5/11/11

On Church Commercials



Have you seen this commercial from the Roman Catholic Church? The first things we can say is that it is well-done; visually, a very sumptuous ad. It is also takes a straightfoward "This is what Catholics believe" or "This is why it is good to be Catholic" approach. Lifted high are the Roman Church's history of culture-forming, service and social justice, and rich spiritual heritage. The Church's faith in Scripture and Tradition, the guidance of the Popes understood as successors to St. Peter and continuous prayer for the whole world are clearly highlighted as well. Clearly, a Catholic commercial that was designed around the question: 'How can we best present the major positive characteristics of Roman Catholicism in a television ad?

Will it "work"? Will it succeed in drawing people to reconsider the Catholic Church? Probaby for some it will. Will others think it is a bit triumphalistic ("only we are the fullness of the Christian faith") or even idealized to the point of being a bit silly (at the Catholic school I attended, I'm pretty sure the priest was never in the science lab giving instructions to students)? Yes, probably for some. Some may find it a bit light on Jesus and salvation, though that can be said about the commercials of other Christian denominations.

Lets consider a very different church commercial now.

The United Methodist Church has also poured millions of dollars into several TV commercials to be aired on major network and cable channels. The slogan itself, "Open hearts...etc," and much of the content of the ads (as I understand it) were put together by studying the perceptions and the desires of non-churched people. In other words, individuals who very likely do not know or love the Lord Jesus were asked "what should a church be like" and we designed our adds to suite their answers to that question. I suppose this is the "I become all things to all men, in order to win some" approach.

So what can seekers learn from this ad? United Methodism is not judgemental, and as a people our only common beliefs are belief in God and one another (and, in being non-judgemental and diverse/inclusive). If you are searching for something to believe in, says the voice-over, our hearts and minds and doors are open. The question is, why you would search with us since (judging by the ad) we don't seem to believe particularly much (at least, that we generally agree about). At least the Catholic commercial mentioned Jesus and Scripture in pointing towards a specifically Christian content.

Given the methodology behind the UM ads, we really shouldn't expect too much in the way of Christian content. Certainly, these ads do not point us toward anything that is unique to Wesleyan Christianity (whereas the Roman Catholic ad was clearly Roman in content). And this lack of Wesleyan or even Christian content is one of the reasons I believe that much of our advertising money has been sadly wasted. Those in our communications agencies disagree, pointing out that opinion polls show a clear up-tick in the "positive perception" of United Methodism among non-churched Americans. And perhaps the same will not be said for the Catholic Church's commercials. Yet we are still waiting to see if any significant number of these "positive percievers" actually come into our communities and find their lives transformed by the power of the Risen Christ.

I believe that the United Methodist commercials fail the church and potential 'seekers' in another significant way: if seekers actually were to respond to the ad and come into our church doors on a Sunday morning, what they are likely to find is very different from what was advertised. They will find, as the congregation reads from what is declared to be "The word of the Lord" and as the Apostle's Creed is recited that we actually believe in a good deal more than just "God and one another" (and "questioning"). As various sins (whether of the personal immorality type in our conservative churches or the social injustice type in our liberal churches) are warned against in sermons or Sunday School lessons they will discover that even Methodists are not completely non-judgemental, nor do they actually aspire to be so.

As most of our seekers look out upon a predominantly white (or in some cases, a predominantly black) congregation they will discover that perhaps diversity isn't quite as ubiquitous in the real church as in the hypothetical church of the TV commercial. And if our seekers hang around long enough they will discover that, sadly, we too often do not believe in one another either.

In other words, unlike the Catholic Church's commercial, ours is mis-leading (perhaps even dishonest). It does not present our Church as it is, but as some involved in the making of the ads would like it to be.

I, for one, would love to see an ad for our church that highlights our rich history, our belief in a disciplined pursuit of holiness, our lovely liturgy and hymnody, our emphasis on holding piety and service together, and our true diversity of style and "spiritual personalities," and our consistent charitable work through the years. I would love to see an ad for our church that actually highlights something about the Methodist Christian's faith and practice, presented in a winsome and attractive way.

Perhaps somewhere in our conversations about how to re-structure the United Methodist Church we might consider a re-orientation of our whole communications division (at least with regards to the ad campaigns, if we are to continue funding them at all).

Labels: , , , ,

6 Comments:

Anonymous Todd Stepp said...

Very good post.

1:06 PM, May 16, 2011  
Blogger Brett said...

I remember seeing some of these ads a few years back with the "We believe in God, and each other" tag line.

My first thought was: "Well that's great but so do the Unitarian Universalists down the street! What about God's Incarnation in Christ? What makes you unique from the other theists? Is this ALL you have to say?"

1:57 PM, June 07, 2011  
Blogger rob said...

"And this lack of Wesleyan or even Christian content is one of the reasons I believe that much of our advertising money has been sadly wasted."

That's what I've generally felt about the UMC as a whole -- I suspect unfairly so.

I'd like to hear about the current UMC. Unfortunately all I know is from the Methodists I knew, all of whom seemed to be Christmas-and-Easter pew-warmers at best -- but I was probably arrogant then, and probably am still biased now.

That said, I generally liked what I read about the UMC from Wikipedia, and know of the church's heritage, but am more interested in "now".

I am interested in learning what Paleo-Orthodoxy might suggest regarding the organization of the visible church -- something I'm trying to get a handle on, myself.

12:19 PM, September 06, 2011  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Hi Rob,
I once heard someone say that the problem with Anglicanism is that we've got the High-churchman, the evangelical, and the socially congnisant broad-churchman all in the same church, but we can't seem to get them all the in the same churchman. Or something like that.

Contemporary United Methodism finds itself in a similar place. John Wesley was a deeply committed Christian who
1)an evangelical who experienced and taught a heartfelt personal commitment to Jesus Christ as Lord as Savior, the pursuit of personal/biblical holiness, who also had a bit of a charismatic streak at times (people falling down in prayer was not completely unheard of among the early Methodists)
2)a robe-wearing high churchman who loved the Anglican liturgy and believed firmly that God used the sacraments and other means of grace/spiritual disciplines as the normal "meeting places" where people encounter his grace; and so he urge the early Methodists to practice weekly communion and to use the Anglican liturgy when they did so
3) he was very serious about fulfilling the commands of Matthew 25 to serve our neighbors and pursuit of social holiness, and supported many "progressive" social reforms (ending the slave trade, education for the poor, etc).

Contemporary United Methodist Preachers that I know tend to either be "social holiness liberals" or "let's emulate the Baptists evangelicals" or "watch me wear a collar and always preach spiritual formation liturgicals." And so the churches will tend to reflect one (perhaps 2) of those streams, but almost never the fullness of all of them.

What we need is for a single Methodist to learn again from Wesley how to bring all of those together.
The hopeful sign for me is that in recent years the conversation has very much become "What does it mean for us to be WESLEYAN Christians?" and "Let's learn more about John Wesley." However, as I'm finding in my parish church, old prejudices die hard and too often one aspect of Wesleyanism has been understood to be in conflict with the others, and so if some folks see a collar, they therefore assume that preaching faith in Jesus for salvation will immediately stop.

8:38 AM, September 09, 2011  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Update, 2/14/13 I saw an interview on the Catholic Channel (EWTN) with the maker of these commercials. He says the dioceses that have used it have seen an average worship attendance increase of 10%. I wonder if the less-explicit Methodist (in terms of Christian or Methodist content) commercials have anything like that sort of success rate.

8:09 AM, February 14, 2013  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Update, 2/14/13 I saw an interview on the Catholic Channel (EWTN) with the maker of these commercials. He says the dioceses that have used it have seen an average worship attendance increase of 10%. I wonder if the less-explicit Methodist (in terms of Christian or Methodist content) commercials have anything like that sort of success rate.

8:11 AM, February 14, 2013  

Post a Comment

<< Home