From the Worldwide Faith News archives

United Church of Christ to begin national advertising campaign

Date Tue, 24 Feb 2004 16:49:55 -0500

United Church of Christ
Robert Chase, press contact
(216) 736-2173
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For immediate release
Feb. 24, 2004

United Church of Christ to begin national advertising campaign March 1

Four-year effort to promote denomination's 'distinctive voice'

      CLEVELAND--Hoping to improve its name-recognition among potential

U.S. churchgoers, the 1.3-million-member United Church of Christ is

launching its first-ever, nationally-coordinated advertising campaign. In

so doing, it becomes the latest in a string of Christian denominations that

have taken to the airwaves to define their uniqueness in an ever-crowded

religious marketplace.

      Beginning March 1 and continuing through Easter Sunday, April 11, the

UCC's "Still Speaking Initiative" will be unveiled in six U.S. initial

markets, where the church has purchased a high saturation level of

television advertising: Harrisburg-Lancaster-Lebanon-York, Pa.;

Raleigh-Durham-Fayetteville, N.C.; Oklahoma City; Springfield-Holyoke,

Mass.; Tampa-St. Petersburg-Sarasota, Fla.; and Cleveland-Akron-Canton,


      The campaign's roll-out on national television is scheduled for later

this year.

      The identity initiative builds on the denomination's "God is still

speaking," slogan, one that has been used and tested widely by its

congregations since 2001.

      Both television and print advertisements will be used to emphasize

the denomination's historical commitment to inclusivity and hospitality,

says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president.

      Besides reaching out to potential members, Thomas says the church is

hoping to generate increased enthusiasm and commitment among existing

members as the UCC looks toward its 50th anniversary in 2007.

      "This is an opportunity for the United Church of Christ to renew its

distinctive voice as a people of welcome, justice and passion for the

Gospel," says Thomas. "The Still Speaking Initiative will help us fall in

love again with the United Church of Christ, be generous in financial

support, and turn our attention toward a world that needs to experience the

presence, embrace and encouragement of Jesus."

      The Cleveland-based UCC, which includes nearly 6,000 congregations in

the United States and Puerto Rico, was formed in 1957 with the union of the

Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church.

      But, despite its founding as a "united and uniting church,"

denominational identity has long been a problem, says the Rev. Robert

Chase, director of communication in the UCC's Proclamation, Identity and

Communication Ministry.

      The United Church of Christ, Chase says, is often mistaken for the

similar-sounding Church of Christ, even though the two church bodies have

little in common with regard to theological outlook, worship practices or

social policy statements. Even more problematic, he says, is the fact that

many UCC congregations still cling to their former denominational

identities at the expense of forging any collective denominational

exposure. In New England, for example, many UCC churches are better known

as "Congregational" churches, rather than "UCC."

      The UCC's name-recognition is "negligible at best," says Ted Pulton,

a managing partner with Gotham, Inc., a major New York advertising firm

that has offered its services to the UCC at cost. Focus group testing

revealed that only a small handful of participants said they knew something

about the denomination and as its turns out, he says, respondents really

were mistakenly referring to the Church of Christ, not the UCC. "Any

perceived recognition was actually misattributed," he says.

      The random testing also uncovered strong negative feelings about

churches in general, regardless of denomination. A large percentage of

respondents said they considered churches to be responsible for past hurts

in their lives, and many traced their feelings of inadequacy to negative

church experiences. Too many congregations, they said, left them feeling

unwelcomed, financially inadequate and inappropriately dressed.

      Therefore, the UCC's ads will address issues of alienation directly.

      The debut 30-second commercial features two muscle-bound "bouncers"

who stand guard outside a fabled, picturesque church where they

discriminately choose which persons will be permitted to attend Sunday

services. Written text interrupts the scene, announcing: "Jesus didn't turn

people away. Neither do we." A narrator then touts the UCC's commitment to

Jesus' radical embrace: "No matter who you are, no matter where you are on

life's journey, you are welcome at a United Church of Christ congregation."

      A second, more heart-warming spot -- to be released during Advent --

features a young girl who is reciting the familiar children's poem, "Here's

the church, here's the steeple," complete with hand motions. When the child

reaches the poem's highpoint, ". . . open the door and see all the people,"

the camera segues through a diverse group of people who echo, again and

again, the inclusive refrain, "all the people."

      The UCC plans to invest an increasing amount of resources into

advertising during the next four years. In so doing, it is following in the

footsteps of other denominations that have increasingly relied on the

airwaves to increase exposure, including the Church of Jesus Christ of

Latter Days Saints, the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical

Lutheran Church in America.

      As a blend of four distinct Christian traditions -- Congregational,

Christian, Evangelical and Reformed -- the UCC includes some of the

country's oldest congregations and structures. However, increasingly, the

UCC is becoming home to churches outside the original mix. Since 2001, more

than 80 existing churches have joined the UCC, including many once-Southern

Baptist congregations that have been "disfellowshiped" by state or national

conventions for ordaining women or welcoming gay and lesbian members.

      Known widely for its leadership on social, racial and economic

justice issues, the UCC's history includes an impressive list of firsts. It

launched the first attempt at congregational democracy (1630), led the

movement to abolish slavery (1700), was a leading force in the spiritual

revival known as the Great Awakening (1730), staged the nation's first act

of civil disobedience that inspired the "Boston Tea Party" (1773), hid the

Liberty Bell when the British occupied Philadelphia (1777), was the first

mainline denomination to ordain an African-American pastor (1785) and

formed the nation's first foreign missionary society (1810).

      The UCC came to the aid of the illegally-enslaved Amistad captives in

1839, an event that led to the U.S. Supreme Court's first civil rights

ruling. It was the first church to ordain a woman in 1853 and the first to

ordain an openly gay man in 1972.

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