- Associated Press - Thursday, January 23, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - Ron Curcio wants not to offend, but to get people thinking.

A church member at Ascension Lutheran Church in Ross, Curcio is in charge of creating and posting messages on the church marquee facing the busy Peebles Road.

Thoughtful, often witty and - to some - provocative, the messages aim to grab the attention of passing motorists, to get them to consider their faith along with their commute.

“I don’t want to put up a sign that tells people what to do,” Curcio said. “If a person maybe doesn’t have much of a faith or doesn’t go to church often, I don’t want to send them away. I want to get them to start thinking. If my signs do that, and if they’re funny at times, well, that’s OK, too.”

Curcio and Ascension Lutheran are not alone.

Churches across the country use roadside signs to gain attention and spread a message - some with more success than others.

During the holidays, for instance, a church pastor in Florida posted a sign reading: “Christmas - Easier to spell than Hanukkah.”

After several people complained and a local TV station called him for comment, the pastor took the sign down.

“By no means would I as human or Christian ever put anything on the sign with the intention of hurting or insulting,” the Rev. Mike Butzberger told The Associated Press from his church in North Palm Beach, Fla. “The purpose of the sign is to draw people to God, which is, in our ‘business,’ what we’re selling.”

Such attention-grabbing signs often end up on websites and are passed around through social media. The best are praised, such as one church sign reading: “I know where your meth lab’s at - God.”

Others are jeered, such as the church that aped an old beer commercial for its message: “For all you do, his blood’s for you.”

At Woodland Valley Church in Mars, the messages aim to be thoughtful and inspiring, but never controversial, said Dave Speicher, the church’s administrative assistant, whose teenage daughter posts the weekly messages.

“She’ll run it by the pastor if it’s edgy, or even just witty,” Speicher said, “because a witty sign can be taken the wrong way.”

At Ascension Lutheran, the Rev. Brennan Gaertner, the pastor, said he understands that with creativity comes risk. Still, he and others encourage Curcio to have fun with the signs.

That’s why the board on Ash Wednesday read: “Get your ashes in church.”

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