CHICAGO (CNS) — A glance, a thought, a prayer are what St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Parish had hoped to inspire in commuters when it launched its first billboard campaign in 2015.
Now the parish, situated in Barberton, Ohio, has launched its sixth billboard campaign, with the message: “Life is tough. We are praying for you.”
The parish wants to communicate its prayerful presence and solidarity with community members in the midst of their daily struggles, said the pastor, Father Miron Kerul-Kmec.
A banner that measures 8 feet by 14 feet was hoisted up onto the side of the church building in mid-May, and since early July, an 8-foot-by-20-foot billboard has graced a busy intersection nearby. It will have an eight-week run.
“A billboard with a Christian message, if done correctly, has power,” said the pastor. “The church’s message on a billboard is not a product like any other.”
He gave the example of a previous campaign, which featured the prayer, “Lord, have mercy.”
“If a small percentage of people who passed by were encouraged to say this short prayer, it’s great and the world became a better place for this,” he said. “It is something small that can change your thoughts and bring you to something better.”
The new billboard is the communications component of the parish’s yearlong pastoral program, which will include catechesis on the Byzantine Catholic Divine Liturgy and prayer.
“Prayers are a very powerful tool for how to change your life,” he said. “There is a need to refresh our understanding of prayer. We can use this prayer which is given to us, the Divine Liturgy. We want to remind our faithful how precious the Diving Liturgy is. We pray for the whole world there.”
The parish belongs to the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio, and the idea of using advertising first came up in discussions among parishioners about the eparchy-wide pastoral plan. They decided advertising would help meet one of the parish objectives of “bringing Christian thought to people,” said the pastor.
All of the billboards draw on the Byzantine Catholic tradition and practice of the faith.
Parishioners opted for billboards over other media because, unlike radio and television where one can change the channel, a billboard “is something you cannot avoid,” he told Horizons, the eparchy’s newspaper.
“You drive this way every day to work and every day it is a reminder,” he said.
Cost was another factor. Father Kerul-Kmec said he was surprised by the relatively low costs. A four-week campaign at a location that receives 8,000 looks per week was priced at $500; the parish has contracted for eight weeks for each campaign.
The billboards were designed pro bono by parishioner Kurt Valenta, creative director for Advance Ohio, the marketing arm for cleveland.com and The Plain Dealer, Cleveland’s daily newspaper.
“If you want to touch the community, what better way than to put a billboard in the heart of it,” said Valenta, who has worked in advertising for 33 years. He pointed to market research that indicates the efficacy of outdoor advertising.
Commuters may not pay much mind to the billboard the first few times they drive by, but eventually “the repetition makes people think,” he said. He added he would counsel parishes against online banner ads, which can be very expensive.
Father Kerul-Kmec said the response to the billboards has been “satisfying” to date.
He said a commuter called him one night at 11 p.m. to tell him that he was “deeply touched” by the Christmas billboard campaign. Father Kerul-Kmec has also received positive feedback from guests at the soup kitchen where he and parishioners serve lunch regularly. Others have said the billboards are “refreshing” and that “the road looks better now,” he added.
“If people would come to (our) church that would be great,” he said. “But the point is to bring the remembrance of God to people. If people were touched and went to their own church, it’s OK. It is not the intention to pull people to our parish, but just to send the Christian message to the world and to let people know that we are here.”
“Even if one person is touched by this, it is worth it,” he said.
Valenta said he believes participating in advertising presents “no ethical dilemma whatsoever” for the church.
“We are bombarded by messages every day… and the church needs to get the word out. You need to be proactive or you’re not a player,” he said. “We need to be there.”
Ieraci is editor of Horizons, the newspaper of the Byzantine Catholic Eparchy of Parma, Ohio.