"These days there are only three ways a church can draw in more people," Bruce Gustafson sagely remarks. "There's the one-on-one personal invitation from a member, the Internet, and outdoor signage. That's it."
Bruce is a council member at River Heights Vineyard Church in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. "In the old days people found your church using the Yellow Pages. Those days are gone," he laments; adding, "We don't even list in the Yellow Pages anymore."
River Heights Vineyard Church is a busy place seven days a week, including evenings. Tuesday nights the church holds a "celebrate recovery" ministry for those in the community seeking support. Wednesday nights the youth ministry meets. Bruce and his wife Bonnie provide couple mentoring other nights. And twice each year the church offers a ten-week Alpha course.
"We have a lot going on - with even more on the horizon," Bruce projects. "Therefore, how do we reach out in these times? We needed to leave the 20th Century."
The members entrusted Bruce with the research project of purchasing an electronic message center to replace the woefully outdated sign out on Cahill Avenue. 'Entrusted' was something the members felt they could do. After all, after a 41-year career in customer service with the 3M Company, he knew a little something about product integrity.
Bruce placed calls to other churches in the Saint Paul area to personally visit and inspect church signs. "The Stewart brand kept coming up. I learned about Stewart's 40-year reputation and loyal customers. That carries a lot of weight with me."
Contacting Stewart Signs he learned how to put Cahill Avenue to work for the church. "It's the main thoroughfare. We had already a built-in audience."
Bruce explains why LED technology is right for today's church. "People are busy, let's face it. Hundreds of people drive past a church every day just going about their lives. You have but an 8-second window to reach out. A quality-built, tasteful, workhorse of a sign speaks volumes to the community. It informs motorists with continually-updated messages and proclaims that your church cares."
River Heights Vineyard Church installed their new Stewart Signs LED sign in September, 2008. Right away the community responded very positively. "I expected the membership to be excited although that was only the beginning," Bruce recalls fondly.
"Our senior pastor bumped into our mayor at a social function. The mayor commented on how 'professional' the sign looks; saying that the new sign fits in well in the Cahill Avenue corridor and that it's an asset to the community."
The under-35 crowd of Inver Grove Heights has taken notice as well. "We run messages that touch their everyday lives. They feel a connection between this specific church and what they go through. Many of them are new parents. The sign really puts us on the map. Their map."
Before the new sign, River Heights Vineyard Church saw two-hundred worshipers on a typical Sunday morning. "Now we see three-hundred and growing," reports Bruce.
"I can't say for certain that the new sign is wholly responsible for the increase," he acknowledges. "But what I can say is we are considering adding a third service on Sundays."