ROSWELL, Ga. — Graduate student Andy Woods first heard a Catholics Come Home advertisement on Sacred Heart Radio in Cincinnati a few weeks ago while in his car running errands. When he returned home, he watched the television version on YouTube.
“It was really well done,” said Woods. “You see the Mormon ads popping up all over online. This is something the Catholic Church should be doing. It’s important for the Church to use the same forms of media that constantly attack it to evangelize and defend itself.”
Woods forwarded the ad to his mother, who then forwarded it to her sisters.
Come mid-December, those ads, which have been utilized in 30 dioceses, will air nationally on prime-time network television for the very first time. Beginning Dec. 16 and running through the feast of the Epiphany, Jan. 8, the ads will air more than 400 times, reaching more than 250 million television viewers in over 10,000 U.S. cities and every diocese.
The ads are the work of the Roswell, Ga.-based Catholic apostolate Catholics Come Home. Founded by former advertising executive Tom Peterson, the nonprofit launched pilot campaigns in Phoenix and Lexington, Ky., in 2008, after experiencing tremendous success with a television advertising campaign in Phoenix 10 years earlier.
“That campaign brought at least 3,000 people back to the Catholic Church,” said Ryan Hanning, coordinator of the Office of Adult Evangelization for the Diocese of Phoenix.
Since that time, Catholics Come Home has created a variety of professional advertisements and a comprehensive website that provides links to local parishes and Mass times and explanations of the faith. Catholics Come Home has partnered with, and run their ads in, 30 dioceses across the country, including Chicago, Seattle, Sacramento, Calif., Corpus Christi, Texas, and Colorado Springs, Colo. During Lent 2011, Catholics Come Home partnered with 12 different dioceses, including Boston, Lafayette, La., St. Louis, Venice, Fla., and Winona, Minn.
“This pastoral tool is a useful method for the re-evangelization of our society,” said Venice Bishop Frank Dewane. “Through the positive use of media [this has] given expression to the Church’s outreach to her wandering sons and daughters.”
One parish in the Diocese of Venice noted a 20% increase in attendance at Easter Sunday’s sunrise service.
“Some parishes experienced upwards of a 30% increase in Mass attendance,” said Carson Weber, associate director for new-media evangelization in the Archdiocese of Sacramento. “Those parishes that did more work saw results.”
‘Looking for Hope’
According to research conducted where the ads have aired, there has been an average increase in Mass attendance of 10%, and more than 300,000 Catholics have returned to the Church.
Based on that data, organizers are hopeful that as many as 1 million Catholics could return to the Church as part of this Advent’s national campaign. The organization’s bilingual 30-second “Epic” ad is scheduled to air on CBS, NBC, Univision, TBS, USA, TNT, CNN, Fox and other networks during shows such as 60 Minutes, NCIS , NBC Nightly News , The Today Show , The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, The O’Reilly Factor, as well as major sports events and highly rated sitcoms. The ad highlights the history, beauty and spiritual richness of the Catholic faith. It invites Catholics to return home to their parishes and provides the Catholics Come Home website.
“People are looking for hope,” said Catholics Come Home’s Peterson. “You can’t go wrong by putting out the Good News. If it saves just one soul, the Good Shepherd says it’s worth doing.”
The $3-million campaign is the result of fundraising by each of the 30 dioceses that have partnered with Catholics Come Home, and also the contributions of more than 35,000 parishioners nationally.
The Archdiocese of Sacramento was the third diocese in the country to partner with Catholics Come Home. In 2009, the necessary funding was raised through second collections, the Knights of Columbus and other private donors. They ran an advertising campaign at the end of that year.
“To run a local campaign, a great deal of money has to be raised,” said the archdiocese’s Weber. “As part of what’s raised in each diocese hosting a local campaign, 15% of everything we raised was set aside for a national campaign. It’s really neat to see the fundraising we did so long ago come together as a part of this national campaign.”
“It will encourage and embolden Catholics who are active. Non-Catholics will inquire into the Catholic faith, and we’ll see inactive Catholics come back to the sacraments,” explained Weber.
“Of those who’ve returned to the Church, 90% have said they didn’t have a reason for leaving,” said Peterson. “Those who’ve returned have said they’ve done so because they were invited.”
With the average American watching 38 hours of television each week, Peterson sees TV as a place where the Church needs to be.
“It makes sense to harness the power of TV and the Internet to spread the Gospel to the ends of the earth,” said Peterson. “When we do, it works.”
Register senior writer Tim Drake writes from St. Joseph, Minnesota.