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Rejected Church Ad Turns to Blogs

Spurned twice by the major TV networks, the United Church of Christ has taken its famous “bouncer ad” to nearly 50 of the most widely read Weblogs.

Leaders of the 1.3-million-member denomination said an estimated 1 million people would view the ad during a two-week run on a mix of liberal, moderate and conservative sites, including many of the most prominent political, cultural and religious blogs.

A blog–short for “Weblog”–is an online journal, typically updated daily with postings by the site’s author. Some argue the increasing availability of affordable, easy-to-use blog technology is revolutionizing news reporting, as far greater numbers participate in gathering and sharing information.

“While many are still unaware of it, the blogosphere has emerged as the next great revolution in journalism,” Robert Chase, director of communications for the Cleveland-based UCC, said in a press release.

“In the tradition of this nation’s earliest pamphleteers, bloggers are sharing news and information as a mark of a truly free society, not as something that can be controlled and manipulated by multi-national corporations,” Chase said.

Church leaders decided to purchase blog ad space after the major broadcast networks in March rejected a second request for the ads to run.

The disputed ad features two burly bouncers outside a steepled church deciding which worshippers would be allowed inside. Among those rejected were same-sex couples implied to be gay.

The scene fades to black where, in silence, written words declare: “Jesus didn’t turn people away. Neither do we.”

The scene shifts to a diverse UCC congregation, and an announcer proclaims, “The United Church of Christ: No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you’re welcome here.”

During the first week of blogads on popular sites including Eschaton, Power Line , Talking Points Memo, Andrew Sullivan, DailyKos and This Modern World and many others, more than 25,000 Internet users clicked through to view the 30-second commercial, deemed too controversial by the networks. More than 40 percent of traffic driven to the UCC’s stillspeaking.com website was being generated from blog-related activity.

The Web-based advertisements are part of an overall $1 million advertising strategy by the church in March, during the remaining weeks of Lent–just before Easter. In addition to blogads, the church is utilizing cable television, radio and print publications.

A three-week Lenten ad run is underway on ABC Family, AMC, A&E, BBC, BET, CNN, CNN Headline News, Discovery, Hallmark History, Nick at Nite, TBS, TNT, and TV Land cable stations.

Chase said the first reports after the networks rejected the ad the first time last December appeared in blogs. “Because of the attention that bloggers gave to the UCC’s story, the networks no longer could hide their censorship of an intentionally welcoming, progressive religious message,” Chase said

Chase compared the blog’s emergence to earlier revolutions like the printing press, radio, TV and the availability of 24-hour cable news stations. “It’s a great investment of our advertising dollars,” he said.

In January the church created a second round of blog activity with an invitation of “unequivocal welcome” to SpongeBob SquarePants amid criticism by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson that a video featuring the cartoon character promoted tolerance.

That prompted one blogger to observe: “The United Church of Christ is fast emerging as the coolest denomination around. Not only are they delivering a message of love and welcoming, but they actually have a sense of humor, something that, with all due respect, is not usually in evidence among those of strong faith.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.