I went to my dentist’s office the other day. Normally this is not a place I enjoy going to, but this time was different. I didn’t expect it to be, as I left the house, and I didn’t know it was going to be different when I pulled into the parking lot. But as soon as I parked, the experience changed for me.
For those of you I have not met yet, let me give you a little insight into me. And, for those of you who do know me, you already know of one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to churches and their buildings. As I tour a facility, I will make comments on its architecture, its space usage, and about the other things I see. But you will also hear my stinging commentary on SIGNAGE, or the lack thereof. In the six years I have been working with Disciples Church Extension Fund, I have gotten to work with congregations all across the United States. I also have had the pleasure of touring several hundred church facilities. Yet, in visiting all of these buildings, I think there has only been one or two that impressed me with their use of signage.
Now back to my dentist visit and what made this particular trip enjoyable.
As I pulled into my parking space, I was greeted by signs placed directly in front of me. These signs instructed each visitor to call the dentist office and announce his or her arrival, then wait in their vehicle until called into the office. Hmmmmm, what a great idea! Let’s let people know what is expected of them, and how the process works before they get anxious. So, when the dental staff was ready for me inside, they called my phone and asked me to come to the entry. As I approached the front door, I was greeted with another sign. This one told me to wait for someone who would check my temperature and ask me a few questions about my health. Here was signage that let me know what to expect of others. And, sure enough, this is exactly what happened.
Once inside, I was directed to the waiting area which was empty. However, placed on seats around the room were signs that cautioned me, “Do Not Sit Here.” Again, signage that gave clear direction. There was signage that helped me know what was expected of me, signage that told me what to expect of others, and signage that gave easily understood direction. All signage was of a size that was easy to read and placed in clearly visible locations. These people ‘get it,’ I thought. This was what made my trip to the dentist a much better experience than what I expected. This is also something Disciples need to do as we prepare to return to our places of worship and ministry.
After my visit to the dentist, I began considering what signage we need around our church buildings. I don’t think that parking lot signs telling us to wait our turn to enter the church will work. But, I DO think that some clever outside signage encouraging people to practice social distancing might not be a bad idea. I also think placing markers on walkways that give a visual cue of how far apart to stay from others is a good idea. Closer to the entry, signage that lets us know what to expect as we enter would surely be welcomed. For instance, letting everyone know that there will be people at the entrance who will be taking everyone’s temperature, or that face masks are required. These are signs that could be placed along the approach to the entrance or posted on the entry doors.
Once inside the building, it would be a good idea to have signage reminding people to use the hand sanitizer, if one is present, and also informing them of what is expected of them for gathering and seating. The signage should also be informative. For example, is there a nursery available and, if so, where is it located? Will there be ushers to guide people to their seats or does everyone seat themselves for the service? Which pews or chairs are open for seating and which are purposely left empty to maintain social distancing? All of these signs are easy to make, or have made, and all will help reduce anxiety among your building visitors.
Signage should also be employed in places like the church office and restrooms to remind people of what is expected of them and to direct them in desired practices. Signage, too, should be used in areas that are not open, along with a short note explaining why. Right now water fountains, for example, should be blocked off and not be available for use.
For a printable handout of these suggestions, click here.
What signs are recommended and where can you get them? Both good questions. With the technology currently at our fingertips most, if not all, congregations are capable of designing and printing their own signage. Local sign companies can also help meet these needs. Hopefully, these are not signs that we’ll have to use for a long time so there’s no need to make them permanent. Good card stock or corrugated plastic should be more than sufficient. There is also a commercial sign company that is providing templates for commonly used signage during these pandemic times free-of-charge to the public. You can access them at https://www.signs.com/coronavirus-signage. There are two main things to keep in mind about your signage: 1) that it be large enough to easily see it and read it, and 2) that it be placed where it’s needed.
Dealing with the anxiety associated with the coronavirus is bad enough. Looking for ways to reduce stress levels, and maybe even have a little fun, should be a top priority as we reclaim our church buildings. Our safety, and the safety of others, must be our number one concern. We can act on it if we all know what is expected of us, what we can expect of others, and are given clear direction. In these ways, I think we can make our worship spaces work . . . safely.
Jim Michel brings nearly 40 years of experience in civil engineering and land surveying, plus proficiency in facilities and construction management, to his position as Building and Capital Services Advisor. He oversees DCEF’s architectural consultants. Jim also serves as DCEF’s Disaster Response Coordinator. Having helped his home congregation in Joplin, Mo., rebuild after an EF-5 tornado struck in 2011, he understands intimately how vulnerable congregations are after a disaster. Jim lives in North Liberty, Iowa, with his wife, Rev. Jill Cameron Michel, and their sons Cameron and Teegan.
For 137 years, DCEF has offered mission-driven building and capital planning services to congregations and organizations of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Together with our investors and partners, we are Disciples helping Disciples.