$100 Million Ad Campaign Aims to Get Young Adults to Reconsider Christian Faith

By Josh Shepherd
He Gets Us campaign
A digital billboard for the "He Gets Us" campaign appears in New York City's Times Square on March 16, 2022. (Photo: Sarah St. Onge / Twitter)

This week, an alliance of Christian media ministries announced the launch of an extensive $100-million-dollar national ad campaign to share inspirational messages about Jesus Christ with “skeptics and seekers.” 

The “He Gets Us” campaign features stark ads with messages such as “Jesus was homeless,” “Jesus suffered anxiety,” and “Jesus was in broken relationships.” They direct people to a website where they’re then connected to national ministries and local congregations. The campaign has been crafted by faith-based marketing agency Haven located near Grand Rapids, Michigan. And a church resource group, Gloo, is handling the website where respondents are directed.

The campaign is backed by a group of undisclosed wealthy Christians, who are funding the initiative through Kansas-based nonprofit group Servant Foundation, also known as The Signatry. Their financial model relies on donor-advised funds, which have come under scrutiny in recent years. 

Many prominent evangelical ministries and media firms are listed as “He Gets Us” campaign partners including the Luis Palau Association, popular Bible app YouVersion (an initiative of Life Church in Edmond, Oklahoma), the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, Christianity Today, Outreach Media Group, and Relevant Magazine. 

The campaign states it is “not affiliated with any church or denomination”; congregations who sign up as partners do not need to affirm any specific statement of faith. 

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In a statement to The Roys Report, chief strategist for the campaign, Jason Vanderground, said the roll-out this week was designed to coincide with major sporting events. 

“We launched the ‘He Gets Us’ campaign nationally to connect with audiences during a big sports season like the one we’re in now with the NBA, NHL, and the March Madness Basketball Tournament,” said Vandergound, who is president of Haven. 

Their PR firm did not answer specific inquiries related to the campaign’s anonymous funding.

Seeking to change popular perceptions of Jesus

The team behind “He Gets Us” began their work last year with six months of market research,  similar to other nine-figure marketing campaigns for top consumer brands.

Starting in April 2021, a representative sample of 5,000 U.S. adults answered an online survey designed by Haven, followed by additional quantitative polling and interview-style qualitative research. 

He Gets Us campaign
During Super Bowl week, “He Gets Us” ran ads geared to the big game (Image: Facebook)

Their partners website sums up key findings, stating: “Jesus is becoming less known and less relevant to the majority of Americans—especially the under-40s.” 

Skeptics of Christianity represent one-fourth of the U.S. population, according to the research. Half of them, “especially those with children,” are open to learning about Jesus, if obstacles can be overcome, Haven states. The biggest obstacle: Jesus’ message has been distorted as “hate-filled.” 

Based on these insights, Haven’s goals became to “communicate that Jesus is for everyone and is a worthy example to live by”—and that his teachings are “positive for society as a whole.”

Campaign creative, which utilizes candid black-and-white photography contrasted with yellow text, emphasizes Jesus as approachable, seeking peace, compassionate, and loving to all.

In November, Haven began a two-month preview launch in ten cities which generated 31 million YouTube views for about a dozen video ads. According to Christianity Today, those ad views led more than 17,000 people to engage further.

One ad that garnered over five million views, “Jesus Was Born To A Teen Mom,” surprisingly centered around the Virgin Birth—despite the team’s research noting beliefs in supernatural events are a significant hang-up for skeptics.

The ad generated hundreds of negative comments online. A response from user Jenny Williams was indicative: “(It) shows how horrible this ad is when both sides of the abortion aisle are hating on it.”

Other viewers defended how the video reinterprets the Nativity. “I don’t understand the anger against this simple half-minute commercial,” wrote user Joe Coupon. “The Holy Family lived through very difficult times. They would recognize our suffering too and be empathetic.”

In a CT article announcing the campaign roll-out, Haven founder and chief creative officer Bill McKendry responded to criticism. “The church needs to understand that this campaign isn’t for them, it’s for Jesus,” he said. “It’s to reach an audience we’re not currently reaching.”

Campaign roll-out ramps up

The “He Gets Us” website provides four ways for site visitors to engage deeper: a seven-day Gospel-focused devotional hosted at YouVersion, text message for “prayer or positive vibes,” an online chat feature, and a contact form to “connect with someone local.”

Church-targeted tech developer Gloo manages sending those contacts to various local churches. They emphasize inviting skeptics to attend the Alpha Course, an introduction to Christian faith used worldwide in Protestant and some Catholic churches.

A campaign rep noted that approximately 775 churches have signed up online as partners.

To complement their millennial-focused YouTube and online ads, the campaign will reportedly encompass radio, TV, and outdoor ads.

Leaders contend their indirect approach of relatable storytelling reaches people where they are, answering objections so skeptics will consider Christian faith.

“Ultimately, the goal is inspiration, not recruitment or conversion,” said Vanderground.

Freelance journalist Josh Shepherd writes on faith, culture, and public policy for several media outlets. He and his wife live in the Washington, D.C. area with their two children.

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27 thoughts on “$100 Million Ad Campaign Aims to Get Young Adults to Reconsider Christian Faith”

  1. Ah, so much to discuss. Perhaps a good idea strategically, but execution looks ??. The campaign seems to skip Yeshua’s mission. He did not come to be a good guy, or a role model, per se, but to bring the Kingdom of God by defeating sin on the cross. The point of reform has to be the church, which has become a shallow reflection of 1950s society. Rather than be known by our love, we are known by our sexual abuse, money grubbing mega churches, political colors, ‘middle class’ ethos. Naturally this is how the world reports us; but there’s a grain of truth in it.

  2. I hope it works. I’m all in favor of strengthening the church, and we need to reach the younger generation. But I fear people who are drawn to it may not survive first contact with an evangelical congregation. Because that congregation may well be in culture war and political fight mode and may not look a whole lot like Jesus. I hope that doesn’t happen, but my experience and what I continue to read about evangelicalism give me doubts.

  3. Unfortunately, the “us” (in He gets “us”) is really an overshot here. There are a great deal of people under 40 who are not seekers but are ex-Christians/evangelicals/etc./fill in the blank due to spiritual abuses, power seeking/money hungry mega-churches and the want-to-be-so-we-nuzzle-with-mega-church-pastors, the terribly unfortunate politicization of the church and Christian Nationalism. If they’re looking for a reason to overcome the obstacle the the message of Jesus has become “distorted as hate-filled” perhaps they should take a look at the state of those who already claim to follow him. It’s like already having a team that isn’t healthy but recruiting more people without addressing the actual health of the people already on the team.

    1. I hope that the young people will be encouraged to explore denominational churches, not just megas. Obviously there are problems in some denominational churches but I feel like there is more accountability and transparency in denominational churches. The denominational church I attend has strict rules about how children and youth are supervised, require abuse awareness training for children/youth volunteers and church finances are an open book.

  4. Ronald K Denlinger

    I’m resonating with the things that David, John and Rob (above) are saying. What the church needs is repentance and reform.. Even if we had a billion dollars to put into this kind of marketing, I don’t think it would overcome the deficiency in the present state of the church. And I think that if we are trying to get people to consider Christianity, we must remember that Christ’s church is part of Christianity – we are his body. Now, it is true that in dead churches there are those who overcome and are closely connected with Christ despite the apostacy. So, maybe the ad campaign would do more effective if it would straight up say: “Look to Jesus, don’t look to the church – it’s too messed up right now. Lots of churches supposedly endorse Jesus, doesn’t mean he returns the favor.” But again, rather than going that route, wouldn’t it be better if we went on a repentance tour before the world (assuming we first truly repented before God) and really meant it?

    Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” And he said this in the context of our abiding in him and obeying his commands, etc., of which love for one another is the ultimate display of those realities. Francis Schaeffer referred to this as the final apologetic. If “all men” knew that we were Jesus’ disciples, and if what they saw was substantive, then we would have the best advertising possible – word of mouth, satisfied “customers” who live it out!

    1. “If “all men” knew that we were Jesus’ disciples, and if what they saw was substantive, then we would have the best advertising possible – word of mouth, satisfied “customers” who live it out!”
      ++++++++++

      Jesus is anti-wealth, anti-power, anti-control, anti-establishment.

      I truly don’t see how any church that funds salaries, careers, energy bills, insurance bills, & mortgage payments (and that’s just for starters) can possibly be Jesus’ disciples.

      Just being logical.

      Compromises are inevitable. At some point, human beings, honesty and integrity will be sacrificed (& rationalized away with something ‘biblical’) to shore up control and power for the sake of money.

      So they make it about everything biblical except Jesus in practice and function (ie, Paul).

      They can be Bible disciples, and Paul’s disciples. But not Jesus’ disciples. There’s too much conflict and tension.

      There is too much to lose.

  5. This campaign is a stunning reversal of the gospel. It literally is an attempt by man to save Jesus. Jesus has a bad reputation–let’s bring in Madison Avenue to save it–to resurrect it, even. Let’s leave out all the stuff that offends–no talk of sin or hell, no exclusivity of Jesus as the only way, no claim of being God incarnate, no miracles, no resurrection, no gospel. Just “Jesus is a nice guy; he’s just like you, in fact!” This ad campaign presents a fictitious, mortal-only Jesus fashioned by marketers.

    1. Laura Mullenix

      Thank you for your bold comment! I was going back through the article, and looking at the website. Just quickly, I found 2 items of grave concern (I haven’t looked extensively) and all for only 100 million dollars. The commercial for the teen mom compares a girl who GOT pregnant to Mary who was given a child by the Holy Spirit. On the website, you can text for prayer or “good vibes.” What in the world???? My husband and I reach out to everyone, every day, anytime we can. (as a disclaimer)
      I am studying through the gospels, and taking note of what the encounters with Jesus were like. “Have mercy on me,” “…knelt before Him…” “I do not deserve….”
      Another disclaimer…I was a girl on the streets, and I didn’t need a sappy “man” who was just like me….I needed a Savior, a Redeemer. I could write more, but I must get busy with my day.

      1. Seems to me you are missing the key point to everything:

        God loved his creation so much he became one of them.

        Experiencing what it’s like to be human.

        Getting as close as possible to his creation, rather than observing from afar (like someone who designed a terrarium of plants and some frogs, lizards, etc. and watching from the outside).

        Jesus is both Jesus of Nazareth, 100% human being, and Jesus the Christ, 100% God.

        The fact that Jesus is human means everything to me.

        Give people room to find meaning in all this truth that is invisible. We’re all just doing our best.

  6. Caren MacMurchy

    Exactly, CJ Summers.
    With “us” as the centerpiece, let us make Jesus in our own image. Jesus, however, will not be tethered, tamed or domesticated. Thank God!

  7. A purely emotional appeal to a target audience who are innundated with intellegent objections to the entirety of Christianity and the bible. They will look at these ads and say, “Oh you mean the bible that condoned slavery and genocide? You mean the Jesus who was a myth, not a historical person?”
    They are coming at this from entirely the wrong end of the spectrum.
    Christianity is being destroyed in the next generation by atheist academia.
    Without better proof and arguememts this is all just window dressing.
    Now back to the original evngelism: Jesus followers actually following Jesus in a way that cannot be ignored or explained away.

    1. ….as if emotions are anathema.

      Emotions are created by God and just as valid as cerebral function. It can’t be correct or even healthy to siphon off our lives and our approach from the existence of emotions.

      but aside from this, Christianity is being destroyed by christians themselves,

      being wired so tight to theology/doctrine-informed principle over and above people;

      by theology and doctrine that allows for harm, dishonesty, an accountability void, and redefines what is unethical to be somehow ethical.

      1. You miss the point entirely. I am emotionally very in touch with God, but the powerful faith desconstruction coming out of colleges and seminaries and the atheist youtube community dismisses emotion as a nonproof. In fact they veiw it as a manipulation tactic intended to bypass reason.
        Trying to reach unbelievers with messages that make believers smile and feel good is just more painting the bullseye around the arrow to tell ourselves we have scored a big win.

        1. Ok – I hear what you’re saying. I see your point. Although I do think Christians themselves are destroying their religion. Religions are what the adherents make of them.

  8. As others have said, there’s a lot to talk about here, but I’ll stick to a couple of points.

    First, the “He Gets Us” message immediately runs into the strong headwinds of wealth, privilege, and power that pervades American Christianity. Yes, there are millions of ordinary folk who are Christians too, but regardless of the fearmongering from conservatives about their loss of status, they are still very much in the driver’s seat when it comes to electing the leaders they want (yes, including Trump) and enacting legislation throughout much of the country that significantly moves the needle when it comes to their 50 year long culture war.

    Second, as with many things in this world, it comes down to sex. Young people have grown up in and around people from the LGBTQ community, have become firm friends, have celebrated their marriages, and comforted them when they’ve been attacked. In their own lives, they’ve had a mix of sexual relationships, some casual, some longer and more serious, and aside from the usual teenage angst and heartbreak, in the vast majority of cases, without the oft threatened “consequences of sin.”

    When you combine that with the all too visible hypocrisy over these issues of many Christians leaders, there’s very little incentive to go to having to sneak around to have sex (as young Christians used to have to do) and feel ashamed about it after, and nor will they turn on their gay friends and start refusing to condone their relationships and start lecturing them about their “reprobate lifestyle.”

    The ads are slick and relatively tame, for sure, but I don’t think it’s going to do anything to halt the continued slide the numbers of self-identified Christians in this country.

  9. People in general think Jesus is cool, but not evangelicals, especially given the last 5 years….

    Also I do not get the ads….

    This is what I have learned since I was a little kid….

    An Angel of the Lord appears

    “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
    But she was greatly troubled at what was said
    and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
    Then the angel said to her,
    “Do not be afraid, Mary,
    for you have found favor with God.
    Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
    and you shall name him Jesus.
    He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
    and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
    and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
    and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”

    But Mary said to the angel,
    “How can this be,
    since I have no relations with a man?”
    And the angel said to her in reply,
    “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
    and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
    Therefore the child to be born
    will be called holy, the Son of God.
    And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
    has also conceived a son in her old age,
    and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
    for nothing will be impossible for God.”

    Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
    May it be done to me according to your word.”
    Then the angel departed from her.

  10. What a joke! We don’t need to try to make Jesus palatable. We need to preach Him as He is. Including the “hate-filled” part (i.e., He said more about hell than anyone else). This is typical bait and switch advertising – make Him look like a cool, relatable guy, and then save the judgment/wrath/hell part until later (if it’s ever even brought up at all). Shame on these people. You won’t find any examples of this type of light, airy “preaching” in the Bible. If they haven’t already produced it, the next commercial will be “Jesus had two dads.”

    1. @Joseph “including the ‘hate-filled’ part”….? This seems to echo a Christian nationalist ideology.
      I read he was a man that had power but did not use it but instead, humbled himself to the service of other people (whereas the evangelical church and their “chosen” political party have chosen power, mostly for their benefit.)

      I read he sees me as all other humans (you know, the “image of god” thing) …hence no race, color, creed, origin, background, image, sex, sexual origin, ethnicity, culture or other religion is seen any different (you know, that “he loved the whole world” thing…)

      I read Jesus was a man that said what people do for “neighbor (they) do for him”….(you know, people who our ancestors once were- coming over on boats, tired, hungry, poor…they and their children are now at our borders…tired, hungry and poor….the ones that Jesus called “the least of these” but yet are often denigrated by the culturo-politico-evangelical-right)

      I read Jesus- when asked- made it pretty clear that in his kingdom, power structures weren’t welcome and thus, were moot. (somehow that has been lost in translation in the uber-power-filled-evangelical-power-seeking stadiums and the right political sphere, which extends down to the family and to womens rights etc)

      I read Jesus only turned over the tables in a temple where people used religion as a vain excuse for exploiting people with less power and turning the temple into a place where sanctity had become wickedness. This sounds eerily familiar to what is happening currently in mega churches and in right wing politics.

      There are more examples, but forgive me for not knowing them all. I’ve stopped believing because of “hate-filled” rhetoric to make a deity/human something he wasn’t.

  11. I finally saw an ad during the NCAA Men’s Tournament. While it is not the full gospel in one ad, I actually see this as a good pathway to starting a conversation with young nonbelievers or ex-churchgoers.
    I don’t agree with folks wanting to lead or drive conversations with young nonbelievers by starting with all this theology. I think we must remember that skeptics have seen a lot of hypocrisy, condescension, anger, labeling, and unkind name-calling in the spirit of “the end justifies the means” over these last several years. We need to ease in by going back to basic conversation starters to win (or reclaim) young skeptics. These ads are an ok start.

    1. He DOES get us and He died for us..you know mercy grace humilty compassion..Along with His Deity..You His AND His love for.. You know..Love grace humility along with the gospel.. Many “christians” seem to have forgotten grace n humility in their obsessions with doctrinal perfection

  12. Brian Churchill

    I saw some of the ads on TV. I think Laura above made a good point. People need an all-poweeful savior and redeemer, not someone “who gets us.”

    And what are the most popular films with millennials? Those featuring superheros. Maybe a campaign talking about the greatness of God and Jesus is in order.

  13. I wonder if a better advert would be a line attributed to Kafka: “The meaning of life is it ends.” Find out why.

  14. D.S. Goechenour

    My wife and I were discussing these ads this morning and her take was that they were way too generic. “Who is “He” anyway? From my perspective, they only tell part of the story.
    What about the Jesus I read about who is coming back in judgment? What about the Jesus who stands in opposition to the world and their values? A lot of us generic followers of Jesus Christ have left the visible institutional / corporate church behind and couldn’t care less if they all fall down. If people are looking for the real Jesus, they had better be prepared for the “bad vibes” that are already here and the “worse vibes” that are coming.
    The ad campaign is really false advertising, selling a “good vibes” that cannot save anyone.
    Truth in advertising would have them say “The REAL Jesus get’s you and calls all people everywhere to repent and believe the Gospel.” But they won’t and the people who hear won’t as the Scriptures plainly teach.
    Just another church group rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

  15. Christopher Hanley

    BIG. SHINY. OBJECT.
    You are advertising to the wrong people. Aim your ads at Christians so they can demonstrate Jesus Christ better. People don’t need Jesus peddled at them like a product aimed at a demographic. We have done this at(to?) young people for years, with generally poor results.

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