Written by Daniel Hazard
A seven-minute "infomercial" featuring the testimonials of some who have found their way to the UCC — thanks to the Stillspeaking Initiative — will air more than 100 times in April and May.
The paid-for-broadcast, which airs episodically as "Today's Family," will be seen on ABC Family, Hallmark Channel and Pax-TV in as many as 50 cable TV markets. A schedule of air times and information on how to purchase your own DVD copy are available at stillspeaking.com.
The introductory look at the UCC retells the advertising controversy of late 2004 when the major networks refused to run the church's 30-second "bouncer" ads. The infomercial also examines the historical and contemporary work of UCC churches to extend an extravagant welcome to all.
About a dozen newcomers — introduced by their first names only — are profiled, including Jennifer from Des Moines, Iowa. "It's so neat to have God back in my corner again," Jennifer says. "I didn't realize how much I missed having a church family until I had a church family again."
Mark and Charles, an African-American same-gender couple with two small children, tell how they didn't believe a church would welcome them until they heard about the Stillspeaking campaign.
"I was watching television … and I thought, 'I can't believe there are mainstream Christians that will accept my family at their church," Charles says.
Joan, a new UCC member in Philadelphia, says the UCC's message resonated with her.
"I went online and started looking at the different churches in the neighborhood," she says, "and I just read the overview of the United Church of Christ and instantly the message just clicked — 'No matter who you are or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here' — and I thought, 'O wow, this is great. This is what I've been looking for.'"
The infomercial is part of a three-pronged strategy this spring to keep the UCC's invitation before the general public — first, the infomercial; second, the Easter Sunday TV special on ABC-TV stations (see story at right); and third, the granting of national funds to keep the TV and radio spots airing in several areas of the country.
Known as "Media with a Mission" — Stillspeaking's matching grants program — about 20 churches in 11 states will air TV or radio ads in their regional markets. The program marks the second time in six months that Stillspeaking has partnered with local churches, or collaborations of churches, to keep the UCC's media message alive.
In addition, some individual UCC churches are paying to run the TV and radio ads without requesting matching grant support.
"We've been very persistent about asking our churches to use the Stillspeaking campaign," says the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, "and now we've got to continue to fulfill our side of the bargain."
Thomas appreciates how churches continue to own the Stillspeaking campaign and "tweak it" for their local purposes. For example, he said, Union Congregational UCC in Montclair, N.J., recently utilized the look and feel of the red-and-black "God is still speaking," motif to celebrate its 125th anniversary.
Churches also continue to inquire about how they can opt-in to the Stillspeaking program, he says.
Even though the UCC's 90-member Executive Council decided last year that the parallel staffing structure of the Stillspeaking Initiative would draw to a close soon after the 50th Anniversary celebration in Hartford, Conn., Thomas says it was never the Executive Council's intent to imply that the Stillspeaking movement, itself, was disappearing. On the contrary, Thomas says, the ultimate goal is to fold Stillspeaking's work more fully into the whole of the national setting.
"As I travel around the UCC, I see sustained energy from our churches, even beyond the initial sizzle of the commercials," Thomas says. "That's very good news, I think, because people still find the Stillspeaking language and the comma to be compelling."
Marilyn Dubasak, national coordinator of the Stillspeaking Initative, says local churches continue to do "fantastic work to invite people and be the place of extravagant welcome we promise."
Thomas adds that, during his years as a pastor and national church leader, he's seen many programs come and go from the UCC's national setting.
"And they tend to ebb and flow quite quickly — mostly ebb," he says. "But this one is going to be around for a long time."
The UCC's Stillspeaking infomercial, "Today's Family," is available for $10 in the Stillspeaking Store at stillspeaking.com or by calling 800/537-3394.