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Communications commission celebrates Igniting Ministry success

7/18/2003 News media contact: Linda Green (615) 742-5470 Nashville, Tenn

SAN DIEGO (UMNS) -- Celebrating the successes of the denomination's national television advertising and welcoming campaign, the United Methodist Commission on Communication is asking the 2004 General Conference to expand significantly the church's Igniting Ministry initiative in 2005-2008.

Commission members unanimously proposed two expansions of the Igniting Ministry initiative: One increases the church's presence on highly viewed national cable news programming by 18 weeks each year; and the other creates a youth expression designed to help congregations reached unchurched young people.

The commission, the governing body for United Methodist Communications, is proposing that the denomination budget $33.5 million for the television advertising campaign during the 2005-2008 quadrennium, up from the $20 million approved for the current four-year period ending in 2004. The separate youth expression is proposed at $5.4 million over the four-year period.

"Four years ago we talked about a dream called Igniting Ministry," commission member Fred Loy of Baton Rouge, La. said. "Igniting Ministry follows people from their homes into their offices and, yes, even into the barroom. We have a very wonderful success story to tell."

United Methodist Communications launched the effort, "Igniting Ministry," in 2001 to raise awareness of the denomination through a series of national cable television commercials.

The Rev. Larry Hollon, UMCom's chief staff executive, said the United Methodist Church "has delivered messages of hope at critical moments in recent history and has extended an invitation to Christian community… through Igniting Ministry."

Hollon listed a number of Igniting Ministry's tangible achievements since the television commercials began airing in 2001:

· 92 million people in the U.S. "have seen a message of hope from the church" through the commercials on cable and network television.
· $1 million a year in matching grants for local media advertising is distributed to local churches, conferences and clusters of churches.
· More than 25,000 local church leaders have been trained in welcoming and hospitality skills.
· More than 13,000 planning kits have been distributed to local churches.
· 100 regional training specialists have been trained; and, in turn, have trained and equipped more than 12,000 congregations.

The Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, the UMCom staff person responsible for the program, said the initiative has already exceeded goals, such as increasing awareness of the United Methodist Church to 21 percent in test markets in the first two years of the ministry and exceeding the four-year goal of 20 percent. Research also showed 46 percent of non-members surveyed expressed a willingness to attend a United Methodist Church, well above the goal of a 10 percent increase.

The proposed expansion will continue the three major periods of national television commercials during Lent, back-to-school and Advent to encourage new visitors to United Methodist churches. It will expand awareness of the church by purchasing an additional 18 weeks of advertising on networks such as CNN, MSNBC and Fox Cable News.

"Our goal is for the church to be there when there is a spiritual need, not just a spiritual season," Horswill-Johnston told the commission.

The expansion proposal will also:
· Provide grants for advertising and marketing programs for new church starts in cooperation with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship;
· Continue to train and equip conferences, districts and local churches; and
· Continue to lead the United Methodist Open House Month each September.

The proposal for a youth expression of Igniting Ministry is designed to increase the awareness and recognition of the United Methodist Church's basic beliefs among young people ages 14-18.

This new expression is not based on a national television advertising campaign, Horswill-Johnston said, but by locally designed and operated efforts involving:
· Production of practical, how-to-oriented local church tools for youth, focusing on helping local church youth ministries conduct community-wide efforts to invite young people;
· Local-church advertising resources focused on youth;
· Grants to assist local church ministries and sustain strategic local marketing/advertising efforts;
· Youth leaders' web site and an invitational web site for youth seeking spiritual answers; and
· Local youth training in collaboration with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

The youth initiative has set objectives of:
· Increasing the awareness of the United Methodist Church by youth by 15 percent during 2005-2008.
· Increasing by 10 percent the number of youth willing to attend a United Methodist Church and actually attending a United Methodist Church in areas where campaigns are conducted.
· Increasing by 10 percent the retention rate of youth currently attending a United Methodist Church.

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*Information for this article was provided Stephen Drachler, director of UMCom's Office of Public Information.

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