For the benefit of those who are westbound on the Creek Turnpike Trail near Memorial Drive in Tulsa, there is a warning sign that alerts cyclists and runners to a steep downhill grade.  You’ve likely seen such signs before.  The lower portion bears the word “Hill”; the upper portion features a bicycle headed down the hypotenuse of a right triangle.  A couple of days ago, I noticed that some whimsical, enterprising, athletic, smart aleck had spray painted “Duh!” on the upper portion of the sign.

While lamenting this blatant defacing of public property, I’ll have to admit that I did chuckle when I first saw the vandal’s commentary on the sign.  I could somewhat relate to the mindset of the graffiti artist.  “Thanks for the heads up, Captain Obvious!  I would have never guessed that this was a hill!”  However, as is often the case, further reflection allowed me to see the sign in a more helpful and needful light.  What about first-time riders and runners on the trail who unsuspectingly approached the abrupt onset of the slope?  What about those who cycle before dawn or after dusk?  Not everyone has been on the trail multiple times before.  Not everyone knows the lay of the land.  Not everyone is “from around here.”  The sign serves a purpose, if nothing more than a courteous and cautionary reminder.

In public announcements during our worship assemblies, I try to remember to make references to the Outreach Center instead of the O.C., or to Vacation Bible School instead of V.B.S.  Who doesn’t know what the O.C. is?  For starters, all first-time visitors and most new members at the Broken Arrow church don’t know.  Who in the world doesn’t know what V.B.S. is?  Well, just about anyone who didn’t grow up in a church context or a Christian family, a segment of the U.S. population that continues to grow.  For all they know, V.B.S. might refer to the Venezuelan Broadcasting System!

A newcomer to our congregation would have a lot of legitimate questions.  What’s B.O.B.?  What’s W.O.W.?  What’s Mission Forum?  What’s New Heights?  What’s Take-a-City?  What’s a City Leader?  Are they the people who Took-a-City?  At one level, such esoteric terms, insider abbreviations, and in-house acronyms are naturally to be expected and are quite useful as convenient shorthand in our congregational communications.  However, churches should never lose their sensitivity to the fact that they likely mean absolutely nothing to newcomers and to those uninitiated in our ways.  If we express disbelief at their unfamiliarity or fail to patiently offer explanations, it makes them feel even more as if they just landed on an alien planet, that they don’t speak the local language, and that they don’t belong.

I shared these thoughts in my bulletin article this week.  Each Friday afternoon, an electronic copy of our weekly bulletin is posted on the church’s website, and an email is sent to current and former members with a link to the new upload.  Within 20 minutes of the link being sent out on Friday this week, I received an email from friends who recently moved out-of-state after spending 30 years at our congregation.  It was great to hear from them and to catch up on family news.  She wanted me to know that she had just read the article and offered their full confirmation and complete verification of these realities as they have been settling into a new church home over the last few months.  “We are the very people you referred to as the newcomers,” she wrote.  It’s real, people!  It’s very, very real!

What might seem like a “Duh!” statement to you, may be precisely the kind of helpful and insightful information that is desperately needed by someone else.

Don’t spray paint the signs!!!