On the air

On the air

October 31, 2004
Written by Staff Reports

In a live webcast, UCC executives Ron Buford and John Thomas unveil specifics about the church's first-ever, national advertising campaign. W. Evan Golder photo.

It's official—the UCC's first-ever, television advertising campaign will debut nationwide on Dec. 1.

That's the word from the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, who made the definitive announcement Oct. 19 on the UCC's website ucc.org during a live video "web-streaming," also the first of its kind for the denomination.

"This is a very exciting time in the life of the United Church of Christ," Thomas told more than 1,500 viewers during the 15-minute online announcement. "Just this last weekend, our Executive Council authorized us to move forward in the airing of a commercial as part of our ÔGod is Still Speaking' campaign."

The 30-second spot, produced at-cost by Gotham, Inc.—a major advertising firm in New York City—will air for 26 days on network and cable stations, explained Ron Buford, national coordinator of the UCC's Still Speaking Initiative, speaking with Thomas in an interview format.

"We will reach 60 percent of the population who will see the commercial four to five times," he said.

The initial media buy will cost $1.5 million and will be funded by designated contributions from across the church. Although substantially smaller than the originally planned, $4-million, six-week launch, the out-of-the-gate effort is still ambitious, Thomas said, and hopefully it's just the beginning. A second installment of ads—utilizing a different 30-second spot—is expected to air in February, during Lent, if UCC members and congregations come through with the necessary financial support.

"Airing this commercial is not going to be free," Thomas said, while he and the Rev. Sara D. Smith, pastor of Kenilworth UCC near Buffalo, N.Y., made an online appeal for support.

"This is something [the church is] doing together, because there are people who need to know that God is working in their lives," Smith said, indicating she's made a personal contribution and has urged members of her church to do the same.

Megan Hoelle, a member of Oregon's Lake Oswego UCC and a young adult member of the Executive Council, says the campaign will help the UCC rebound from years of "stagnation and decline."

"ÔStill Speaking' has really become a movement in the church, and it's catching on," said Hoelle, an intern with the Still Speaking Initiative.

The initial advertising spot—commonly referred to as the "bouncer ad"—attempts to drive home, in dramatic fashion, the feelings of alienation experienced by many non-churchgoers who say they have felt excluded or unwelcomed by institutional churches for a variety of reasons.

In the ad, two burly "bouncers" stand outside a picturesque church and decide which would-be worshippers are allowed inside. The disturbing scene fades to black where, in silence, written words declare, "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we." A sudden shift in mood and music underscores images of friendly UCC members, while an announcer proclaims, "The United Church of Christ—No matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."

More than 2,000 congregations have "opted in" to the initiative, Buford reported to the Executive Council, meaning they have made an intentional decision to be active in the campaign by attending and facilitating trainings designed to prepare them to welcome new visitors, provide better hospitality, claim the UCC identity and reach out more boldly.

The opt-in churches represent a "diverse demographic and geographic spectrum," Buford told United Church News. Thirty-five percent are former Congregational Christian churches, 32 percent are former Evangelical and Reformed churches and 30 percent are "UCC originated," meaning they were formed after the UCC's founding in 1957.

The web-streaming announcement was not without its glitches, concedes the Rev. Robert Chase of the UCC's proclamation, identity and communication ministry, "but it was a successful first attempt."

"While we acknowledge that some people experienced technical problems, we are excited about venturing into this new medium," Chase said. "These problems will be resolved, and we believe this will prove to be an effective, new way to deliver information to our members."

Learn more @

Congregations interested in supporting the Still Speaking Initiative can learn more at . An archived version of the webcast can be viewed at ucc.org or stillspeaking.com.

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