United Methodists test modern media campaign to draw believers
In the beginning was the Word.
Then came texting.
The United Methodist Church is hoping to reach a younger audience by adding modern media tools to a campaign it credits with increasing first-time and long-term church attendance between 2001 and 2004.
The updated version of the "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" campaign is being tested in the Pittsburgh area and runs through Christmas Eve. The campaign uses text messaging and outdoor advertising to attract churchgoers in the 18-34 age group.
Call it God 121. (That's one-to-one for non-texters.)
"We especially hope to bring more young people into our churches, and that means reaching out in new and innovative ways that are relevant to our target audience," said Pittsburgh Bishop Thomas Bickerton.
More than 40 billboards and ads on transit shelters urge people to text the word Believe to adesignated number. In response, they'll receive a longer message inviting them to attend a United Methodist Church at Christmas. They can reply with their ZIP code to find a church in their area or get additional information from UnitedMethodist.org .
The campaign is aimed at reaching thousands of commuters and pedestrians. Other ads will be delivered to content subscribers of 4INFO, an ad-supported text message information service.
Bickerton said the church has been receiving about 100 text messages a day, which is better than what officials had anticipated.
The United Methodist Church has 191,000 members in the Western Pennsylvania Regional Conference, covering 23 counties.
Attracting younger people to church pews has been difficult across denominational lines. Surveys show that nearly 25 percent of the 18-34 age group has no religious affiliation and 41 percent attend church only once a year.
"I think it's a great idea. It's a challenge to reach that generation," said the Rev. David Streets, pastor at Ingomar United Methodist Church in Franklin Park.
The success of the campaign initially might be hard to judge, Streets said. Attendance normally increases this time of year, when college students are home for the holidays.
The campaign won't appeal to Amanda Dille, 26, of Dormont, although she thinks "it's a good idea for people looking for spiritual direction."
Using modern media "gets the word out."
"It's a very good tool," said Dille, who often sends text messages friends and family.
The church said it might add iTunes, YouTube and other digital media to the mix next year.
But it likely will remain a tough sell.
"My religion is based on personal beliefs, not advertising," said Lisa Erb, 27, of the South Side.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.