Interior signage/wayfinding is one of a number of elements that play important roles in helping create the open and welcoming experience you want people to have in your church.
And whether you use signage to point the way to restrooms or the children's area, or to those people who are visiting your church for the first (or maybe second or third) time, or to emphasize The Way in a larger sense, there are a number of options available to help you help complement the kind of environment you want to create.
"Leaps and bounds"
Digital signage i.e., using electronic displays that run computer-generated content in a variety of visual styles has become a readily available and affordable option for churches looking to move beyond billboards, bulletin boards, posters, and other more traditional forms of interior signage.
According to the Digital Signage Federation (DSF), a non-profit trade group representing the creatives and techs that comprise that industry, digital signage enhances the ability of churches to keep members apprised of activities and schedules, and is very effective in welcoming members and visitors at entrance displays, thanks to its more-noticeable displays and its ability to accommodate quick-and-easy changes to content,
The use of digital technology for interior signage in churches "is growing by leaps and bounds," reports James Bennett, CEO of Raleigh, North Carolina-based Bennett Creative Group, a design and creative consulting firm that specializes in working with houses of worship.
"Churches have largely said so long' to poster boards and other printed materials now that they have realized they can do everything from a welcome sign' for first-time visitors to other directional signage and that's not to mention all the different ways they are using digital signage in the worship service itself," Bennett says.
Introducing digital signage into a church's interior space can be as simple as plugging a flash drive containing graphics with directional and informational data into the USB port on the back of a flat-panel television, notes Bennet; or it can be as complex as utilizing software to map multiple LED (light-emitting diode) screens together to create a giant single display.
Churches have plenty of information to avail themselves of in finding the right digital signage technology to do any of this, Bennett says but the trick is not letting themselves get more technology than they can.
"One of the major mistakes churches can make is getting something that outstrips their ability to use it, either in term of technical and/or creative expertise," he says.
"Stay within your capabilities, and find technologies that you can use to enhance the experience at your church and always keep in mind that signage is just one piece of the puzzle when it comes to creating and enhancing that experience."
Hillside Community Church in Bristol, Connecticut, a single-structure facility (a converted fitness center) with a 300-member congregation, determined that digital signage was the best way to "draw in" and inform churchgoers.
"We had a large lobby that didn't look very inviting," notes Todd Heft, director of Media Arts at Hillside. And at the same time, "We wanted to have highly-visible displays showing calendar events and other things going on at the church, as well as be able to present information about our services, such as what scriptures would be quoted."
The cost-conscious church leveraged Heft's tech knowledge (he's a systems administrator at ESPN) and some readily available resources to implement a digital signage solution that achieved their goals without busting their budget.
Hillside made the leap into the digital signage world with a couple of well-used desktop computers with large monitors running Microsoft PowerPoint presentation software.
"We started in-house right off the bat with some older equipment," Heft recounts. Since then, Hillside has upgraded its hardware array to include smaller computers utilizing presentation software from LibreOffice, a free office suite of office applications; and Rise Vision, a free digital display management package.
As Hillside's experience shows, getting into the world of digital signage doesn't necessarily include a lot of expensive equipment; it's easy to get started with just a refurbished laptop, according to Heft. One important element of your system is the monitors you use, he adds, noting that you'll need monitors with at least 19" displays, "big enough to be able to clearly read the words."
More expert advice
While the digital approach to church signage is growing, there's still plenty of room for the lower-tech approach, particularly when it comes to directional/wayfinding signage, according to Lisa Masteller, owner of Sassafras Studios in Raleigh.
"There are numerous applications for the use of conventional materials," such as wood, stone, concrete and metal, says Masteller, adding "The newer technologies might have the edge these days, but I think people also really respond well to information that is organically' displayed."
The use of conventional materials can be especially effective in helping create environments attractive to members of the Millennial generation, the children-of-the-Baby-Boomers demographic cohort comprised of individuals born between around 1982 through the early 2000s.
Now the largest age cohort in the U.S., this group is known for being tech-savvy but at the same time, their values include an appreciation of the traditional.
"It comes down to authenticity," says Masteller. For this group, signage not only has to be clear, "But it also cannot have a fabricated look which means you can't use laminate or other fake' materials," she notes.
When creating signage with Millennials in mind, according to Masteller, "You want to come up with something that is very clean' and quiet,' utilizing subdued colors something that simply says what it has to say, without being at all fussy.'"
This also applies in the digital realm, Masteller adds, noting that with digital signage, "There is often a tendency to put too much information on a sign, when what you really need to be doing is creating a message that can be quickly understood the moment it is read."
Whether using conventional materials or utilizing digital solutions, take time to carefully plan your signage strategy and implementation, says Masteller.
"Signage is often the last thing churches think about in creating interior environments, something that gets taken care of at the 11th hour' but for it to be effective, you really have to deal with it a lot sooner than that," she says.
Just getting started with a signage program? As Bennett noted, there's plenty of information you can find out there think Internet and visits to other churches to help you figure out what direction(s) you might want to follow.
And, as you would for any project if you decide to use the services of an outside contractor to design and implement your system, check closely on the quantity and type of experience they bring to the table.
"Find someone that does a lot of church work," says Masteller. "And remember that it's like hiring a contractor to work on your house there are some that are really good at some things, but not at others."
Get more than one proposal from contractors you think you may want to work with, she adds, "And question them closely about what kind of work they really like to do, and what they are especially good at, so you can make sure you're getting the right person who can deliver exactly what it is you are looking for."
Product Manager of large format displays at NEC, Benjamin Hardy, has seen an increased use of their products in today's houses of worship. "We are seeing our NEC displays being used primarily for messaging by installing 40-55 inch displays in church entryways and hallways to inform about upcoming events.
Another trend we are noticing just within the past few years is the use of outdoor LEDs where churches are using the digital signs for church branding and for the flexibility the signs offer. For events the church can change to an announcement right at the front of the property.
In the K-12 markets we have been seeing use of our 65-80 inch screens used in educational environments at the head of a classroom.
Digital display products have found their way into wayfinding designs as well.
In one large church an interactive touch screen kiosk was built that displayed simple content showing how to get to different areas within the church.
An interactive touch screen display inside a custom kiosk with a custom paint job to help it blend in to the interior.
PC was built into the unit so it was fully networked.