- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 2, 2001

The United Methodists are reaching out — on cable, network television, in newspapers and on billboards.
After Labor Day, the nation's third largest denomination will open what church executives call the largest U.S. media campaign ever for "a traditional Protestant" church.
"Television is the language of the people," said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, head of the project. "The United Methodist Church has not reached out to people through the mass media in more than 20 years."
The opening fall segment of the four-year, $20 million campaign — whose slogan is "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" — will be matched by an additional $120,000 investment by churches in Virginia, the District and Maryland.
They will run the additional spot messages mostly during evening news hours on affiliates of the four major networks.
"I think our churches are ready spiritually in ways they have not been before," said the Rev. Dean Snyder, director of communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the church.
"Since April, we've had training on hospitality skills. For one session, 680 people came out and we had to move to an elementary school," he said. "This media is opening a way for people to be invitational to their neighbors."
The national campaign begins Tuesday with spots on CBS and on 15 cable networks. After this "back-to-school" push, the church campaign will pick up again before Christmas and before Easter.
The 8.5 million-member United Methodist church hired a top advertising team to help craft 14 television spots, 34 radio ads and more than 200 space ads for newspapers or billboards.
Images released so far tend to show a nonjudgmental, ethnically diverse and accepting outlook as characteristic of the 36,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States.
"I believe the church isn't a building," says one ad with a take-off on a creed-like list.
"We may not all believe exactly that same thing, but the people of the United Methodist Church believe in God and each other," states another recurring theme.
Another theme downplays the idea that going to church is about putting money in an offering plate. Instead, it says churchgoing is about seeing people eye-to-eye.
The project comes after a 30-year decline in membership among all the mainline Protestant groups.
Mr. Snyder, who for several years researched church-growth methods, said the themes have been tested to reach people who do not attend church or who have drifted from Methodism.
"This is a view of evangelism that our people can relate to," he said.
The only comparable media push has come from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, who have spent even more millions of dollars on warm, pro-family television spots with a "brought to you by" closing.
"Many in the audience are unfamiliar with the language of faith and others have had negative experiences with religious organizations," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, head of church communications.
He said the ads are intended to portray the United Methodist congregations as a place where needs are met and the Christian idea explained. "Jesus did not lecture on the finer points of Hebrew law," Mr. Hollon said of the media push's simplicity. "He told a parable to speak to a wider audience."
In many regions of the country, churches will make September an "open house month" to prepare for a possible response to the fall media saturation.
Researchers found that 40 percent of the people viewing the media themes got interested in going to a United Methodist church.
Mr. Snyder, who hopes that happens, also doesn't mind if people go back to any church. "I'd rather have more committed Catholic Christians than people who stay away from church all together," he said.

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