The curious history of church signs.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
May 30 2007 3:33 PM

Signs From God

The curious history of church marquees.

Click here to launch a slide show

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?

Advertisement

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.

Doree Shafrir is the executive editor at Buzzfeed.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.