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Cinci Enquirer: Episcopalians turn to humor to fill the pews

5 February 2010

[Elder’s note:  From the Cinci Enquirer, Sunday, July 13, 2003 .. this is a “blast from the past,” fisk]

Episcopalians turn to humor to fill the pews

Episcopalians are trying to get more people to go to church 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.

“Negative stereotypes,” such as … ??

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.

Oh, but you’re forgetting the Episcopal Church.  You see, TEC can fill up that empty space too, using humor.  So, the diocese was being funny AND it was filling that God-shaped hole.  Doncha just love it when things come together like that? 

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

That’s so true..  When my car is broken down, the first thing I think of is calling up the fictitious creature who hid baskets of hollowed-out chocolate candy behind our living-room couch when I was between the ages of 3 and 7 years old.  But quite often, this creature doesn’t show up, and I have to call a tow truck instead. 

Silly rabbit.  😉

With a modest operating budget of $15,000, the diocese hopes that by using humor more people will notice the ads. 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. “Our limited budget challenges us to be creative.” 

And the limited budget is reflected too, in the quality of the humor.  😉

Sometimes the ads sell themselves.

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

I think I get that one, but am not sure.  It’s funny because it ends a sentence in a preposition, right? 

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

The humorous ads also help dispel stereotypes of churches being stuffy, boring or elitist, Thompson said.

“When you get involved in the church, you will see it is actually the opposite,” she said. 

Er .. It’s not boring, I’ll grant you that.  😉

In 1998, Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr. began a push to increase diocesan membership from 26,000 to 100,000 by 2005. The diocese currently has about 30,000 members in 86 congregations in the southern half of Ohio. 

30,000???  Where on earth did Bp. Thompson get that number?  Even that useless and over-inflated membership metric we still use hasn’t broke 26k  in the past 10 years

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.

Not to worry.  TEC got plenty of free advertising at GC’03.  😉

Er, you don’t suppose that particular GC had anything to do with our numbers dropping by 8 and 12% (membership and ASA, respectively) between 2003 and 2008, do you?  It couldn’t have anything to do with Bp. Robinson’s consecration, could it? 

Oops.  I see things started to get really bad after 2005, just after Bp. Thompson passed away.  

Yup.  No doubt about it. 

These other guys, just aren’t very funny.  😉

 – Elder

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