Following posters depicting Jesus Christ as Che Guevara, Santa Claus and the foam on a pint glass, the Church Advertising Network is now “re-branding” the Christmas story as a sporting event.
In one of the joke-filled recordings, which will be broadcast on commercial radio stations across Britain during December, a commentator tells the tale of Jesus’s birth as if it were a horse race called the Christmas Day Stakes, complete with the sound of cheering crowds and thundering hooves in the background.
The voiceover runs through the main characters in the nativity story as if they were horses, starting with “Angel Gabriel with Mary” and moving on to “Mary, Joseph and donkey coming in on the inside” followed by “three kings and Herod”.
The 30-second advert ends with the commentator declaring the winner to be “Baby Jesus, from Mary, Joseph and virgin birth”.
In the other advert, the commentator refers to the holy family as if they were players on a football team. It begins with a “nice pass” from Gabriel to Mary before the “innkeeper gets in the way” at Bethlehem and the shepherd “looking completely stunned”.
It continues: “Jesus on for mankind, mankind really sagging in the first half.”
The advert ends as if Jesus has scored a goal, with the commentator shouting: “Absolutely majestic.”
Both of the adverts then feature a voice inviting radio listeners to “be part of the action at church this Christmas”.
In addition to the irreverent adverts, the Church Advertising Network is running a competition with a prize of Â£500 for the best re-telling of the Christmas story in under 30 seconds. The winning entry will be uploaded onto the popular video-sharing website YouTube.
The organisation, an independent group whose members come from the Church of England, the Methodists and the Salvation Army, insists its campaign is necessary, as research has suggested that just 12 per cent of British adults and 7 per cent of young people have a good grasp of the Christmas story.
Chas Bayfield, the creative director behind the adverts, said: “We wanted to carry on with this idea of retelling the Christmas story, but in a medium suitable for radio listeners.
“The new radio ads take on the style of a sports commentary and hope to engage in a humorous way with the youth audiences and encourage them to go to church to hear the Christmas story in full.”
Francis Goodwin, chairman of the Churches Advertising Network, added: “The increasing external pressures to secularise Christmas and even the attempts to rebrand it as ‘Winterval’ show that we cannot be complacent about actively promoting the Christmas story to a new generation, some of whom may never have had the invitation to get to know Jesus.”
However, some church organisations said that although they welcomed attempts to educate people about the true meaning of Christmas, taking such a humorous approach could backfire.
David Phillips, general secretary of the traditionalist Church Society, said: “It wouldn’t necessarily be the approach I would take and I can see the problems with it. It could be counter-productive and make people think it is just foolishness.
“But I can see why they’re doing it. So few people have a grasp of the facts, which is a serious issue that churches must face. How have we got to this stage, when so many children are taught in Church of England schools?”