IVP - Strangely Dim - The Church with Nothing to Say

March 18, 2005

The Church with Nothing to Say

by David A. Zimmerman

Every time I drive past a billboard with nothing on it I'm a bit startled. I suppose that's how I know that I'm being affected by advertising--I miss it when it's missing. I also notice the signs that read "Advertise Here": I feel something like an obligation to advertise there, to fill the spot that we as an economy have abandoned to loneliness.

But in all my days I don't recall ever seeing a blank sign outside a church until a few weeks ago. I was driving down the street and realized that this church--a mainstay in my community for decades--had nothing to say to me. I was startled, of course, but I found myself moving through a range of emotions, from offense to confusion to panic to despair to anticipation.

I expect more out of church billboards, I guess. Most billboards sit in isolation from the wares they hawk--they're jutting out of the ground on a roadside in the middle of nowhere, while the product they promote is being canned, bottled or wrapped in a sweatshop on the other side of the world, for all I know. Or they're clumped together along the interstate clamoring for attention, sometimes morphing from one message to another as we drive past. Once again the product exists only in the imagination of the observer. It can't be tasted or touched from where we sit.

In contrast, church billboards sit in the church's front lawn. You know (or you think you know) who the author is of whatever message they project, and you process that message based on what you read. My all-time favorite church billboard message was a sermon title followed by a general message:

Eternal Conscious Punishment
Visitors Welcome

But this church had nothing to say to me. At first I was offended: it's the church's job to say something to me, isn't it? But then I wondered what it means when a church has nothing to say. It's a frightening thought, really. This is the institution, we're taught, that's been entrusted by God with "the words of eternal life." If the church has run out of words, perhaps God has run out of words for us--perhaps God has given up on us.

Then again, perhaps God is just clearing his throat. Billboards don't stay blank for long. They're either torn down or given a new message. Perhaps the church is preparing itself to convey the next big message from God. As Moses said to the people of Israel, "They are not just idle words for you--they are your life." This is my life--coming soon to a billboard near me.

The next time I saw the billboard it did indeed bear a new message: "Pancake Breakfast Saturday, 9 to 11."


I haven't given an update on my book in a while. It's still in stores, and I'm still occasionally being interviewed about it. I suspect that the spring and summer movie season will revive interest in the subject matter; there are three major theatrical releases related to comic books in the next four months. I'll be having a number of related articles published soon, and keep in mind that there's a free discussion guide available for download that gives you an excuse to watch six classic superhero movies with all your friends.

If you've read the book and enjoyed it, consider writing a review on Amazon.com or similar bookselling websites. I'd be your buddy!

Posted by Dave Zimmerman at March 18, 2005 9:54 AM Bookmark and Share


Just saw a church sign the other day:

Really Bad Theology

All Welcome

Comment by: Al at March 22, 2005 3:33 PM

I'm reading your book right now. It's excellent! And it goes along with a lot of what I was thinking about the nature of superheroes after I saw the first Spider-Man movie. When I finish reading it I'll go write a review on Amazon.com. Thanks for all your hard work!

Comment by: Michelle Hansen at March 26, 2005 12:22 PM


Thanks for stopping by! Awfully nice of you to post a comment at Amazon. It's a bit like people you thought didn't even know you exist writing something really nice in your yearbook: it's life-affirming, in a sense.

Glad you're enjoying the book. Keep coming by Strangely Dim: we have a lot of fun here.

Comment by: dave at March 28, 2005 8:58 AM

Comments are closed for this entry.

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Behind the Strangeness

Lisa Rieck is a reader and writer who likes to discuss good ideas over hot drinks and gets inspired by the sky. She takes in all kinds of good ideas as a proofreader for InterVarsity Press.

Rebecca Larson is a writer/designer/creative type who has infiltrated IVP's web department, where she writes and edits online content. She enjoys a good pun and loves the smell of freshly printed books.

David A. Zimmerman is an editor for Likewise Books and a columnist for Burnside Writers Collective. He's written three books, most recently The Parable of the Unexpected Guest. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/unexpguest. Find his personal blog at loud-time.com.

Suanne Camfield is a publicist for InterVarsity Press and a freelance writer. She floats ungracefully between work, parenting and writing, and (much to her dismay) finds it impossible to read on a treadmill. She is a member of the Redbud Writers Guild and blogs at The Rough Cut.

Likewise Books from InterVarsity Press explore a thoughtful, active faith lived out in real time in the midst of an emerging culture.

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