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Church Billboards Spread the Word

Date: July 12, 2003

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COLUMBUS – Episcopalians are trying to get more people in the pews by offering an unusual enticement: "Summer sermons will be shorter. Priests play golf too."

 

The Episcopal Church's Diocese of Southern Ohio is using humorous ads on billboards, buses and movie screens in a campaign to increase membership and dispel any negative stereotypes about going to church.

 

The ads started at Christmas with billboards in Dayton, including one that read: "You can't fill that empty space with fruitcake."

 

"It's funny on one level, but it also reminds people that a lot of us have an empty space, which they can either look to the world to fill or look to God to fill," said Richelle Thompson, a diocesan spokeswoman.

 

The ads at Easter in Dayton carried messages such as: "That bunny is a great guy, but where is he when you need help?"

 

With a modest operating budget of $15,000, the diocese hopes that by using humor, it will get more attention. Thompson said new bus ads will begin appearing in Columbus in about a week.

 

"We would plaster the ads on every bus if we had the money, because we think our message is that important," Thompson said yesterday. "Our limited budget challenges us to be creative."

 

Sometimes the ads sell themselves.

In December, a Dayton billboard company donated one of its largest billboards after seeing this Christmas message: "Give them something they can't grow out of."

 

"They thought it was a good message for people to see," Thompson said.

 

Thompson said the humorous ads also help dispel stereotypes churches have as being stuffy, boring or elitist.

 

"When you get involved in the church you will see it is actually the opposite," she said. "We want them to see that what we are doing is wonderful, spiritual and fun."

 

This month, the diocese will try to sell its ideas for a national ad campaign to delegates at the denomination's General Convention in Minneapolis.

 

The United Methodist Church likes the idea of advertising, but so far has ruled out the use of humorous ads in its campaigns, spokesman Steve Horswill-Johnston said.

 

"If you miss the mark, it could be embarrassing for the denomination," he said.

 

The Episcopal Church had about 2.3 million members nationwide in 2000, according to a study published last year by the Glenmary Research Center. That was down 5 percent from 1990, the study found.

 

 

from the Cleveland Plain Dealer

 

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