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Rethink Church urges choosing the alternative this Advent


By Tita Parham

Rethink Church has a message for shoppers this holiday season: rethink gift giving.

Instead of buying the latest and greatest gadgets for family and friends, the advertising and welcoming campaign of The United Methodist Church is encouraging people to give life-changing gifts — to perfect strangers.

Solar-powered lights allow Kenyan students to study hours longer.
Solar-powered lights allow Kenyan students to study hours longer.

This counterculture notion challenges "people of faith to speak to this culture and offer a reminder that the holiday is about more than a retail exchange," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, chief executive of United Methodist Communications, the denomination's communications agency.

"In 2012, we spent a record $59.1 billion in the United States over Black Friday weekend and more than $1.5 billion on Cyber Monday," Hollon said. "Through Rethink Church advertising, we're providing people with an opportunity to step outside the retail marketplace and give to those activities that provide a way to enhance the lives of others."

That is alternative giving and what Hollon defines as "giving gifts that help make the world a better, more comfortable place for those who may not live in the most comfortable circumstances."

A page of the Rethink Church website,, offers gift options that fit that description. For $25, shoppers can buy a solar lamp and cellphone charger, providing light and lifesaving communication for someone in the developing world, or 15 days of nutritious meals for a young child in Somalia. A gift of $50 buys a female goat for a family in Haiti, providing a healthy source of milk and protein.

Gifts to support the continuing fight against suffering from malaria in sub-Saharan Africa can range from $4 to buy one round of antimalarial medicine to $10 to buy an insecticide-treated bed net or to $200 to pay a community health worker's salary for a month. Supporters of Africa University will also find a variety of options, ranging from providing meals or health insurance to scholarships. Opportunities are also available to support continuing recovery from natural disasters in the United States, Haiti and the Philippines.

The giving opportunities come from a host of denominational ministries, including Imagine No Malaria, the United Methodist Committee on Relief and The Advance.

Whether people give time or financial resources, Hollon said they can find real ways to experience "the deeper value of giving as a sacrificial act" through the work of the church.

"The focus on alternative giving is a way to remind us that giving to others in a meaningful, thoughtful way is the true meaning of Christmas," Hollon said. "The main message is that Christmas is not about getting, but gratitude. Our giving reflects our gratitude for the life God has given us."

Advertising promoting the alternative giving message will run Nov. 18 through Christmas. Free resources for churches are available at the Rethink Church store,

Tita Parham is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant based in Apopka, Fla.

Resources can help churches this Christmas

This Advent, United Methodist Communications is offering grassroots marketing tools to make it easier to communicate the true meaning of Christmas to congregations and those outside the church.

As part of its ongoing "Rethink Church" campaign, the denomination's communications agency is giving United Methodists access to a variety of Christmas communication resources, including social, digital media and print materials, such as direct mail postcards and bulletin inserts. See the complete inventory at

Users can customize the products by adding add local church contact information and details about special services and other events. The resources are also available in Korean and Spanish for use in local and online outreach efforts.

Rethink Church, United Methodist Communications,