Make no mistake – it is all about United Methodists
"I'm a card-carrying member of the InfoServ fan club and have been for the past 25 to 30 years," says the Rev. Terrence Hayes, senior pastor at Windcrest United Methodist Church in San Antonio, referring to a longtime ministry of United Methodist Communications. "Especially as I was new to (United) Methodism at the time of my first contact with InfoServ, it was a good entrée into the denomination."
Many longtime United Methodists, as well as those newer to the denomination, echo Hayes' praise for InfoServ. The service, which fields inquiries about all things United Methodist and a myriad of other topics, launched in 1974. Forty-one years later, the beloved InfoServ team logs more than 18,000 calls, emails and live chat interactions each year.
InfoServ is among scores of resources available from the church's communications agency. As United Methodist Communications celebrates 75 years of communicating faith, the agency has grown from its primary focus in the 1940s of garnering publicity for the denomination to its current role as a 21st-century communications innovator, providing tools to annual conferences and local congregations around the world.
Focused on the mission
Developing creative and useful resources, while also incorporating the latest technologies, has been United Methodist Communications' mission through the decades.
In 2015, the agency's responsibilities include:
- Branding The United Methodist Church
- Conducting research to gain audience insights
- Coordinating strategic communications, public relations, marketing and advertising for the denomination
- Developing international training courses
- Engaging Hispanic and Korean United Methodist communities
- Engaging the worldwide church in the Imagine No Malaria initiative
- Equipping local congregations with resources for communications ministry
- Informing and inspiring others through United Methodist News Service stories and photos and other content
- Maintaining the UMC.org website and all social media channels
- Offering grants for Rethink Church community outreach projects
- Producing Interpreter magazine in print and digital formats
- Raising awareness of connectional giving
- Responding to the needs of underserved areas throughout the world with ICT4D (Information and Communications Technology for Development).
A hands-on agency
Back in the 1980s, the Northern Illinois Conference staff needed a resource to promote Advance giving and called on United Methodist Communications for help. The result, a booklet titled "The Rainbow Covenant," lists and encourages giving to ministries that range from international to district. Conference staff periodically updates the publication, now in its fourth decade. It continues to be a vital church tool throughout Northern Illinois.
"United Methodist Communications was really hands on in helping the conference create that resource," said Dana Jones, who was the conference's director of communications at the time and now lives in Aurora, Colorado. "It had a dramatic impact on Advance giving in our conference."
A number of United Methodist churches in the Grand Junction, Colorado, area found that using United Methodist Communications products saved them money while increasing their outreach.
When the Rev. Blaine Scott, former pastor of First United Methodist Church in Grand Junction, and a few of his United Methodist colleagues wanted to place an ad in the local paper, Scott sat down at his computer and went to the United Methodist Communications' store, shop.umc.org. There, he found several pages of free, downloadable ads ready for customizing with the churches' contact information.
"Our congregations joined together several times to purchase a newspaper ad," Scott said. "We did a back-to-school ad one September and an Advent ad one December. We would say, ‘Visit one of our local congregations' and we would list our church addresses in the ad.
"After browsing several different kinds of Christian resources for promoting our Christmas special services, United Methodist Communications fit best both in professional quality and in the content and words for our community as United Methodists."
Ideas meant for borrowing
The Rev. Victoria Rebeck's job at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in Nashville, Tennessee, includes supporting deacons, as well as other leaders in the local church. Through the years, she has utilized many United Methodist Communications resources in her jobs. While serving as director of communications for the Minnesota Conference, she used tools to teach local congregations how to welcome visitors. She continues to use videos to inspire local churches to pursue creative ministries and United Methodist News Service articles to help churches connect with United Methodists around the world.
"The ideas I found might come through a story in the Interpreter or the news service or UMC.org," Rebeck said. "Quite frankly, deacons – or laypeople – can directly borrow the ideas."
Rebeck recalled reading about one church hosting drive-in movies and serving popcorn for the neighborhood in the church parking lot. This idea, she said, inspired other congregations to say, "Hey, we can do that in our church!"
"These resources are helping laypeople in the local church be engaged in the community," she said.
‘Let's Go Fishing'
When Reid Greenmun, a member of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, stood in front of the congregation to give his report as a Virginia Conference lay member, he held up a copy of Let's Go Fishing. The 60-page handbook, with the subtitle, "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World," is a comprehensive look at what it means to be United Methodist, and more.
"We've got a box," Greenmun excitedly told his fellow church members, referring to the quantity of United Methodist Communications-produced handbooks he had on hand.
Greenmun discovered the resource when he stopped by the agency's display at the Virginia Annual Conference. The handbook, he said, has many uses, from new-member education to a Bible study resource.
"Everybody is going to be using the handbook in a lot of ways," Greenmun said. "Part of what we need to do (at our church) is go out and encourage more people to come to our church. I plan to use the handbook to get the members of our church to be educated so they can talk to other people about The United Methodist Church. That handbook is going to help us understand that and help us bring others into the church."
Keeping it United Methodist to the core
When it comes to materials for United Methodists, resources abound. With technology advancing at an accelerated speed, church leaders have access to more tools than ever from across the globe. United Methodist Communications' offerings, however, are the products of choice for many.
"One of the great advantages as a United Methodist congregation utilizing United Methodist Communications resources is that it speaks our theology that is relevant for the community that is around the local church," said Scott. "There are other great resources across other denominations and with great graphics, but, the words, they aren't really us. United Methodist Communications is for us, supported by us and it is us. It all circles back to bless us."
is a public relations specialist at United Methodist Communications.