- The Washington Times - Monday, March 18, 2002

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) Churches in southeastern Virginia are employing some unusual advertising methods to help spread the word.
Matchbooks. Movie previews. And, coming to a men's room near you, Jesus-detailed urinal screens.
From gentlemen's clubs to restaurants, convenience stores to professional wrestling programs, churches are going after a specific demographic group men ages 18 to 34.
"We want to reach the people with eye rings and nose rings," said John Redmon, senior pastor at Open Door Community Church in Newport News.
Open Door runs commercials likening body piercing to the crucifixion of Jesus during "Raw," a professional wrestling television program. Since November, the church has been running ads before movies at AMC 24 theaters in Hampton, too, regardless of the film's rating.
Another area church, Hope Community Church, has approached Cox Cable about advertising during ESPN's SportsCenter. Hope has also ordered 2,500 matchbooks touting its new "Night Service" to distribute at bars, restaurants, convenience stores and even gentlemen's clubs.
"Let's face it," Mr. Redmon said, "most people live in an R-rated culture. Movies. Music. Personal issues in people's lives. We want to reach out to people where they're at."
It appears to be working. Open Door's membership has grown 600 percent in the last five months, from 26 to 150 persons. Mr. Redmon said the median age is 34.
Ken Tombley, pastor of Hope Community Church, learned about this new type of outreach dubbed "servant evangelism" during a recent trip to Cincinnati. There, he met Steve Sjogren, the founding pastor of Vineyard Community Church, who is attributed with fathering the servant evangelism movement.
Mr. Sjogren said he's tried everything from car washes to advertising on urinal screens the partitions separating urinals in public restrooms to attract attention to his congregation.
His member base has expanded from 37 to nearly 6,000 over the years; he's even written a book on the subject.
"It matches the humor and spirit of our church," Mr. Sjogren said of his advertising efforts.
For the most part, reaction from the public has been supportive. Though Hope Community Church assistant pastor Mike Hale said he was promptly shown the door at one gentlemen's club in Newport News, The Katt, other bars and restaurants have appreciated the novelty.
Mr. Sjogren said there are certain parishioners who are harder to win over.
"Every once in a while, we'll get a negative reaction from a stuffy church person. They think it's disrespectful," he said.


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