The UCC's provocative, heartwarming television spots have been produced, and people in the pews appear psyched that—finally—the UCC might overcome its 47-year identity crisis. Still, one prickly detail appears to be standing in the way of a mid-November rollout of the denomination's first-ever, nationally coordinated advertising campaign: $4 million.
That's how much UCC members must contribute before church leaders can safely plunge ahead with a coast-to-coast media buy to saturate television audiences with a six-week, pre-Christmas blitz that touts the UCC's unconditional welcome, "No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."
Because the campaign is being financed without tapping into Our Church's Wider Mission—the UCC's shared purse that funds common missions and ministries—the money must come from individuals and congregations that have an expressed interest in making sure that the campaign gets off the ground. And even then, additional support will be needed to ensure the campaign continues at least until 2007, the UCC's 50th anniversary. Plans call for a second 30-second spot to start running in February during Lent and that will cost an additional $4 million.
"I am hopeful that we are going to be able to raise this money, but it's going to take the support of a lot of people in the United Church of Christ to make this happen," says Don Hill of the UCC's Financial Development Ministry. "October and November will be crucial, but the good news is that so far no one we've asked has told us, Ôno.'"
As of mid-September, only about 10 percent of the $4 million goal had been raised, but Hill says his office expects to hear soon from several potential major donors.
Campaign leaders, however, are proceeding with the mindset that, in the end, UCC members will come through. Still, they say, the responsibility rests on every member to contribute.
"One pastor asked me, ÔIs this really going to happen?' and I said, ÔI'm claiming it on faith, and I'm asking you to claim it with me,'" says Ron Buford, coordinator of the campaign, known as the Still Speaking Initiative.
Already, hundreds of UCC members have been trained to equip congregations with ways to maximize the local impact of the nationally televised commercials. More than 1,600 congregations have made a conscious decision to "opt in" to the campaign, and more are expected to come onboard in the coming weeks.
Edwin and Jessica Stickney, members of Mayflower Congregational UCC in Billings, Mont., say they have been heartened by stories of how local congregations are being energized by the Still Speaking Initiative. So they wanted to make a financial contribution.
Coincidentally, they recently paid off a pledge to their local church's capital campaign and, even though they were looking forward to one less financial obligation, they just couldn't help themselves.
As life-long, devoted UCC members who say they tire of the UCC being confused constantly with the "Church of Christ," they wanted to be part of the UCC's new enthusiasm. In August, they pledged $50,000 toward the campaign—a commitment they plan to honor with monthly payments over a two-year period.
"It seemed like a great time to continue the great things that the UCC has been doing," says Edwin Stickney, a retired physician. "Really the genius of the whole thing is that individual congregations are feeling energized by this and are coming to a new awareness of who we are."
The Stickney's local church plus two others in Billings—Pilgrim Congregational UCC and First Congregational UCC—have formed an interchurch task force that is exploring ways to capitalize locally on the attention that the campaign is expected to generate nationally.
Says Jessica Stickney, "One of the best ways that we can spend our money is to help the church to do really good stuff. We're excited about it."
The Rev. David Schoen of the UCC Evangelism Ministry, and his wife, Stella, recently made a personal pledge to help fund a series of UCC banners that now grace lampposts along streets in downtown Cleveland, where the UCC's national offices are located.
"I figured that I can't ask people to support something that I'm not supporting myself," Schoen says, "and I think the same spirit that brings forth dynamic witness in evangelism also brings forth generous abundance in giving."
Want to help?
Secure online gifts to the Still Speaking Initiative can be made at stillspeaking.com/campaign. Or mail contributions to the Still Speaking Initiative, United Church of Christ, 700 Prospect Ave., Cleveland, OH 44115-1100.
To discuss options for giving, contact the UCC's Financial Development Ministry at 800-846-6822 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Getting ready for company
In addition to supporting the campaign financially, the Still Speaking Initiative offers these seven suggestions for congregations wanting to get in the groove.
1. OPT-IN. Make certain your congregation comes on board—officially. Online registration is available at ucc.org/stillspeaking/optin.php.
2. GET TRAINING. Almost all UCC Conferences have well-prepared trainers who stand ready to equip local churches with information and materials about the campaign. Or come to Cleveland!
3. ESTABLISH A WEB PRESENCE. If your congregation does not have a webpage, one will be provided for you. But, first, your church must opt-in and receive training.
4. CONNECT WITH "THE BRAND." When the commercials begin airing, people will start looking for UCC congregations near them. Customized banners at all opt-in churches will maximize the campaign's local impact. A graphics kit also enables churches to customize print advertising. (Available by calling 800-537-3394.)
5. BUILD A "WELCOMING MACHINE." Every church can strengthen its systems for intentional hospitality. Visitors should be well-received, not over-looked.
6. BE A SAINT. Attend or organize an "All Saints Sunday" regional celebration on or near Nov. 7 to celebrate the UCC's faithful heritage and promising future. stillspeaking.com/allsaints.
7. PRAY. This is no ordinary moment. God is calling us to prepare a spiritual home for those who have felt alienated from the church.
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Preserves maker offers tasty treat for highest ÔStill Speaking' donor.
When it comes to raising money for the UCC's Still Speaking Initiative, Nancy Phipps is trying to sweeten the pot. A member of Federated UCC in Whitewater, Kan., and an accomplished jelly-and-preserves maker, Phipps was so enthused after attending the UCC's National Evangelism Event, Aug. 5-7, in Atlanta, she's putting her canning skills to God's use.
Phipps is offering a case of "Evangelism Event Georgia Peach Butter" to the highest bidder in hopes of raising funds to support the UCC's advertising campaign. Her only request is that bidding start at at least $100.
"This peach butter is better than purple ribbon at the state fair, for I have made jellies for the state fair," Phipps says. "Absolutely everyone that has tasted it has said it is the best I ever made."
TO MAKE A BID, send an e-mail to Phipps at firstname.lastname@example.org before Oct. 31.