Churches aim to lift attendances by advertising

UP TO 10,000 churches are this week taking part in a multi-million pound advertising campaign to boost Christmas attendances. But the campaign is costing them virtually nothing.

With the slogan, 'Christmas. It's enough to bring anyone to their knees', the radio and poster campaign is the brainchild of the Rev Richard Thomas, communications secretary for the Bishop of Oxford, who predicts it will significantly increase church attendance over the holiday period.

Last year, a pilot campaign in the dioceses of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Berkshire increased church-going over Christmas by 17.5 per cent. The slogan then was, 'Give Jesus a birthday present. Wrap up the kids and bring them to church'.

An Oxfordshire advertising agency called Genesis devised the campaign and has given its services free. Independent radio stations have followed suit by donating airtime for radio commercials, as have companies which own outdoor poster sites for huge 48-sheet posters which have been printed free of charge.

'The campaign is intended to reinvest commonly owned Christmas symbols like the star and present-giving with their original Christian meaning,' Mr Thomas said. 'The Church has lacked the willpower to do this in the past.'

As well as the radio spots and poster sites, churches of all denominations across the country are using smaller posters on their own noticeboards.

Richard Thomas estimates that if the professionals involved in the campaign had not given their services free, the campaign would have cost 'several million pounds'.

Differences in the Christian denominations have played no part in the campaign: 'We are advertising a product, not a brand,' he said.

If the success of the pilot scheme was repeated this year, it would increase church numbers in the Church of England alone by a quarter of a million over the Christmas period.

Advertising campaign notwithstanding, normal Sunday attendance in Anglican churches rises by 300,000 to 1.5 million for Christmas services.

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