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He Gets Us: Does Jesus Need an Ad Campaign?

The ads definitely get your attention.

You may have watched a big sports event on television and seen one of the black and white ads from the “He Gets Us” campaign. Designed to introduce Jesus to a culture quite intrigued by him, this campaign has created both curiosity and questions. 

For example, this video is called The Dinner Party:

This popular video is called Outrage.

This week, my Good Faith podcast co-host David French and I talked to one of the chief architects of the campaign, Jason Vanderground, to find out more about these well-produced ads. In this conversation, we talked specifically about:

  • The campaign itself;
  • The broader theological questions at play;
  • The role of advertising as a tool of evangelism;
  • How the “He Gets Us” campaign attempts to offer discipleship;
  • The morality of spending so much money on this campaign;
  • Who’s behind the campaign;
  • The goal of the campaign;
  • The different types of unbelievers;
  • How to interact with skeptics;
  • And the limitations and opportunities of modern technology to spread the gospel.

DAVID FRENCH: Jason Vanderground is president of Haven, which is a creative hub. I’m not sure what a creative hub is, but it sounds fascinating. It’s a branding and marketing firm based in Michigan and really salient for our purposes. He serves as a campaign manager for ‘He Gets Us’ and guides a 100 person team of researchers, creatives media, and PR professionals.

And ‘He Gets Us’ is about introducing America (or reintroducing) to Jesus. What is the ‘He Gets Us’ campaign, including the what and the why. What is it, and why are you doing it? 

JASON VANDERGROUND: ‘He Gets Us’ started as a large national advertising campaign. We actually test marketed it last Thanksgiving in ten markets and had phenomenal results.

We put ads on local Dallas Cowboys games and saw huge spikes in website activity.  People would go on the website, chat, text, get connected, and sign up for Bible reading plans. Then we launched the campaign nationally in March, around March Madness, the NCAA basketball tournaments.

We’ve seen this huge intersection of putting the message of Jesus right in the middle of really big cultural moments and having people be pleasantly surprised and ask “what does that mean?”

It’s really meant to be a conversation starter, a thought starter, and it’s been a fascinating ride for the last six months.

CURTIS CHANG: So, Jason, I think the immediate questions are who’s behind this? Who is funding it? Who’s originating it?  Who’s heading it?  Whose theology is behind this?

Some folks might think, okay, wait, you’re going out there with this big advertising campaign. You’re running ads in the Super Bowl or NFL games saying, “Jesus is like this,” and followers of Jesus wonder if this is going to be an accurate picture of Jesus?

Can you speak to those immediate concerns?

JASON VANDERGROUND: Yeah, so this is all run through an organization called the Signatory.  One of their charitable nonprofit programs is ‘He Gets Us.’

That allows many families and individuals who tend to be high net worth individuals, but not always. They’re actually a mixture of people with varying degrees of incomes, who are just passionate about seeing Jesus – the real Jesus in the Bible – represented in mainstream society.

It started with this really troubling kind of problem statement: how did the world’s greatest love story become known as a hate group?

For us, as Jesus following Christians, the Bible clearly lays this out. Jesus said, people are going to know you’re following my example by the way that you love and treat other people. It’s that fundamental interaction with your fellow human being. And Jesus modeled for us exactly how to do that in the Gospels.

When we talk to people who are spiritually open but very skeptical of Christianity, they say three things: I see hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and discrimination. I’m guilty of perpetuating those things as well. We’re trying to follow a perfect example as just flawed, individual human beings. It’s no wonder that we’re coming up short.

But we’re simply trying to point others to the real, true, authentic Jesus in the Bible.

We spent five months and almost a million dollars to learn about the American people. We understood that there are people who are just avowed non-Christians who want to be left alone.  That’s fine. But there’s this huge group in the middle who says, I’m very spiritually open. I actually really like Jesus’s value system. 

We should talk about this more.

[This excerpt was lightly edited for clarity.]

HOSTS: Curtis Chang and David French

PRODUCER: Kris Carter

The Good Faith podcast comes out every Saturday on The Dispatch. Listen and subscribe here or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Curtis Chang is the founder of Redeeming Babel.

Photo from a “He Gets Us” campaign.

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