News Archives

Agency proposes expanding United Methodist ad campaign

6/12/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

By Nancye Willis*

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) - The success of the United Methodist Church's U.S. television campaign has led the denomination's communications officials to propose expanding the program beginning in 2005.

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 expansion, if approved by the church's top legislative body next year, would include ads designed to appeal to young people as well as people outside the United States.

"We believe Igniting Ministry has been a significant factor in bringing people to our churches," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, UMCom's top executive. "In the past two years, we've heard many amazing stories of how the ads' messages have touched hearts and caused them to seek fellowship in our churches."

UMCom will ask the denomination's 2004 General Conference for $10.25 million annually in 2005-08 to continue and expand Igniting Ministry. General Conference, which gathers every four years, will meet next May in Pittsburgh. The 2000 assembly, meeting in Cleveland, approved nearly $20 million in total funding for the campaign's first four years.

Since Igniting Ministry's debut, more than 92 million people have seen the denomination's "open hearts, open minds, open doors" messages, according to UMCom officials, citing statistics provided by the agency's advertising agency. Building on that platform, the agency wants to expand Igniting Ministry to reach more unchurched people more often, both in the United States and beyond.

Under the plan, Igniting Ministry's core television element in the United States would continue and expand, Hollon said. "To keep awareness of United Methodism and interest in visiting a congregation high and steady year-round, we want to augment Igniting Ministry's established three annual Lenten, back-to-school and Advent ad placements with 22 additional weeks of ads on cable news networks."

Local training in welcoming and hospitality and the number of matching grants would increase. To date, a total of $3 million in grants has been awarded to enable local church campaigns that supplement the national advertising.

In addition, the youth and global components are being planned because "we believe people of all ages and all over the world want to hear stories of hope, healing and redemption and a clear voice of affirmation and acceptance," Hollon said.

A need to reach 14- to 18-year-olds is dictated by the relatively small number of active youth among United Methodists, a phenomenon shared by many mainline denominations, he said. An Igniting Ministry youth component would be aimed at "getting youth to enter into a United Methodist youth ministry and giving them a reason to stay," he added.

The youth component would be a grass-roots effort including coordinated local church resources and advertising materials instead of a national television campaign.

Additionally, Hollon said, "a global component would involve four partnerships between United Methodists in the United States, Africa, Europe and Asia to establish a media presence." Church leaders in various areas would collaboratively determine the nature of each of four partnerships and choose appropriate, specific supportive communications linkages and training.

"For U.S. partnerships, Igniting Ministry would create and place cable and broadcast TV spots; for partnerships outside the United States, we will collaborate with the people in those areas to produce appropriate communications systems," Hollon said.

"The church is able to develop messages to communicate life-changing, life-affirming stories," he said. "In these partnerships, we will develop this capacity further."

About 1.5 million of the denomination's members live outside the United States, where church growth, particularly in Africa, has driven the membership figures above 10 million, according to a recent report from the church's Council of Bishops. Official denominational statistics show that 2001 average weekly worship attendance was at more than 3.5 million, the highest in five years.

The Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, a staff executive at UMCom, leads the Igniting Ministry effort. Complete information on the expansion proposal is available at
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*Willis is editor of the Public Information Team at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.

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