This year, United Methodist Communications celebrates 80 years of communication ministry.
Communication has changed dramatically during the agency’s storied history, the seed of which began at the Uniting Conference of 1939, where bishops voiced the need for more effective communication. The denomination’s first communication agency—the Commission on Public Information—opened its doors the following year with a focus on telling the church’s story by getting publicity in newspapers, magazines, radio and theater newsreels.
That was the first step on a journey toward creation of a comprehensive communications agency that today engages millions of people with the story of God’s work in the world through The United Methodist Church. United Methodist Communications (UMCom) continues to tell inspirational stories of individuals and congregations living out their faith through a myriad of modern communication channels.
A constant throughout the years has been a willingness to evolve to meet the changing needs and media consumption habits of audiences. Radio and film were a focus in the early days, and the Radio and Film Commission was formed in 1948. In 1954, “television” was added to the name as they began to produce programs such as The Pastor and The Way. The denomination’s communications functions evolved through many name and structural changes before the 1972 General Conference consolidated TRAFCO and Methodist Information with the Division of Interpretation, and the resulting agency was named United Methodist Communications.
An enduring focus over the years has been working in partnership with local churches to provide training and resources for church leaders. In the 50s, motion pictures and filmstrips were produced for church use, which evolved to video tapes with the advent of VCRs. Today UMCom provides a multitude of resources, content, services and training designed to equip and empower church leaders, training 3,000+ people and serving 4,300 churches in 2019.
In 2001, United Methodist Communications created the denomination’s first comprehensive advertising campaign to raise awareness of The United Methodist Church, sharing messages of invitation through TV commercials, print ads, and billboards. The launch occurred just six days before the terrorist attacks in the U.S. on September 11. Overnight, the advertising message was shifted to one of hope and healing: “The people of The United Methodist Church are praying with you.”
Since that time, UMCom has used advertising to reach people who are struggling with grief and loss in the aftermath of natural disasters and tragedies, from the Sandy Hook shooting to the Boston Marathon bombing to a Minnesota bridge collapse to floods and hurricanes. United Methodist Communications created 90 million impressions in 2019 through ads, and most recently launched a new campaign aimed at ending racism.
This year, outreach/evangelistic messages were placed outside the U.S. as UMCom seeks to grow its global footprint to meet the diverse needs of a worldwide, multilingual church, using the power of communication to enhance ministry and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with people everywhere.