UCC's newest, 'edgy' TV ad begins airing April 3
Written by J. Bennett Guess
Sunday, 26 March 2006
"Ejector seat," the UCC's newest television commercial, will begin airing nationally on April 3, just in time for Easter.
Playing to church's expressed concerns about alienation - first emphasized in the UCC's controversial "bouncer" ad that aired on cable networks in December 2004 and March 2005 - "ejector seat" employs a bit of humor to underscore one of the campaign's central themes, "God doesn't reject people. Neither do we."
During its three-week run this April on multiple cable networks, the $1.5 million ad buy means that about 60 to 65 percent of the U.S. population is expected to see the ad at least once. Fundraising is ongoing with hopes of collecting an additional $800,000 to keep the ad on the air through Mother's Day.
While multiple cable networks have accepted "ejector seat," all the major broadcast networks - CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox and WB - have thus far rejected it, claiming it's a controversial, issue-advocacy ad. Church leaders, meanwhile, disagree.
The Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC General Minister and President, says that if last year's "bouncer ad" reminded us that God doesn't need gatekeepers, then "ejector seat" reminds us that grace may come in the guise of the stranger, even someone who makes us uncomfortable.
"'Ejector seat' continues to challenge the church - all churches - to a more extravagant welcome," Thomas says. "While celebrating the way the UCC has reached wide in that welcome, it also reminds us that many in our communities continue to feel left out and left alone."
The 30-second commercial begins with a shot of an African-American mother trying to calm a crying baby. Sitting in a church pew, the mother fidgets anxiously, as she endures disapproving looks from fellow worshippers. Eventually, someone in the wings pushes an "ejector" button to rid the church of her - and her noisy baby. Into the air they go flying.
In similar fashion, a gay couple, an Arab-American, a person using a walker, among others, get "ejected." Finally, when a homeless person wanders in and takes a seat, nervous parishioners - expecting she'll get the boot for sure - scoot away from her.
The commercial ends with a mood shift, where shots of diverse, friendly people set the stage for the announcer's invitation: "The United Church of Christ - no matter who you are, or where you are on life's journey, you're welcome here."
"Throughout this campaign, the heart of our focus has been on the experience of the seeker," says Ron Buford, director of The Stillspeaking Initiative. "The issue is not anyone's actual intention to eject people. The issue is whether or not newcomers feel rejected. And we know they do and for a variety of reasons."
Inspired by the ad, specialized websites will help newcomers become better acquainted with the UCC. In addition to http://www.ucc.org and http://www.stillspeaking.com,, a new, virtual UCC community, known as http://www.i.ucc.org, will help persons "try on" the UCC, especially in areas where no UCC yet exists, says the Rev. David Schoen of the UCC's Evangelism Ministry.
Another website, http://www.rejectionhurts.com, will provide a space for people to share their personal stories of religious rejection and to find support in their search for a more-welcoming Christian experience. An advocacy site, http://www.accessibleairwaves.org, will provide an action outlet for mainline Christians who feel their voices are being silenced by corporate media.
In addition to television spots, the UCC is purchasing internet ads and blogads as a way to boost the church's overall exposure during the three-week run.
Harkening back to the UCC's "bouncer" ad debut 18 months, when CBS and NBC refused to run the ad, Thomas says Jesus' extravagant welcome in the Gospels raised eyebrows and stirred controversy.
"This ad conveys through the laughter a similar message," Thomas says. "Why shouldn't we expect similar controversy?
Buford says "the new ad enables the message to be funny but still impactful."
Adds Thomas, "No one will look at a church pew again in the same way!"
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Extend the Extravagant Welcome Promoted By Our God Is Still Speaking Campaign
Diane Samuels, minister of Mt. Sinai Congregational Church, and Michael Caine, Regional Conference Minister, led us on March 25, 2006 in preparing ourselves and our churches for the "extravagant welcome" promoted by the God Is Still Speaking campaign.
The April 2006 TV ad, which begins with a woman looking nervously around the church as she tries to calm her crying baby, seeks to grab the attention of those who feel rejected by a previous church experience and those who have no "church experience". In the latter group are the 80% of 20 year-olds who have never been inside a church.
Michael said the TV ads are "parables" - stories that make us a little nervous, stories that make us think. The Prodigal Son is such a story. What is it like to be the loyal son who has worked in the family business and now is invited to a party to celebrate the return of the son who squandered his inheritance?
In the research which preceded the God Is Still Speaking campaign, the UCC learned that those who feel rejected by "church" express greater dissatisfaction with "church" than with any other "product or service". Only an "extravagant welcome" can break through this resistance to bring the Good News of God's love.
Diane urged us to focus on the unique identity of our church and its congregation. Michael noted that if our church is a loving community for us, there is a good chance it will feel like a loving community to others.
Each person attending the March 25 seminar received a "comma pin" and the opportunity to purchase additional pins for persons in their congregations. These pins can prompt conversations which allow us to share the joy we find in our church fellowship and to invite others to share in this joy.
In addition to personal invitations, we brainstormed ways to attract, support and follow-up with visitors.
- Start with tidying up your house of worship - as you would tidy your home in preparation for visitors.
- Make sure your order of worship uses words familiar to everyone. For example, try "song" instead of "hymn". Substitute "church entrance" for "narthex".
- Try special services such as a blessing of pets.
- Follow the lead of a church that provides rocking chairs in the back of the sanctuary to welcome parents with young children.
- Use God Is Still Speaking identity items to tie your congregation to the TV ads - banners, posters, brochures.
- Make sure your web site is welcoming and up-to-date. Many persons looking for a church will check out the web site before considering a personal visit.
- Provide one or more friendly greeters in the church parking lot and at the church door. Meet those who come at eye level, including stooping to greet children.
- Wear nametags to promote connections between names and faces.
- Announce the God Is Still Speaking ad campaign in church to assure your congregation knows this welcome is being issued throughout the US.
- Within 24-48 hours, follow up with visitors. A plate of cookies or a loaf of fresh bread are proven ways to demonstrate, "we're glad you came".
More information about the God Is Still Speaking campaign and additional tips on extending an extravagant welcome can be found at http://www.stillspeaking.com.
Reported by Lucy Werner
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