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What Harold Camping got right

What Harold Camping got right

Writing for the Huffington Post, Phil Cooke points out that Harold Camping did a much better job getting his message out there than most religious denominations, including ours, have done:

The Methodist’s seem to be trying to redefine church itself. Their advertising campaign “Re-Think Church” (can’t remember that one, huh?) was more interested in social justice, in a vain attempt to appear relevant.

It’s tough to find anything from the Episcopal Church, even though they’ve had a denomination-wide ad project since 1979 that seems to have resulted in an “advertising collaborative.” They did try their warm and fuzzy “I am Episcopalian” series, but you don’t remember that one either, right? At least on YouTube you can find a video of an Episcopal Bishop talking about “honoring your spiritual journey” — whatever that means.

The Presbyterians haven’t been sharing their message much lately, because they seem to be far more interested in making sure we all know that they’re ordaining a handful of gay, lesbian, and transgender pastors. Apparently, appearing inclusive is more important than actually sharing a message of salvation.

Catholics seem to be more intent on just bringing back their lapsed members with their “Catholics Come Home” campaign.

The Baptists? Forget it. They can’t even decide on a logo….

In the case of the Episcopal Church it seems to me that our problem has had less to do with the nature of our message than with the fact that we simply don’t think advertising is important enough to justify the necessary expenditure. Thoughts?

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PhilCooke

Thanks Jim for posting part of my Huffington Post piece. The comments show the wide variety of perceptions about the Episcopal Church. If your own people can't articulate your message, then the rest of the culture will have no clue. In today's changing and disrupted culture, how you're perceived becomes more important than ever. That's really the bottom line. "What do people think of when they think of the Episcopal Church?" In a world of distractions, that question matters.

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Chris Arnold

I felt that an opportunity was missed in the middle of all the royal wedding hoopla. We could have ridden those coat-tails at least a little bit, right?

I would hope that any advertising we could do would be postitive in tone (not "that other church? we're better than them") and actually say something about Christ in it. Hopefully.

Does 815 have the budget for anything like that anymore?

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tobias haller

@Dave, it may have been South Park's satire on the Segway. Another real example I can recall of that kind of stealth advertising campaign to create a buzz about an unspecified coming event was the Zardoz subway poster. Before than, of course, there was the famous and grammatically challenging "The Birds Is Coming."

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Execute

Years ago when I was in campus ministry I regularly advertised in the campus paper. I used copy from the Minnesota-based Episcopal Ad Campaign. In that multifaith environment, I felt the need to be thoughtful, but much was useful - and still timely. There was, for example, an ad focusing on a television screen with pro football players. The caption was something like, "Christians are still concerned about competing with lions and bears." Most of those ads raised issues of fellowship, and explicitly Christian fellowship. Some, though, were specifically Episcopal, like "This is where women stand in the Episcopal Church," under a picture of a vested altar.

Some have said that there's no such thing as bad publicity; but I fear difficulties in the Roman church and with folks like Mr. Camping challenge that. I think there's value in being out there in the media, if only to challenge those public perceptions that we so often complain about.

Marshall Scott

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Mark Preece

It would be great to spend some money on advertising, but first I think we need to figure out what we're selling. Stephen Hawking says Christians are listening to fairy tales because we're "afraid of the dark", but that doesn't really characterize most people I know in the church. So specifically why *are* we here? Unless we can articulate some answers to that question "warm and fuzzy" is about the best we can do.

Are we a social network? The closest thing I know to a social network that does a lot of advertising is "eHarmony.com," a dating service, and they sell exclusivity and results (we test people before we let them in, and we end up getting a lot of people married). That's obviously not our model.

But neither is generic welcome an easy sell. I'm an Interim, and the church I'm serving now has a sign out front that says "We welcome everyone." That would be great if it were true, but even if it were true it would be lousy advertising. It's hard to read that without hearing "... even you" in my head. It's like saying, "we have no standards, so you can come on in."

(And yes, I understand and celebrate the point behind universal welcome. Welcoming everybody is precisely what we are about. But it's not enough of an existential hook for somebody who isn't dealing primarily with feeling excluded in their day to day life.)

Back when I was growing up in Chicago, there was a weekly Public Service Announcement on the local TV stations that said, "Be sure to attend the church or synagogue of your choice this weekend." But now there's no cultural expectation that religious observance is a good thing. So if advertising is intended to get people to come try us out, the question it will have to answer is, "why would you want to come here?" What might you get out of walking into an Episcopal Church?

I think we tend to assume that whatever our own answer is will be everybody's. But it'll be different things for different people at different times in their lives. Sarah Miles' book might be a good place for some people to start thinking about it; maybe Marcus Borg for others; others for others.

Maybe if we could get Episcopalians really to ask that question honestly (not so much worrying about how Christians ought to answer it, but about how they answer it from their own experience of life and church -- why are you here?), we wouldn't need to advertise after all. Maybe we'd all be friending each other on own own.

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