From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Communications agency plans TV spots to showcase denomination

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.UMC.ORG>
Date 20 Oct 1998 13:13:07

Oct. 20, 1998	Contact: Linda Green((615)742-5470(Nashville, Tenn.

NASHVILE, Tenn. (UMNS) - United Methodist Communications (UMCom) is
preparing to step into the new millenium with a major effort aimed at
increasing the public's awareness of the United Methodist Church through
television commercials.

The agency plans to launch an $8 million, four-year media campaign,
starting in 2001. The move was approved unanimously by the 25-member
Commission on Communications at its semiannual meeting Oct. 15-16.

The campaign will highlight the United Methodist Church's beliefs and
mission through television spots on cable channels such as CNN, A&E,
BET, Odyssey and the Discovery Channel. Selected commercials might also
appear on the ABC, CBS and NBC networks.

UMCom will take the campaign proposal to the 2000 General Conference,
the church's top legislative body, and ask it to provide $5 million
annually in new money to cover the cost of purchasing air time from 2001
to 2004. The cost rounds out to about $1 per church member or $200 per
local congregation.

To supplement its request, UMCom will commit $1 million annually from
its ongoing budget. It also anticipates receiving $1 million annually
from other churchwide agencies and an additional $1 million from the
Foundation for United Methodist Communications. The foundation has
agreed to raise $4 million by 2004 to assist UMCom in strengthening the
church's outreach through television commercials.

In addition to the proposed 2001-2004 effort, the Commission on
Communications approved a way for annual conferences and local churches
to begin media campaigns almost immediately.  In 1999, annual
conferences and local churches may request up to $25,000 to match funds
raised for television media campaigns to increase awareness of the
United Methodist Church locally and regionally.

"We've made some decisions . . . that have the potential to guide and
transform the way we transmit the Gospel to the world," said the
commission's president, Bishop Sharon Rader, of Sun Prairie, Wis.

The quadrennial campaign also will seek to proclaim the Gospel by
renewing in United Methodist members a sense of commitment and fostering
in nonmembers a positive feeling and willingness to visit a United
Methodist church. 

As the multimedia campaign was presented, commission members discussed
the cost of creating and placing television commercials and wondered if
now is the right time to bring such an initiative before the United
Methodist Church.

"I strongly feel believe this media campaign is right for our church,"
said Wil Bane, a staff executive at UMCom. "If the United Methodist
Church is not present in the public media, it is invisible to much of
the culture."

Television requires high levels of financial resources to make an
impact, said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, another agency executive.
UMCom does not believe the campaign is something that can be partially
or half-heartedly supported, he said. 

"It will require us to be faithful, tithing, bold and responsive to the
possibilities God has for its use in people's lives and our churches,"
he said.

As the media initiative was presented, Bishop Rueben Job told the
commission members through a videotape that television can bring "the
message of Christ, it can be a credible and understandable messenger" to
those who do not know the United Methodist Church. 

Job said it is the church's responsibility, even its duty, to "use the
best technology available so that everyone may hear the good news. To
hide the light of the Gospel under the bushel of lethargy, uncertainty,
fear and poor stewardship is to choose to walk away from the harvest God
seeks and the world loves. We must grasp the opportunity to declare the
Gospel of Jesus Christ who lived, died and rose again.

"We have the technology, the skill and the resources to proclaim the
good news persuasively and powerfully," Job said.

The  Rev. Bob Bonnot told commissioners and trustees of the Foundation
for United Methodist Communications that the proposal to General
Conference to position the United Methodist Church more centrally in the
"public square" is entirely appropriate. Bonnot is the interim president
of the Odyssey Network, based in New York City.

The real question before UMCom and the 2000 General Conference is
whether the  United Methodist Church, with its "precious and unique
embodiment of a faith in Jesus," will be visible in the media, he said.

"I believe that a regular, powerful presence is absolutely essential,"
Bonnot said. "The image of the United Methodist Church momentarily and
regularly present on television can and will touch thousands of

The commission's unanimous support of the multimedia proposal guarantees
that communicating the Gospel through all available media in the new
millenium will be a major item on the General Conference agenda, said
the Rev. Judy Weidman, UMCom's top staff executive. 

"Support for defining and interpreting the church's message in this way
to a new generation of seekers is the challenge and opportunity now
squarely before the church," she said. 

Television has the capacity to transform people and even heal them,
Bonnot said The media touch people deeply, he said, and used
effectively, "the media can and do open us to God."

Television's storytelling power addresses people faced with choices and
problems, presents them with alternative values and meanings, and
invites them to make their own selections, he said. "The simple truth is
that television engages people on the level of the spirit. That's
religion's concern. The media fashions our view of reality, including
our spirituality."

Horswill-Johnston agreed, noting that television speaks the language of
the people. It provides a type of "street theology" and can tell the
drama of the Gospel story with images and emotion, he said. "It is a
vessel for God's words, and it allows fertile ground where
disciple-making is possible."

During a four-year period, the commercials will create dialogue among
current church members, he said. That dialogue may lead to a "renewed
and invigorated message that the United Methodist Church is global in
shape and local in thrust." 

UMCom envisions the media effort as a campaign of the entire
denomination, and other churchwide agencies have agreed to participate
in the four-year initiative. 

 The United Methodist Board of Discipleship has agreed to incorporate a
presentation about the campaign in its ongoing Faith Sharing Initiative
and to provide training on how to be a welcoming church.  

The United Methodist Publishing House has agreed to manufacture and
distribute a local church media kit through its catalog and Cokesbury
stores. The kits will enable local churches or annual conferences to use
components of the campaign to help increase membership and will provide
information on how to respond to prospective members.  

The agency sees the campaign being enhanced by annual conference and
church participation. UMCom will have available $250,000 annually for
annual conferences and churches to purchase local air time on

As a way to help annual conferences and local churches in their media
efforts, UMCom will provide assistance, as requested, in strategizing
local television broadcast purchases and campaigns. The agency also will
customize television spots for local church or annual conference
campaigns free of charge.

Religion must be in the public square to remain a part of people's
picture of reality, Bonnot said. A person can believe in a climate of
uncertainty only with genuine faith and continual cultural reinforcement
through the media, he said.

"If the major institutions in our culture rely on a media presence to
achieve their objectives today, I believe that religion can and must do
no less,"  Bonnot said. Faith communities such as the United Methodist
Church must use the media if they want to retain their constituents and
attract new ones, he said. 

"Believers need daily reinforcement of their faith as they daily
encounter alternative belief systems that challenge their faith
convictions," he said. "Beyond believers are the many persons who find
life in the consumer lane, whether fast or slow, unsatisfying," he said,
and they are looking for some faith tradition to provide meaning to
their lives.

Some people need the media to make them aware of their faith options, he
said. "We need to give them occasion and reasons to accept God's drawing
of them to our traditions with their distinctive strengths and

In other action, the Commission on Communications:

* Adopted a resolution requesting that the United Methodist Council on
Finance and Administration and the General Conference increase UMCom's
2001-2004 World Service funding to $47.8 million. That's up 7.33 percent
from $44.5 million for the 1996-2000 period.
* Congratulated the Conference Resourcing Team on its one-year
anniversary and the work it has done to connect church communicators
with each other and the resources they need.
* Received information about the Bishop's Appeal for Hope for Children
of Africa and a progress report for the distribution of promotional

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