Cover Story

Marketing plan: A mainline church in the Bible Belt

For ten years, I was the pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee, a Bible Belt corner of the world that's chock-full of religious right, fundamentalist congregations. Every year on the anniversary date of Roe v. Wade, a church in that community places thousands of white crosses on its front yard. Every July 4, that same church puts out thousands of American flags. In a recent sermon, its pastor announced that "homosexuals will not be allowed into heaven." The vast majority of churches in my town are kindred spirits with that congregation.

I regularly received postcards from these conservative churches advertising their upcoming sermon series. About eight years ago I did some informal research and confirmed that the postcards are successful in attracting first-time visitors. Why, I asked myself, don't mainline churches advertise as successfully as these churches? That question led to an experiment. Our staff decided to create a compelling, mainline-appropriate worship series and market it to our community.

The title for the series came from a conversation I once had with Danny. When I first met Danny, he said, "Preacher, you need to know that I'm an atheist. I don't believe the Bible. I don't like organized religion. And I can't stand self-righteous, judgmental Christians."