Presbyterians Advertise to Reverse Declining Membership

Presbyterians in Tennessee are the latest group of mainline Protestants to plaster ads about their denomination in a push to reverse declining membership.

"We have, just like most of the other presbyteries, been experiencing slow-to-no growth," said Donna Hoppestad, marketing and advertising consultant for East Tennessee Presbytery and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), according to the denomination's news service. "Everyone is having problems with attracting new people."

The presbytery is spreading word about the PC(USA) through television advertising spots and roadside billboards that read "Find Peace. Here and Now. We are the Presbyterian Church (USA)" along with eight other sayings. Ads are designed to inform the public that their churches are open and welcoming.

The "awareness campaign" launched in December with TV spots which are now supported by billboards. The first of 30 billboards went up in March, according to Hoppestad.

Many churches have had trouble finding ways to draw people in and spreading the word to their communities that they were still there, Hoppestad explained.

"They just didn't know how to go outside their doors," she said about the local churches.

The PC(USA) is the largest Presbyterian denomination in the country but has seen shrinking membership for years. Membership over the past year dropped by 2.36 percent, according to the National Council of Churches' 2008 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches.

Members of East Tennessee Presbytery are the latest to jump on board with other religious groups that have invested millions of dollars in advertising.

The United Methodist Church has continued to purchase cable television spots every year since 2001 to raise awareness of the denomination. The Methodist ad campaign also includes billboards and most recently the mainline body has ventured into online advertising to reach younger audiences.

PC(USA) ads in Tennessee will run for six months but the local churches are exploring more outreach opportunities, including festivals, to bring people in.

Presbyterians across the denomination are scheduled to convene in June for the bi-annual General Assembly meeting. The top issues that will be addressed at the meeting include a revised polity that would be more flexible and ensuring a church for future generations.