Virginia churches try unusual ads to reach young men in an 'R-rated culture'

Posted: Friday, March 22, 2002

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) -- Churches in southeastern Virginia are using ads on matchbooks, movie screens and -- coming to a men's room near you -- partitions that separate urinals.

From bars to gentlemen's clubs, convenience stores to professional wrestling programs, churches are targeting males aged 18 to 34.

Said pastor John Redmon of Open Door Community Church in Newport News, ''Most people live in an R-rated culture. Movies. Music. Personal issues in people's lives. We want to reach out to people where they're at.''

For the nose-ring set, Open Door runs commercials on wrestling telecasts, likening body piercing to the crucifixion of Jesus. It buys onscreen ads before movies, regardless of their ratings.

Open Door's membership has grown in the past five months from 26 to 150; Redmon said the median age is 34.

Another area church, Hope Community, plans advertising on cable TV sports and ordered 2,500 matchbooks to tout its new ''Night Service'' in bars, restaurants, convenience stores and gentlemen's clubs.

Ken Tombley, Hope Community's pastor, borrowed the idea from Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, which used everything from car washes to urinal partition ads as membership gradually grew from 37 to 6,000.

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