UCCH's Bus Posters
In 2003, the United Church of Christ embarked upon a new branding and advertising campaign to invite people to attend a local UCC congregation. This campaign was called “God Is Still Speaking” and it remains a powerful element of the UCC’s invitation to church while also serving as a statement of what the UCC stands for. By saying “God Is Still Speaking” the UCC conveys that we learn not only to continue to gain wisdom and spiritual insight through Biblical interpretation but that modern writers also add to our religious understanding.
In fact, the UCC created a TV commercial, the “Bouncer” ad, that was scheduled to air during the election campaign of 2004. At that time, gay rights was a major topic of the campaign. In the commercial was a .6 second visual of two young woman, one with her hand on the shoulder of the other, and an equally brief visual of two men holding hands, concluding with the phrase “No matter who you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” Literally hours before the commercial was to air on national TV, the networks cancelled its airing as “too controversial.” While it was able to run on cable networks, the controversy actually created so much attention that more people probably saw it than if it had run as scheduled on the networks.
UCC"s Still Speaking campaign inspired United Church of Chapel Hill to develop its own posters to place on the Town of Chapel Hill buses. The bus poster campaign has been enormously successful. It has won not only admirers all over the USA, but it has won advertising awards locally. Bus riders have pilfered them from the buses, yet few if any have been defaced. And it has yielded numerous new members to UCCH who thought that a church who would advertise as we had was worth investigating. Many posters that rode the buses for years and were returned to the church after duty were then acquired for use in offices, other churches and adolescent bed room walls. The bus posters helped us to sharpen our focus on our beliefs in order to explain to others who we are. And it has helped our congregation to have words to help them explain their faith community to outsiders.
The first series of wall posters developed by the Still Speaking Campaign were provocative and clever quotes that challenged and stimulated the thinking of the reader. We learned that year that the Town of Chapel Hill provided discounted rates for non-profit organizations and churches to advertise on the town buses. With over 1 million riders each year, we saw this as an opportunity to use the Still Speaking posters to advertise the United Church of Chapel Hill and the UCC in general. Many of the first bus posters were adopted from the original two sets issued by the Still Speaking campaign, including the Gracie Allen quote that was the centerpiece of the branding campaign; “Never place a period where God has placed a comma. God Is Still Speaking.”
The next year a small group of UCCH members decided to create our own slogans for a new series to post in the town buses. This series visually used the stick-on name tags used in so many meetings and for visitors to our worship services by visitors who did not have permanent names tags. In that election year, we strove to emphasize that we often use labels to talk about people instead of focusing on them as individuals, equal in God’s eyes. We suggested that people pull off the label and reveal the true person underneath. The tag line that year expanded on the GISS slogan to include, “Come Listen With Us.”
Following the election of 2004, a committee of thoughtful UCCH members considered a lengthy list of ideas for reaching what we then called “The Unchurched.” Research on church attendance revealed a considerable population of young adults who not only did not attend church as youths but were not coming to church well into their 30s. We needed to convey a sense of invitation that was non-threatening, that conveyed that we understood religion was a confusing array in America where there were multiple denominations. Whimsically, the creative team began noodling with the fish symbol after a discussion that the original, ancient secret symbol of early Christians had been associated with mostly conservative Christian theology. We made an attempt to simultaneously re-capture that fish symbol while expressing research explained were themes of the unchurched; uncertain as to where to find a place to explore their spirituality, to find persons who similarly were not well-versed in Bible culture, or whose relationship with God separated them from the dominant religious discussions.
In 2008 those who had labored for 5 years on inviting people seeking a spiritual home embarked on an campaign to focus on the groundbreaking historical firsts that were essential hallmarks of the United Church of Christ. The focus would be topical in that election year; first denomination to ordain a woman (1853), to ordain a gay pastor (1972), and the first denomination to support marriage equality (2005). This series of posters began conveying topical messages about the theology of the UCC. These posters were a sensation for us and for the UCC nationally, as they were quickly spread to congregations within the UCC. This edition’s tag lines were changed to emphasize that point; “Our faith is 2000 years old. Our thinking is not.”
After the success of the previous poster series, a new tack was taken. At this juncture, it was decided to focus on the social justice issues that comprised much of the UCC action and mission. The environmental stewardship, gender issues, the death penalty, people with different abilities, and our history of protesting were selected as issues to highlight. Individual tag lines were selected to support the headlines behind each primary issue, and the graphic imagery added power to the verbiage. This series was so powerful and popular that it was used for two years.
New research released in 2011 told a story of great numbers of people who remained dissociated from spiritual pursuit and community. It was clear that not only were mainstream Protestant denominations continuing to see declines in attendance and membership, but more Americans than ever were seeking something in which to believe, especially those “unchurched,” who had no youthful background in religious activities. We reworked a focus on who we were as the UCC, while mixing in some light-hearted use of the social media to which so many young people flocked. We tapped into the Facebook culture and pointed out that one can’t find God online. Additionally, we recognized that increasing numbers of people were living in non-covenant relationships (that is, they were living as unmarried couples). We also admitted that the Bible is a mystery to us, too!
The following people have been instrumental in making this campaign successful at United Church of Chapel Hill in collaboration with what now is the Membership, Engagement and Stewardship board: Richard Edens, Jill Edens, Henry Lister, Stuart Westland, Dick Hill, and Chris Conerly. We still honor Ron Buford, the initial leader and inspiration for the God Is Still Speaking campaign, as our Still Speaking muse.
You may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to worship any Sunday at 8:45 AM or 11 AM in English, or Saturday at 6:00 PM in Spanish.