TO THE PERSON who cannot bear to live in a ''godless" time, advised the sociologist Max Weber in a 1918 speech, ''one must say... the arms of the old churches are opened widely and compassionately for him." The producers of ''Godless Britain," a TV documentary that will air Tuesday on England's Channel Five, were apparently thinking along the same lines when they commissioned the London branch of the international ad agency Fallon--known for burnishing seriously untrendy brands like the Czech carmaker Skoda--to come up with a marketing campaign that could reignite interest in the Church of England, where attendance figures are in serious decline. Previous efforts by the Church (which was not consulted by Channel Five or Fallon) were less than inspired: In 2001, to the outrage of many, it produced posters bearing embarrassingly provocative slogans like ''Body piercing? Jesus had his done 2,000 years ago." Could Fallon do any better?
Apparently so. Earlier this month, the agency unveiled six simple, dignified black-and-white posters advertising church not just as a place for worship (though one poster asks, ''Why go to India to find yourself? You might be just round the corner") but for recreation and learning: ''The Church. Provider of judo lessons, antique sales, playgroups, ballet lessons, school discos, flower arranging classes, theatre clubs, and, oh yes, church," reads another poster. The ads were sent to 50 Anglican bishops in Britain, and--according to a Fallon press release--their initial response was positive. The campaign is ''spot on," the Bishop of Bradford reportedly told Fallon, while the Bishop of Exter called it ''just the kind of advertising that I would like to see the Church of England using."
But John Saxbee, Bishop of Lincoln, warned against entirely ceding the work of evangelizing to a secular marketing outfit. ''Knowing exactly the right buttons to press at a particular moment in the cultural flow is a fine art," Fallon's press release quotes the bishop as saying, ''and the Church needs to learn from experts in this field as well as being able to make its own contribution."
Joshua Glenn is associate editor of Ideas. E-mail email@example.com.