Banners in the church

Banners can open fresh channels of communication.

Karen Holford, MA, is associate director of Children’s Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in south England.

We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners" (Ps. 20:5).

Banners were used in Bible times as a standard or ensign to declare an army's allegiance. They were symbols of nationality and helped direct the soldiers before, during, and after a battle. Banners declared a specific message: "His banner over me was love" (Song of Sol. 2:4). Banners gave a visual message. Jesus used visual aids to tell His parables and teach the people. He taught in places surrounded by observable images and lessons. Today, confined within the four walls of a church building, we don't have the same access to immediate visual aids. Banners can help provide the link. Banners can also carry a clear message to children in a church. The pictures and messages will stay with them, even if they never hear a word of the sermon.

Why use banners?

Many churches use banners as part of their worship. Some banners have a more permanent place in the church. Some banners may declare the name of the church or one of its important beliefs. Other banners may have a temporary use and be designed for a special event or to enhance a current study or worship theme. There are many benefits in using banners:

1. Banners can help create a worshipful atmosphere by helping to focus the thoughts on a theme prior to the service. A flower arrangement is beautiful and brings joy, but even the simplest banner can speak a thousand words and can facilitate meditative thoughts where flowers may remain silent.

2. Banners can help enhance the atmosphere when a church has to meet in a multipurpose building. A banner can be used to cover up notice boards or posters used by other organizations and thus prevent unnecessary distractions. Or it can bring color and beauty to a drab meeting place.

3. Working together on a banner can bind people together. A small group can work as a banner team. Each banner needs careful thought, study, prayer, and a range of skills. There may be some members who would function better in such an activity focused group rather than the more conventional study or prayer group.

4. People who have artistic and needlework talents can feel that the Lord can use their skills as much as He uses a musician, florist, or poet, and feel more included in the worship experience. We often forget that when the tabernacle was made God actually provided creative skills as a spiritual gift (see Ex. 35:30-35) in order to enhance the beauty of the sanctuary. Some Christians look down upon creative skills as second-rate and even "time-wasters." Because of such attitudes, those with artistic skills may feel guilty about using them. But all talents are gifts from God, and banner-making can give these imaginative people an opportunity to contribute to the worship experience.

5. Each banner is totally unique and can be made to suit the environment and the fellowship better than a ready-made poster.

6. Banners last a long time. A floral display may last only a few days and cost more than a banner.

7. Some may hesitate to "adorn" their churches in this way. But as long as the purpose of the banner is to raise our thoughts to God, rather than show off the skills of the makers, there need not be a problem. A banner for the church should, of course, be well made and attractive, using the best avail able materials and design.

8. Banners can also be used on church and youth/Pathfinder marches to share the message of Christ with the world in vivid, beautiful ways.

If there is reluctance on the part of some members to use banners in the church sanctuary, then it may be possible to consider the foyer or vestibule for such use. Banners also can be used as part of the children's spot, or they may be confined to special occasions such as dedications, baptisms, Communion, Thanksgiving and harvest festivals, and weddings. Such use may be more acceptable to those who have concerns.

Church board backing for use of banners is important. It may be necessary for the board to screen designs. Submit several designs to the committee, and let them select one. Some churches may let a banner group work as they wish; others may want the group to operate with some guidance from the pastor. Pastoral input is essential when a banner is to be designed for a special event or for a sermon series.

If you know of churches that use banners, borrow some samples and have a display to show how effective they can be. Local church schools could also be involved in banner projects as part of their design and skills program. Schools could also use banners in their own worship services, especially if they have to use a multipurpose area as a chapel. Eventually it may be possible to set up a banner library where other local churches can come and borrow or rent a banner for a special event. Thus resources can be shared, and it won't be necessary for every church to "re invent the wheel."

Designing and making a banner

1. Settle on a theme. It could be the theme for the sermon series, or the theme of the Sabbath school lessons. The theme may come from special events such as baptisms, Communion, etc., or from our special beliefs such as creation or the three angels' messages.

2. Have a group work on a banner. Encourage the group to pray together, and study the topic or theme from the Bible, and pool inspirations about the theme, sifting through them to find the best ideas and words to use. In some churches, one person may be able to accomplish the task.

3. Plan the design out on paper first. Use few and forceful words to convey the theme accurately. Employ simple but clear symbols that enhance the message rather than distract from the theme. Don't clutter the banner with too many symbols. Once you have a sketch, draw it out full size on large pieces of paper and use this as a pattern for cutting your fabrics.

4. Show the banner design to the pastor, and, if necessary, to the church board. Be willing to be flexible about the ideas others offer, and prayerfully consider the suggestions.

5. Once the basic design has been established, consider materials and methods, uses of the banner colors, shape and techniques, cost, and how it will be displayed. A cross-shaped frame on a sturdy base can be useful to hang different banners on and can be easily made. Or a hook on the wall may be all that is needed. Banners need not always be made in fabric. Thin card, folded and curved into a design, can yield beautiful three-dimensional effects. Bits of wood, bark, sheep's wool, and other natural mate rials may be used if appropriate to the design. A fabric banner needs to have a channel along its upper edge so that a dowel can be inserted to let the banner hang straight. Screw eyes can be screwed into the dowel, and ribbon or silken cord used to hang the banner from its frame or hook.

6. Avoid depicting people---it is difficult to make them look right. If you must have people on the banner, then the line drawings from The Good News Bible may be helpful. These are copyrighted designs, and you need to obtain permission in writing from the publisher before you use them. Per mission usually is granted to banner-makers. Silhouettes and the backs of people are easier to achieve than facial features.

Helps for making banners

1. For a series of practical books on banner-making, write to Priscilla Nunnerley, Christian Banners, 9, Chestnut Court, Chestnut Lane, Amersham, Buckinghamshire, England. Priscilla, an evangelical Christian, writes from extensive experience, and her books include Banner in His Name, An Army With Banners, and Banner-Makers to the King.

2. Materials you will need. Drape and upholstery fabrics. These are usu ally of a heavier weight and come in a wide range of colors and effects. If you are mixing fabrics, make sure that they are preshrunk. You may not want to wash the banner, but if it is ever in a damp atmosphere you could end up with a disaster! Check out remnant boxes for useful pieces at lower prices. All kinds of other fabrics can be used in collage; fleece, cottons, satins, taffeta, lace, chiffon, and net can produce wonderful effects.

3. Make use of scraps, but be sure the fabric is what you really want. Collect and organize odds and ends in boxes so you can find materials easily.

4. Bondaweb (fusible webbing) can be bought off a roll and is an easy way to do applique, as you can draw designs directly onto its paper backing, cut them out, and iron them onto a backing fabric. Edges can be left as they are and won't fray but can be covered with machine stitching, couched threads, or one of the new fabric paints in a squeeze bottle that leaves a raised line. When using Bondaweb, remember that the design you draw on the backing paper must be a reverse of the design you want, and follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully.

5. Fabric paints or even car-spray paints and stencils can create wonderful effects. Check craft books for ideas and uses of paints on fabric.

6. Heavyweight vilene can provide stiffness to the banner if necessary. Once the banner is completed, let its front hang so that it will drop and relax before backing and stiffening it.

7. Explore the use of beads, fabric flowers and leaves, and even Velcro fastening for an add-on banner (see ideas section).

8. Print the lettering for banners on a banner-program of a computer. This makes possible large lettering that can be cut out and used as a pattern and also offers a variety of styles. Poor lettering can ruin a wonderful banner! If you like some lettering but it is too small, use an enlarging photocopier to bring it up to the right size. Or check with your local schools or public library for letter templates and patterns. If you are borrowing a design, make sure you are not contravening any copyright laws.


For a series on the Ten Commandments a large banner was made with the text "This is God's love that we keep His commandments." The traditional shape of the stone was ironed onto the backing fabric and 10 Velcro spots in a matching color were stitched on in two vertical rows of five. Then 10 cardboard heart shapes were cut out, covered in fabric, and decorated to depict the positive aspects of each of the commandments. Each heart shape had a Velcro spot attached to the back so that each week a new commandment symbol could be added to the banner by the children. For example: "Thou shall not kill" was a picture of a chick hatching from an egg to show the importance of protecting life; a gift package was used to represent not stealing (we should be giving rather than taking). The symbols were explained by the pastor so that no confusion could arise.

For a retreat weekend a banner was made of unbleached muslin (calico) with the simple words "Bind Us Together, Lord." The word "Lord" was placed in the center of a circle of hearts, each heart having a different color and pattern of fabric. The hearts touched at their edges, and different colored ribbon bows appeared to tie each heart to the next one.

Both these banners were simple and made in a day by one person.

If you like the idea of banners but don't feel able to make any for your church, experiment with making miniature wall-hangings for your home and for gifts. You may find that some one who is in the hospital for a long time or confined to their home might appreciate having a banner for their room, using a text that has meant something special to them. It is possible to cross-stitch a text on even-weave fabric and then embellish the text with bonded applique, lace, but tons, etc. Make a fabric border for the mini-banner and include fabric loops at the top or an upper channel for the dowel so that it will hang well.

As you make banners, you will develop ideas of your own. Cards, stickers, and other items in your local Christian bookshops can also give you simple ideas for banners. Your own personal prayer and study life will provide you with ideas, too, and it is important to pray about every design you make. Keep a file of design ideas.

Mini-banners in homes and hospitals can be a special witness to friends and staff and open up channels of communication. As in Bible times, the banners will show whose side you are on.

Above all, enjoy your banner-making, on whatever scale, as you use your time and talents for the Lord.

Happy banner-making!

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Karen Holford, MA, is associate director of Children’s Ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in south England.

July 1994

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