: "Jesus Died for a Reason/You're the Reason."

Drivers passing through Blasdell can't help but notice the simple spiritual witticisms that appear regularly on a small billboard outside Union Presbyterian Church on Lake Avenue.

Currently, there is this Easter-themed nugget: "Jesus Beaten So You Could Be Unbeatable!"

Facebook and smartphones might be more hip methods of delivering faith-filled messages to the masses.

But throughout Western New York, the humble church sign persists, offering motorists reason to pause for reflection in an otherwise harried day.

The sayings can be humorous, clever, inspirational -- and occasionally corny. And they're almost impossible to ignore.

The signs give churches the chance to communicate with hundreds, if not thousands, of passers-by each day.

"I do my best to try and get people to notice the First Church of Evans," said Tom Jensen, a retired Ford worker who serves as caretaker of the sign near the corner of Sturgeon Point Road. "You know we are in sales. We're trying to sell the Bible and Jesus and religion."

Just about once a week -- less often during cold and snowy weather -- Jensen changes the message by hand, one letter at a time.

"I can use about 12 words. I only have three lines," he said. The fourth line announces the church's 10 a.m. worship time.

Jensen fetches ideas for the messages on the Internet, from relatives in other parts of the country and from a television show called "Larry's Country Diner" that features a character called the Church Sign Lady.

One of his favorite sayings: "Does Life Stink? We Have a Pew For You."

Cornerstone Community Church at Capen Boulevard and Kenmore Avenue recently featured a little gem about the good book: "The Bible -- Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth."

"When people are reading, it's a couple of seconds, at best. It's got to be something people can read fairly easily," said Chris Hoppe-Spink, pastor of Cornerstone, who has been posting messages since about 2005.

Hoppe-Spink tries to stay away from churchy terminology or messages that only members of the church would be interested in.

"For us, our purpose is to try and communicate something to the community, and the reality is our community more and more comes from a nonchurch background or a limited church background," he said.

Church signs can be a nonthreatening but powerful way to connect with people, said the Rev. David J. Claassen, who wrote a book on the topic, "Silent Words Loudly Spoken: Church Sign Sayings."

"In essence, you're trying to give a person a small gift as they drive by," said Claassen, who is pastor of a Congregational church in Toledo, Ohio. "We are a mobile society, and people are stuck in their cars a lot. Most people are a little bit bored when they're driving along."

A church sign inspired Donald Seitz of Nashville, Tenn., to embark on a journey across the country documenting in photographs the various messages he came across.

"They're like little pages of Scripture spread out across this land," said Seitz, whose photographs make up "The Great American Book of Church Signs," published in 2007. "Many are funny, many are illuminating, many are profound."

Seitz traveled more than 20,000 miles, and his book features 100 signs from a variety of Christian denominations.

The average message, he said, was no more than eight words.

Seitz acknowledged coming across messages that missed the mark. For the most part, though, the church signs are a great "low-tech communicator in a high-tech world," he said.

"I know some people are dismissive, that the sayings are throwaway jokes or bad puns, but really they're a lot deeper than that," said Seitz.

The Rev. Roy Herberger, pastor of SS. Columba-Brigid Catholic Church, picks messages from books he's collected.

Recently, the sign on Hickory Street read, "This Is the Perfect Place for Imperfect People" -- a nod, said Herberger, to the church's hosting of several support groups.

"I just thought something like this would be an uplifting reminder for people with addictions that, well, 'I might not be perfect, but I'm always welcome here,' " said Herberger.

The church isn't limited to holy people, he added.

"We'd have an empty church if that was the case," he said.

But do the signs have any tangible effect? Do they bring people into the pews?

Herberger hasn't heard directly from anyone who visited SS. Columba-Brigid because of a church saying.

"But," he added, "I'm sure there are results."

Karen Young, secretary at Union Presbyterian Church, said she would love for people to respond to the sign by joining the congregation for worship.

But that's not the only measure of its value, she said.

"Even if it stops someone and gives them a chuckle for the day, it's worth it," she said.

The Rev. Dwayne Jones, pastor of Mount Aaron, said he gets plenty of feedback from people, including some who have written notes and dropped them off at the church.

"One young lady said, 'I work downtown, and your sign helps me get through the day,' " said Jones, a former corrections officer who founded the church seven years ago.

Jones remembers the man who installed the sign about five years ago encouraging him not to use the sign just for listing worship and Bible study times, as many churches do.

"He said, 'That message will give you a half a second to make people remember your church,' " recalled Jones. "That stuck in my mind. He said, 'If you do that, you'll be different.' "

Jones said he makes sure to respond to anyone who writes a note about a particular message. "Now, the sign speaks back to you," he said.

He also tries to expand upon a church sign saying in his sermons.

Harvest House, a faith-based social services organization housed in a former Presbyterian Church, gives passers-by a double dose of quirky messages on its sign, which faces east and west on Seneca Street in Buffalo.

This past week, motorists heading west read, "This Is the Day the Lord Has Made/Don't Mess It Up," while those traveling east were treated to an edgier, more topical saying, "Honk if You Love Jesus/Text & Drive if You Want to Meet Him."

"I thought it was timely," said Linda Tatu, president of Harvest House.

In Blasdell, Young has changed the message on the Union Presbyterian Church sign several times during the Lenten season, which leads up to Easter Sunday.

"Lent: Spring Training for Christians/Easter: Opening Day" was followed up "The Key to Heaven Was Hung on a Nail."

Pastor David A. Cook provides Young with a list of options he finds from other sources, and Young said she's always on the lookout for new sayings, too.

"If I'm riding around, I usually have a pen and a pad of paper in the car," she said.

Claassen, for one, doesn't see a problem with it, because churches are always borrowing ideas from each other. He's happy to have the sayings he put together in his book used elsewhere.

"We all work for the same boss," he said, "so that should be OK."

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com