Despite an overall decrease in U.S. church attendance, the United Methodist Church revealed a 6 percent increase since 2001. Research shows advertising through the UMC’s Igniting Ministry campaign was the key.
In its annual evaluation of the church’s Igniting Ministry campaign, Ventura, Calif.,-based Barna Research Group said "the advertising is working in part because it combats a typical challenge that denominations face: indistinct positioning."
People who have seen the commercials are nearly twice as likely to say United Methodists "are there for people facing personal difficulty" than those who have not seen the ads, the Barna report said. Those viewers are also much more likely to say the church helps people in their communities, accepts people from different walks of life, and shows care and support for its members, the report said.
"Igniting Ministry is having a greater impact than we expected upon the lifestyle of our congregations," said the Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston, a staff executive at United Methodist Communications and director of the Igniting Ministry effort.
The $20 million initiative was approved by the UMC’s executive committee in 2000, and was launched in 2001. Since then, first time attendance increased by 14 percent and overall worship attendant increased by 6 percent.
Rev. Horswill attributes the increase to UMC congregants working better to understand newcomers as well as sharpening their welcoming skills and local visibility.
"Igniting Ministry is not so much about church growth as it is about disciple-making, making welcoming a lifestyle," which is a shift for many United Methodist congregations, he said. "Moving evangelism from a committee function to a lifestyle of the whole congregation ... is a change that will continue to be incremental. We are changing bad habits formed over many decades."
Before the campaign, many people had little or no understanding of what is important to a United Methodist, Horswill-Johnston said. The Barna study said people’s perceptions about the denomination are changing because Igniting Ministry is educating them about the church by touching emotions instead of using facts and figures.
Barna’s analysis said "awareness of the campaign is excellent — 18 percent, statistically even with the four-year goal of 20 percent."
"The advertising is effectively communicating with those who are either dissatisfied with their current church experience or looking for a church to belong to," the study reported.
Since 2001, Igniting Ministries advertised the church through a series of cable television commercials and billboards; Special Easter and Christmas commercials were also aired.
"Local churches are connecting with this special group of newcomers in ways previously not possible because of the messages we are producing," Horswill-Johnston said. "It shows that when significant local church efforts are combined with a consistent presence in public media, it opens up real possibilities for disciple-making."