Using Whipped Cream and Gay Marriage to Start Conversations

November 15, 2006 by

Does anyone object?With membership declining as much as 20% in the last decade, the United Church of Canada needs to try something drastic. So they’ve launched a $9.3 million ad campaign. The ads touch on hot button issues, including sex and gay marriage. The ads direct people to a web site,, that attempts to engage people in conversations about spiritual issues and the big questions of life. They site also offers a church locator.

The campaign will run for three years and is backed by more than a year’s worth of research and testing. It’s also more than just advertising. According to a Q&A about the campaign, almost half the $9.3 million pricetag includes support and training to help local congregations be more open and welcoming to visitors.

The denomination has had to defend the campaign against those who think they money could be better spent elsewhere:

“It was a tough decision for the church because we know we live in a world in need and the United Church has always had a strong commitment to justice and social issues,” [the man heading the project, Reverend Keith] Howard, told The Globe.

“I think, though, in the end the church sees this as an investment in our being able to equip a church that will be able to continue and grow in that kind of work.”

It’s great to see a denomination trying to engage the broader culture. The church should be at the forefront of these questions, and sadly we’re not. It’s even better to see them investing so heavily in helping their churches be more welcoming. That’s probably (more than) half the battle.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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16 Responses to “Using Whipped Cream and Gay Marriage to Start Conversations”

  • Joel
    November 16, 2006

    It is actually sad to see the United Church of Canada toss away almost 10 million dollars on an ad campaign whose main focus is actually to promote gay marriage. Reality is that having attended more than one UC church that they continue to live in the past in the way they hold services (giant organ blaring badly played – mindless liturgy, 1850’s music, rotten childcare, bad preaching), with most congregations still firmly locked in 1950 while ignoring the needs of the people in their immediate community. Right now the average age in a UC congregation is over 65 which of course means the church dies in the next 7-10 years. People don’t stay away because they don’t feel welcome – they don’t go there because the UC operates in a self-centered manner that provides only for the old people who have been attending forever and who would rather die than change anything. The result is that the Great Commission is ignored and the UC will die a miserable death as a result. The reality is that they only had to read and implement the Purpose Driven Church to turn themselves around.

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  • Jody
    November 16, 2006

    I disagree that the Purpose Driven model is the answer to every church’s problems. Implementing programs and campaigns to grow in numbers in order to quantify success is not always the leading of the Spirit. I think if we put too much emphasis on church growth programs our focus is taken away from the people and placed on the numbers.

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  • Jason
    November 16, 2006

    Besides the obvious messaging being promoted, which I don’t agree with, it doesn’t matter how much money you spend on any ad campaign–you first need a good product or service. This is true in business and in Church.
    What’s the product of the Church? Most of us know this answer. Do you buy from a place that has cluttered aisles and bad customer service even though they have a catchy slogan and funny commercials?
    UC can spend all the money they want, but what will actually increase membership–even though this shouldn’t be priority one–is to package their product better and this includes their doctrine.
    What amazes me here is how integrated the campaign is: targeted messaging, a well-planned ad mix and personnel training, which comes with training materials, membership brochures, etc. Honestly, I would like to see more of this integration in Churches that preach the correct message.
    Why is it the wrong message is always marketed the right way?

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  • The Aesthetic Elevator
    November 16, 2006

    Hmmm, reminds me of a quote I heard some time back: “Some people’s minds are so open their brains have spilled out.”
    Don’t hear the term “open-minded” as much as when I was in H.S. and college, and I’m kind of glad. I’m not faulting the campaign here, just making an observation.

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  • Joel
    November 16, 2006

    Actually, church growth is everything! Jesus told us to make disciples of all and in order to be a Christian we must obey this command! Success is a monetary term but obeying the Spirit and bringing in the people goes beyond the limited concept of success. To have a church in God’s will is what we must all strive for. To strive to bring all to be Christian disciples is a life-long job and the results are up to God. However, if you aren’t interested in obeying God and put your efforts elsewhere then you will reap accordingly. Our faith demands that we must try. Our world demands that we give up.

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  • Ryan
    November 16, 2006

    I grow tired of us starting to discuss Christian dogma on these strands…this is not a theological roundtable. Most of the time the responses come off as condescending and arrogant. This site is to discuss marketing of churches.
    On that basis, I think the UCC did a great job of marketing regardless of the product. The is a brilliant way of engaging the next generation who, although “have their brains spilling out because they are so open”, want dialogue and the sense of conversation.
    The “Easy Answer Squirrel” as well as the print ads are intriguing the compel the reader to look deeper. Whether or not they are liberal or conservative on their theological positions is moot when it comes to evaluating the marketing.

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  • David
    November 16, 2006

    I am Canadian. I am a marketer. And, I am (most certainly) Christian.
    I appreciate it when churches try to do something outside of the norm by marketing. In this case with this United Church ad campaign – I guess my biggest concern is the cost associated with it. Advertising will always create awareness and that is a good thing. However, the best way to get people to your church(s) is to invest in them (build relationships) and give personal invitations. If the UC churches are not partnering this campaign by equipping and leading their people with an invest and invite strategy….the result here may be little more than a huge cash expenditure. I hope I am wrong.
    And, for the record, many UC churches are very evangelical and many do not support gay marriage. And, no, I do not attend a UC church but I have relatives that do.

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  • Jason
    November 17, 2006

    i understand what you are saying about taking a purist’s stance to the design and creative–it is a compelling ad. But marketing is more than creativity and design, its about strategy.
    So, isn’t part of a church’s marketing strategy their beliefs?
    I don’t like “churchin'” up things, but the point of marketing is the message your communicating, so how can you not talk about it?
    As I said in my first post, I think the campaign is integrated well…it’s just the wrong message.

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  • Dave
    November 18, 2006

    Finally the United Church of Canada is waking up and spending money on something meaningful. What a great way to engage young adults in conversations about faith.
    In response to Joel: Last time I checked the UC is still the largest Protestant denomination in Canada… I’m not sure how you maintain almost 3 million members if every church has “bad preaching, rotten childcare, etc.”

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  • Joel
    November 19, 2006

    Dave brings up a good point. First, according to the UC’s own web site they have only 500,000 members and about 1/2 of those attend church for an average church attendance of 67. The most important point is that they are engaging this marketing campaign because they are dieing with an average loss of 10% per decade up to now. But because their congregation is so old the loss in the next two decades will exceed 60%. While there are a handful of evangelical UC churches the parent body will be dead in short order even after this marketing campaign.

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  • Michael
    November 24, 2006

    “an ad campaign whose main focus is actually to promote gay marriage.” Really? Actually, none of the ads promote gay marriage. One of the six uses a gay marriage image to ask the question, “Does anyone object?” It turns out some do, both within and without the United Church. And that’s the point of the ad campaign, that the UC, at its best, encourages discussion and welcomes a diversity of views. Yes, some congregations are aging and will soon disappear. But others are young and lively and expect to be around for many, many years.

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  • franklin
    November 30, 2006

    Funny, I didn’t see this as a big “gay marriage promotion” thing. I thought they were amazingly clever and if I were to get an add like that in my mailbox, I’d DEFINITELY go check out that church!
    KUDOS to the United Church of Canada. This is marketing done WELL.

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  • Donnie
    January 18, 2007

    The ad campaign is done very well, however, I wonder what would happen if the money was spread across the UC, intended to be invested back into the communities…

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  • John
    April 26, 2008

    Jesus said that if He were lifted up, He would draw all men unto Him.
    Marketing for a church?!!!
    With the emphasis being on mankind and his perceived “needs” (Childcare?!! Childcare?? Have we lost our minds?)
    The less we talk about ourselves and all our wants and the more we talk about Jesus, the more people will come to Him.
    Churches do not need to be “marketed”–Jesus Christ needs to be lifted up.

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  • Terrible Tore
    October 13, 2008

    I’m a former UC minister. The UCC has spent loads on money on other items that propogate their agenda, so this comes as no surprise. In my visits to WonderCafe I’ve come away laughing at the asinine pooling of ignorance and stupidity.

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  • Church Advertising
    November 14, 2009

    I don’t know about this one. That is a lot to spend on a debate. I have learned one thing about “conversation”… you promote your view till death. I have only seen a few times when someone was swayed by debate.
    This seems too much like a high cost debate to me.

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