Corporate America would kill for advertising this effective. As traffic bottlenecks into the gates of the Augusta National Golf Club, cars slow to a crawl past St. Mark United Methodist Church on Washington Road. Below a large wood cross, a sign relays a message from above.
"God says meet me at my house Sunday before the game."
Or tournament, rather.
Though attendance from regular members of the congregation tends to drop on Masters Sunday, pastors say more visitors than usual attend the weekend's services -- thanks, in part, to attention-getting wordplay on church signs.
Advent Lutheran Church, three miles west of the golf course, greets Washington Road drivers with the message, "Our master is risen!" while National Hills Baptist Church keeps it simple, advertising parking less than a half-mile from Augusta National's main gate.
It's tricky to mesh golf and God into a single quip that fits on a church-front sign, said the Rev. William Harrell, of Abilene Baptist Church on Washington Road in Martinez.
"There's not much you can do," he said "We can only fit 15 letters on each of three lines. And we try to keep it spiritually based."
Then there are the churches that hardly need a sign. The large plaza of Whole Life Ministries sits across the street from the golf course, drawing foot traffic throughout the week and upping turnout at services.
A small sign at the church's complex advertises free lemonade, a tradition that dates back at least 16 years, said Youth Pastor Michele Haynes. "We give out an average of 3,000 to 5,000 cups."
An electronic sign towering above the plaza also plays graphics of a golfer and the text "Welcome Masters." It's hardly an empty greeting, the Rev. Haynes said.
"We mean it. We let visitors come in and use our phone and restrooms. Some stay and check out the bookstore," he said.
Visitors also stop at Lakemont Presbyterian Church, about a half-mile from Augusta National on Bluebird Road.
"We have good conversations with folks, but a lot don't know we're here because we're set back from the road," the Rev. Jack Jagoditsch said.
St. Mark doesn't have that problem. After seeing the sign, "People stop to comment and they'll come by the church and take their picture," the Rev. Wagner said. "We're just at ground zero. It's like being in downtown Athens for a Georgia Bulldogs game. The fact that this sign is seen by thousands every day, it's sure to touch somebody."
The church tweaked its Sunday schedule to accommodate golf fans and ease traffic for its regular members. The 8:30 and 11 a.m. services are combined into one at 9 a.m.
"Though you'll still miss early tee times," the Rev. Wagner cautioned. "There's not much we can do about that."
Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or email@example.com.
THE MASTERS PULPIT
Even the pulpit isn't safe from the Masters. Although some churches are determined not to break stride this Sunday, others couldn't resist a good sports metaphor. Below, a sampling of Masters Sunday topics:
FOLLOWING JESUS: The Hill Baptist Church on Kings Way. "People will be out on the golf course following their favorite golfer," the Rev. Michael Ruffin said. "But we need to follow Jesus through life."
NOT ASHAMED: Lakemont Presbyterian Church on Bluebird Road. The series began last week and continues on schedule, Masters or no Masters, with text from 2 Timothy 1:8-12.
RABID CHRISTIANITY: St. Mark United Methodist Church on Washington Road. "I talk about the book Old Yeller," the Rev. Dane Wagner said. "The family has a rabid cow that would walk around and around water but wouldn't drink. We do the same with Jesus. We need to drink of the living water."
THE KINGDOM ADVENTURE: Warren Baptist Church on Washington Road. The church got its golf fix with the annual Augusta Golf Breakfast on Tuesday, so Sunday continues as planned with the Rev. Steve Cloud delivering Chosen by the King, from Exodus 19:4-6.
EASTER SERIES continued at the Catholic Church of the Most Holy Trinity on Telfair Street. The Rev. Mike Lubinsky will talk on three points -- the Holy Spirit as a gift, Jesus' promise of eternal life and how, "by name, God has called us to live loving lives," he said. "This is what the Master wants us to live by on Masters Sunday."