Here in the Deep South, it's pretty much accepted that these billboards originated in sunny Alabama, aka the Buckle of the Bible Belt. ("From the state that brought you Jim Crow laws, comes...") One or two individuals started the whole thing, and pretty soon it took off and churches across the state (and throughout the South) began funding billboard campaigns of their own.
The first "God" billboard to appear in Alabama was:
WE NEED TO TALK. -God
One of the more recent billboards, and my personal favorite, is:
COME OVER TO MY HOUSE BEFORE THE BIG GAME. -God
I love that sign, because I always wonder what size TV God has at his "house."
In the spirit of targeted marketing campaigns, I keep expecting to see billboards that are more focused towards my interests. I really look forward to the day when I'll be driving down the highway and see:
G0d 0wnZ y00! HaX0Rz n0 G0d iz 1337!
We criticize and make fun of these billboards, but biotoast is fair in asking, "What would you have a church do? Abort any attempt at humor?" Certainly not. In fact, I think people on both sides of the fence would feel comfortable in saying that one of the big things that drives folks away from organized religion is the seriousness of it all. I can remember, back when I was religious, watching George Carlin and Monty Python on television and thinking to myself, "Wow, this is funny...but am I going to go to Hell for laughing at it?" So I think biotoast is more than correct in pointing out that churches could do well with an infusion of humor, if only to lighten things up from time to time.
But what I think bothers people (believers and unbelievers alike) most about these billboards is that they often say some pretty harsh things and they always purport to speak for God. Katyana and Sylvar both mention the line "Don't make me come down there. -God," which was all over the place until the ad agency responsible for the billboards began receiving complaints from people who interpreted it as an inappropriate threat of violence.
But perhaps even more disturbing about that message is that it threatens violence while purporting to speak on God's behalf. In this post-September 11th world, threats made by individuals who claim to know the very mind of God are especially concerning. But even forgetting recent history for a moment, it's just plain arrogant to claim one knows what God is thinking.
I think the reason so many individuals found the "messages from God" billboards disturbing is because, unless you're directly quoting scripture, human beings really ought not claim to speak for God. (History suggests that really bad things happen when you do.) This comes despite my nonbelief in a higher being...while I don't particularly respect the concept of a god or gods, I still feel it important that individuals speak only for themselves and not claim to speak for others--especially when those others are supernatural in origin. This is not to say that churches must refrain from using humor in every aspect of their ministries, but combining the typical Southern Baptist "hellfire and brimstone" message with billboards that pretend to speak for God...well, that's just creepy.