From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Methodists offer encouragement on N.Y. billboard

From NewsDesk <NewsDesk@UMCOM.ORG>
Date Wed, 5 Dec 2001 14:46:57 -0600

Dec. 5, 2001 News media contact: Linda Green7(615)742-54707Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: A photograph is available with this story.

By United Methodist News Service

A 45-foot-high billboard in the Wall Street district of Manhattan, just two
blocks from ground zero, is offering passersby a word of encouragement from
United Methodists.

Erected Nov. 29, the billboard features a large photograph of praying hands
with the words: "Fear is not the only force at work in the world today." It
also includes the church's familiar cross and flame logo with the words:
"Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors. The People of the United Methodist
Church." The phrase regarding openness has been a part of a major national
"Igniting Ministry" media campaign directed by United Methodist
Communications (UMCom), a church agency based in Nashville, Tenn.    

During the next three months, more than 600,000 people a day are expected to
see the billboard, according to outdoor advertising officials.

The billboard's simple but direct message is intended to tell New Yorkers
that followers of Jesus Christ are praying with them, said the Rev. Steve
Horswill-Johnston, Igniting Ministry director.

The $20 million Igniting Ministry campaign was launched shortly before the
Sept. 11 tragedy, using TV spots, print ads and billboards. Its purpose is
to reach people seeking answers to real-life questions and to invite them to
United Methodist churches to continue that search. The billboard in
Manhattan was produced especially for use in the city as a message of hope
and reassurance.

The billboard is a "bold proclamation of our belief in the God who is at
work in the world even now empowering us, healing us and bringing new life
to places where fear seeks to disable and diminish us," said the Rev. Larry
Hollon, UMCom's top staff executive. 
Horswill-Johnston said that since Sept. 11 church leaders of diverse
traditions have observed that people are searching to fill a "hole in the
soul." That hole is widening and deepening worldwide, but is most evident in
the lives of the New York citizens, he said.

"New York has been hit by much more than two planes in the sides of two
buildings. They have been hit in the soul, and they have demonstrated a
great spiritual resiliency," he observed.

UMCom has used a variety of communications channels, including the Internet,
television and radio, to help Americans deal with the aftermath of the
terrorist attacks and to share the church's concern for victims, family
members and loved ones. A television spot broadcast on CNN in late October
and early November urged people to pray for safety, justice and a "change in
angry hearts."

Given its role in helping the church speak to the needs of the world, UMCom
has sought to offer appropriate messages of hope, comfort, community,
justice and peace - "messages rooted in the gospel and manifest in the life
of Christ," Horswill-Johnston said.

Hollon agrees. "We believe in the life force of a creative God who
transforms our fears into confident hope. I can think of no more appropriate
location to affirm this belief and share it with others than ground zero."

The basic purpose of the overall Igniting Ministry campaign is to invite
people, particularly those between 25 and 54 years old, to enter into
connection with the Christian community as they seek meaning and purpose in
their lives.   

Initial reports from a media-tracking firm indicate the effort is working.
More people between the ages of 25 and 54 are reporting a favorable opinion
of the church and have expressed a willingness to attend one of the 36,000
United Methodist churches across the country.

A random telephone survey of 1,250 people was conducted in 100 churches in
each of the denomination's five jurisdictions. First-time attendance figures
were gathered for churches in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., San Antonio, Portland,
Ore., Baltimore and Indianapolis. 

According to the results, 14 percent people of those surveyed remembered the
United Methodist Church's television spots, compared to 18 percent who
remembered ads placed by the Mormons, who have a 22-year history with
television advertising.

The survey shows an 8 percent increase in awareness of the United Methodist
Church over 2000, Igniting Ministry officials said. Seventy-five percent of
those sampled indicate a belief in what the television spots say. More than
35 percent report a favorable attitude toward the United Methodist Church.

Most religious groups reported an increase in attendance immediately after
Sept 11. Horswill-Johnston said that the 100 Igniting Ministry test churches
in September had a 108 percent increase of first-time attendance over the
previous year.   

The full report from the media-tracking firm will be available on the
Igniting Ministry Web site at by mid-December.

# # #

United Methodist News Service
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