Written by J. Bennett Guess
The Stillspeaking Initiative has been an amazing gift, both to the church and to countless individuals whose lives have been transformed by this work, said UCC General Minister and President the Rev. John H. Thomas. "We've always seen this effort as a movement, not just a program, and the office in which this work is housed as a temporary part of our national settings structure. This plan offers a thoughtful, proactive strategy to bring us to the next phase of our work together."
The plan was presented to the Development Committee of the Executive Council, meeting in Hartford, Conn., by Stillspeaking Coordinator Ron Buford, who said, "I believe with all my heart that the investment we've made has been in changing lives--our own and the lives of others."
The plan calls for intentionally infusing a stillspeaking "flavor" into existing UCC programs and efforts, specifically the emerging Congregational Vitality Initiative (CVI) and the denomination's upcoming 50th anniversary celebration. According to Buford, the plan is divided into an internal component, with the goal "to assist congregations and individuals in their journeys toward deepened discipleship"; and an external component, designed to "proclaim the Gospel of justice and extravagant welcome in the public square." One exciting new development will be the increasing use of what Buford calls "push" electronic technologies. The plan states, "Instead of waiting for people to come to us, we can link to those persons for whom electronic communication is central to their lifestyles." Peer-to-peer networks, blogs, forums, listserves, viral, and podcasts are among the technologies that are easily adaptable to this objective. Another featured innovation is i.ucc.org the UCC's new virtual community, reaching out to two primary audiences: those who hear about the UCC, but who are not yet comfortable enough to cross the threshold of one of its churches; and those who are intrigued by the UCC, but for whom there is no UCC congregation nearby.
The plan calls for a reduction in staff of two persons during 2006. No new commercials will be produced and no national television ad buy will be made in 2006. However, based on the extraordinary response to the viral marketing on web sites and blogs--more than 300,000 click-throughs to view the full ad and tens of thousands of "referrals" to UCC web sites, the plan calls for an "all electronic" marketing strategy in Advent 2006 using all three commercials.
During its meeting, the Development Committee voted not to extend the current deadline for fund raising for the 2006 Lenten television ad buy. The new ejector-seat ad will appear through April 30, but not until Mother's Day as had been hoped. About $250,000 was raised, well short of the $1 million needed to extend an ad buy with sufficient saturation to make the buy effective.
Jennifer Craig, chair of the Executive Council Development Committee, which has oversight of The Stillspeaking Initiative, presented the plan to the full council. In her remarks, she noted with enthusiasm the recent embrace that this effort has received among the UCC's racial/ethnic churches. "The Development Committee is committed to retaining inclusivity in a campaign that marks us as a multiracial, multicultural church," Craig said.
An outside consultant from Cleveland State University has been retained to assist the UCC's Collegium of Officers in the task of fully integrating stillspeaking staff and responsibilities into the current structure, a process that will be completed by Dec. 31, 2007.