My best signage secret

As a part of my job, I oversee our church’s “campus experience.” This includes how guests and regular attenders interact and experience our church. A large part of this position includes thinking through and creating new signage that helps folks navigate our campuses. As a result, I happen to pay close attention to passive communication and signage almost everywhere I go. It could be Disneyland, the Mall, another church, or our local Target. Every one of us communicates intentionally and unintentionally about our environments. We tell people our cultural cues and can either make the experience easy or difficult.

When we make it easy for guests, we usually don’t hear “Hey, that signage was fantastic!” or “I knew exactly where to go.” Instead, we hear phrases like, “It felt like home.” or “That was better than I thought.” On the flip side, when signage is missing, or our environments communicate exclusivity, people let us know. “It was hard for me to connect.” or “It just wasn’t for me.” are common responses. Our goal as communicators is to help every encounter be the best experience possible. Crafting amazing experiences means we get out of the way. What does that mean? Let me tell you…this is my best tip for communication.

Crafting amazing experiences means we get out of the way.

How many meetings have you attended where the group spends at least an hour or more trying to come up with a clever naming system? I’ve attended far too many of these meetings — most are soul-sucking. What happens when everyone finally settles or surrenders on a “catchy” name? We create a paragraph, brochure, document, or extra signage to communicate what that catchy name means. In my opinion, this is the biggest waste. We know people don’t like to read and make most of their identification by color or glancing. Why do we make it so hard on ourselves?

So here’s the tip: Name things what they are and throw out the cute/catchy naming systems.

Here’s a real example from my own life.

When I first started the ministry, it was in vogue to have cool naming systems for student ministry. The first church that I worked at full-time had the following naming system for their student ministry. Again, it was popular to have naming systems like this and so I’m not knocking on them.

  • Cross-Eyed
  • Cross-Training
  • Cross-Roads

The name of the student ministry was “CrossWalk.” When I was hired, it was hard for me to keep all of these straight, and the longer I was there, the more that I noticed that our volunteers and students got confused too. What about the new folks? I had to spend a lot of time communicating what each of these things meant. This led to training with my volunteers, so they explained them thoroughly. All of this wasted time and made the process more complicated than it needed to be. What did I do? I changed their names. How I went about that is an entirely different post that I’ll eventually write. Here is what I ended up doing:

Cross-Eyed was the name for the student worship service. I dropped the name and changed the official name to “student worship service.” Bam – No more explaining what that phrase meant.

Cross-Training referred to our Wednesday night discipleship program. I eventually renamed this to “Small Groups.”

Cross-Roads was the name of our off service programming. Students met and went over the sermon questions during this time. I ended up dropping this altogether due to growth.

As for the name of our ministry, CrossWalk turned into CSM (Some things take longer to change than others due to the history). More importantly, I would refer to CrossWalk as “The Student Ministry.”

Each of these changes was designed to communicate easily what we were doing and help guests get up to speed quickly. What did we do? We got out of the way and used common sense names. Was it sexy? Not really, but it was a heck of a lot easier.

I challenge you to do the same for the sake of creating more natural systems for your staff and a more welcoming environment for guests.

With naming, choose practical over sexy. It’s my best tip!