Tuesday, March 16, 2004
Please come to our church!
The Christian Science Monitor reported yesterday that three denominations have launched major TV ad campaigns. The United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Methodists are taking to the airwaves in the hope that they can build some brand recognition and reverse declining memberships and the economic pressures that come with it.
Despite ever-slimming budgets, each of these three denominations hired professionals to market their denomination, through focus group research and targeted slogan-writing to strike a chord with the public. The religious body would be sold to the masses just like any other product except in one regard: This product would have to overcome a bigger than usual image problem.
"They [at the ad agency] told us they'd never had a product that conjured up so many negative feelings" as the idea of "church," Mr. Buford said. Many in focus groups said they'd felt hurt or rejected by the church, so "unconditional acceptance" became the target message.
("Mainstream churches take a leap of faith into TV advertising," G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Christian Science Monitor 3.16.04)
I have to point out, however, that contrary to the claims in the article, the Unitarian Universalist Association did not launch a national ad campaign this week, although it has prepared ad materials for regional and local use. I can't find a link to its TV ads. And although I don't personally fancy the Unitarian Universalist "Uncommon Denomination" ads (scroll to the bottom; the Uncommon Denomination site has lots of material), I hope all three campaigns do very well.
I haven't spent any time examining the Methodist campaign, but I have been following the UCC's efforts.
The United Church of Christ is gambling big. Last November, the editor of the UCC's United Church News wrote a remarkable article about the church's financial crisis and the risk it was willing to take to reverse course:
"What we are facing now is about the very life and mission of our church," says Edith Guffey, the UCC's associate general minister and administrator of the UCC's Office of General Ministries. "I think we have to do something, and I think we have to do something big and radical. We can't simply continue to do the same thing and expect better results."
The UCC's national offices are projecting a $3.5 million shortfall in 2004, unless drastic cuts are made. In the past year, 25 staff positions have been eliminated through layoffs and attrition. Some program budgets have been reduced by as much as 40 percent, or eliminated entirely. Without sizeable cuts or new resources, cumulative deficits would mount to an estimated $33 million by 2007, but Collegium and board members say they will not allow that to happen. . . .
At the Cleveland meeting, many expressed support for a proposal first advanced by Thomas in July at General Synod 24 calling for UCC members to increase overall giving to local churches to $1 billion annually by 2007, the UCC's 50th anniversary—a jump of $140 million annually within four years.
"A Vision Plan for Increasing Stewardship"—a proposal outlining specifics for how to reach the $1 billion goal—served as the summit's conversation-framing document. In short, the plan calls for an aggressive new approach to evangelism and stewardship that builds on the initial success of the UCC's "God is still speaking," identity campaign. It calls for a greatly expanded advertising/ marketing effort to increase UCC name recognition among the general population, while instilling pride and ownership among its members.
("Church leaders agree: Financial struggles demand a united effort," J. Bennett Guess, United Church News 11.03)
Putting this plan in motion has required an initial $2.5 million, and making "United Church of Christ" into something that people associate with cool, inclusive, and welcoming won't be easy. "[O]ur name is confusing, our congregations lack a cohesive identity and the average person on the street wouldn't have a clue about the UCC's often-courageous commitments," Guess wrote in December. Being a typography junkie, I really like the "follow the comma" idea the Gotham Inc. folks came up with!
For a lot more on the roll-out of the UCC's ad campaign, read the March cover story of United Church News, "Welcome to the show."
Update 12.1.04: CBS and NBC have refused to run the UCC ads, citing discomfort with the message of implicit welcome to gay men and lesbians. More here.
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 16 March 2004 at 7:34 PM