Photographs of great church signs.

Collected images.
April 10 2009 6:58 AM

What's Missing in CH … CH? UR.

Photographs of great church signs.

Click here for a slide show on great church signs.

Signs for storefront churches in poor neighborhoods are usually handmade, using recycled materials. The larger, more established churches nearby use expensive, free-standing, factory-made signs with tracks for movable letters, allowing for updated messages about next Sunday's sermon, allusions to important issues of the day, or announcements of weddings and celebrations.

These factory-made church signs attract attention for their wit, wisdom, and idiosyncratic character. Three books are currently available with hundreds of examples of such signs, and they have become popular gifts to pastors. (One of these books was the subject of a 2007 Slate article, "Signs From God.") It is ironic that these books, intended to celebrate the folk creativity of ministers, might actually contribute to a standardization of church signs.

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Visionary pastors of storefront churches claim that "Jesus is right here with me." But this declaration often is not enough to ensure the church's survival. Competition for new congregants is fierce, and congregations may dwindle to a level that is unable to support the church. Signs often outlive the storefront churches they used to advertise. One abandoned house of worship in Detroit was left with only five marooned letters. And although the Beacon Light Christian Fellowship Church has long ceased to exist in Richmond, Calif., its sign continues to shine: "Leading the Lost to the Light of the World."

Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow whose books include American Ruins and How the Other Half Worships. You can see more of his photos on his Web site and can contact him at camilojosev@gmail.com.

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