Written by J. Bennett Guess
Four national UCC bodies have enthusiastically endorsed a vision plan for stimulating increased financial support for all settings of the UCC, including strengthened participation in Our Church's Wider Mission (OCWM), the UCC's common purse that funds its ministries at the Association, Conference, national and international levels.
At separate meetings held in October and early November, the national boards of Local Church Ministries (LCM), Wider Church Ministries (WCM), and Justice and Witness Ministries (JWM), as well as the UCC's Executive Council, endorsed a proposal aimed at bridging the gap between local congregations and other settings of the church through intentional relationship building and an enhanced identity/ marketing campaign.
The endorsements translate into the active participation of more than 500 local church members, pastors and Conference ministers who have critiqued the proposal designed to jump-start financial giving to local churches. Soon, about 50 to 100 pastors will be gathered to enlist additional ideas and support.
The heart of the plan calls for a team of new "deployed" ambassadors —persons who have deep love for the UCC and have the ability to ignite this passion in others—to meet with pastors and congregations to develop church-by-church strategies for inspiring additional giving to local churches and, in turn, to effect revitalized support for the UCC's related ministries. The primary goal is to stimulate increased giving to local churches by an additional $140 million by 2007, the UCC's 50th anniversary.
In addition, the plan calls for a ramped-up UCC identity/marketing campaign—similar to ones developed in recent years by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and the United Methodist Church—to instill pride and ownership among UCC members, increase the church's visibility among the general public and invite others to join our churches. Expanding on the organically-successful "God is still speaking" theme—a campaign introduced, coordinated and funded by the UCC's Office of General Ministries—an enhanced, professionally-produced advertising campaign will be rolled out in 20 test markets as early as this spring.
At its board meetings, LCM and WCM each decided to invest $1 million in seed money, a loan that is to be recouped through enhanced support for OCWM. Likewise, JWM and the Executive Council each provided $100,000. Conferences, congregations and individuals also are expected to contribute at least $300,000 to make up the rest of the estimated $2.5 million needed before the UCC can, in good faith, sign an agreement with Gotham Inc., the New York advertising firm that has offered to coordinate—at cost—the UCC's enhanced marketing effort, says Ron Buford, the UCC's public relations and marketing manager.
These investments represent "bold steps in faith and the trust essential as all settings of the church work together to face the challenge before us," says the Rev. William C. Green of the UCC's Stewardship Ministry, who is co-chair of the joint Conference/National OCWM Committee that proposed the new plan.
An excerpt from a Nov. 7 letter to the UCC's national staff from the five-person Collegium of Officers:
"These past weeks have been difficult for all of you who work in the national setting of the church. The financial realities of our life together are marked by severe limits caused in large measure by declining support of OCWM and reduced income from our endowments. Our boards have been clear about our need to bring spending in line with income and have asked us to move toward that objective sooner rather than later. One direct impact on each of you is the decision that there will be no raises for 2004. While we are grateful that we have been able to maintain our current levels of health coverage, it saddens us that there is no way to reward your hard work and commitment to the UCC through salary increases. In addition, many of you have fewer program and travel dollars that are critical for doing your work with integrity and creativity.
"Most painful, however, is the fact that our financial situation has required us to reduce the size of our staff. In addition to retirements, resignations and reorganizations, a series of reductions in force have meant the departure of gifted colleagues and friends. We know that you are grieved by their departure and that the climate of uncertainty makes many of you anxious about your own future. It is difficult to maintain high morale in the midst of these circumstances. While no more reductions in work force are planned in 2003, we do not know what 2004 holds for us and cannot, therefore, be as reassuring to all of you as we would like.
"We are working diligently to address the income situation even as we seek to be as careful and wise with expenditures as is possible. A major new OCWM/identity initiative has received encouraging support from our boards and preliminary affirmation from our Conference Ministers. We will be refining this plan over the next months in the hope of renewing the commitment of our churches to the ministry of the whole church, including the national setting. Aggressive work at income development and the renewal of our covenants is critical work that we are committed to, but it takes time. This means the foreseeable future will mean hard work for us and for you, and a continued uncertainty that is difficult to endure. We are profoundly grateful for the professional commitment and response to call that you all demonstrate in these painful circumstances."