I drove by a church with a billboard that said, “Discover the bread of life or you’re toast.”

While that was funny to me as a Christian…It’s a threat to my friends who aren’t. If you don’t live a particular way, you will be punished, and harshly punished, probably in a fiery pit of damnation and pain. For eternity. But the church just made fun of it. The church just made a joke about the eternity of our friends and neighbors who don’t know Jesus.

I understand that the church doesn’t laugh enough. We should laugh more. We need laugh at ourselves sometimes (Thank you John Crist). While these messages are clever, it just doesn’t make sense that these are used as messaging outside of the church. Its quippy, funny and great for a bumper sticker next to your Jesus fish. But is that what we want other to view Christianity as? It seems to dilute the sincerity and the authenticity of a God who loves and a faith that’s powerful!

Here are some other examples of what we’ll call “billboard evangelism”:  

  • “Turn or burn.”

  • “Stop, drop, and roll doesn’t work in hell.”

  • “There’s no air conditioning in hell.”

  • “Are you against Jesus?  There will be hell to pay.”

  • “If you think it’s hot in the summer, imagine hell.”

There are numerous issues with these types of phrases. The first is how they use church speak to try and reach a population who has no idea how to read church speak. If you were raised in church, you understand the image of Jesus as the bread of life because you have most certainly heard many sermons and pre-communion monologues that discuss this idea. On a billboard, describing Jesus as the “bread of life” removes it from that context and strips it of its meaning, impact and gravitas. It’s like trying to speak to someone in a language they don’t understand. It’s called speaking Christianese and odds are “outsiders of faith” will need a translator.

This goes for many other phrases often heard inside a sanctuary. To the outside world, they just don’t make sense. These might include:

  • “Lay down the yoke of burden.”

  • “Pray for a hedge of protection.”

  • “Give your heart to Jesus.”

  • “Free redemption inside.”

If you were raised in church, you can explain what all of these mean, but when sharing our faith with others, your target audience is not church people but unchurched people and dechurched people.

Billboard evangelism also tends to deploy the threat of hell. Given who billboard evangelists are trying to speak to, it’s a poor incentive for attending church or picking up a Bible. Is that really who we imagine God to be? Is that really who we want other people to imagine God to be? If a Christian really believed the unbelievers in their lives are going to spend eternity in hell, does that idea in and of itself inspires motivation to inspire and compel non-Christians. After all, if hell is real, then about 7 in 10 people on Earth are in serious trouble. Why would we reduce that to a joke on a sign?

And if that’s the case, what’s being done about it?  

3 Ideas For Better Messaging About Jesus:

Point Others towards Jesus Not Condemnation

There is a better message. Instead of pointing toward condemnation, we should be pointing toward a better alternative to what people might be seeing in their day-to-day lives. We should be pointing toward unconditional love—the most unconditional love ever. Romans 8:1 says “there is no condemnation in Christ.” Condemnation at it’s purest form from the dictionary means to literally “Together be damned.” We shouldn’t be “putting people in hell” but inspiring people too heaven. Jesus is the final authority on your eternity, anyhow.

Have Less Confrontations and More Conversations

People might not understand church speak and they might be turned off by images of hell, but people do understand connecting to other human beings. Reaching lost people shouldn’t be left up to billboards, it should hinge on personal relationships. Share your story of who Jesus is to you. Share your struggles, fears, victories and wins! Authenticity is the best policy. One of my favorite Scriptures and life motto’s is this and maybe it can be yours too as you are sharing Jesus with others:

“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thessalonians 2:8

Use Your influence as an invitation not a warning

Church billboards shouldn’t be warnings, they should be invitations: “Come join us.  We think you’re awesome.” And once new people are inside the church, they should feel welcome because of how true that message turned out to be. That’s when they’re ready to hear about the bread of life. We all essentially are walking Billboards. Right? We are all saying something whether we realize it or not. What are you advertising? Be a person that has a life that is inviting and warm. Too many Christians give off a vibe that we are a warning to others instead of being warming to others and kind. Show some love so when others meet you … they walk away a better person when meeting you than wishing they have never met you.

What do do you think about church evangelism billboards and our own messaging efforts?

Post originally appeared and modified here on Relevant Magazine