From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
United Church of Christ to begin national advertising campaign
Tue, 24 Feb 2004 16:49:55 -0500
United Church of Christ
Robert Chase, press contact
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
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
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
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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