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United Methodist hearts, minds, doors are open, says campaign


NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) -- After more than three months of research and testing, the Igniting Ministry office at United Methodist Communications (UMCom) has announced the theme for a major national television media campaign to be launched next fall: "Our hearts, our minds and our doors are always open. The people of the United Methodist Church."

Theme art, media spots and newspaper ads for the campaign will be rolled out Jan. 11-13 in San Diego at a meeting of the United Methodist Association of Communicators. The goal of the campaign is to attract unchurched people ages 25 to 54.

The campaign was approved by the church's top legislative body in May, with funding of about $17 million to buy time on national cable networks for television spots. UMCom is earmarking an additional $1 million annually from its own budget to provide matching grants that will help conferences and local churches promote their own congregations in regional media.

"The desired action we want from this target audience is a willingness to go to, or return to, a United Methodist church," explained the Rev. Steven Horswill-Johnston, director of the Igniting Ministry campaign.

The theme grew out of research by UMCom, the Barna Research Group and an advertising agency working on the project. Barna sought to identify people who would be most receptive to an invitational message from the United Methodist Church. The research showed that the target audience is most receptive to a denomination with a caring heart toward those in need, an open mindedness that requires no attachment to a mandatory creed, and an openness to people with diverse opinions and beliefs, cultural traditions and ethnic backgrounds.

The Rev. Larry Hollon, top UMCom staff executive, said Barna research showed that "once people hear a description of a church that is global in outlook, inclusive and concerned with spiritual development and social concern, they respond positively." He said that description fits the United Methodist Church, "but because we have been absent from the public media, we have not presented the positive qualities of the church to people who are open to hearing about them."

Horswill-Johnston said the television spots and other complementary media messages will promise to the target audience "deeper meaning in life and a new or renewed sense of spiritual well-being."

Research also showed a willingness of people in this age group to attend a church that helps those in the community who are hurting and in need.

"When we talk about people hurting and in need, we're not concluding that these are just the homeless or hungry," Horswill-Johnston explained. "People in this target audience may have money and food, but they are hurting and in need. They are people who are stressed out as they deal with life's daily experiences."

Forty-six percent of the respondents to the Barna survey identified themselves as "stressed out." Thirty-eight percent acknowledged they are searching for meaning in life.

"These are people experiencing emotional pain or stress, people who want their lives to add up to mean something," Horswill-Johnston said. "They have a desire to be a part of a community of people offering a sense of belonging and support." That's something he believes the United Methodist Church can provide.

Hollon said UMCom is working with the churchwide Board of Discipleship to provide training to help local churches assess their welcoming skills. "Once we've gotten the attention of people and they venture to a local congregation, we want to be welcoming and make them feel at home."

Research also showed what people are not looking for, he said. "They are looking for people and community, not institutions." Addressing this target audience with words from the new theme, he said, "Our hearts, our minds, and our doors are always open. The people of the United Methodist Church."

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