Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston is a four-time Emmy-winning communications executive who serves as the Chief Communications Officer for Discipleship Ministries, an international agency of The United Methodist Church. Based in Nashville, Steve developed the official brand promise of The United Methodist Church: “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors,” as well as created and produced “Chuck Knows Church.”
He says, “I realized very early on the UMC didn’t consider itself a brand, let alone a brand that needed to be managed. Today, we are the most recognized mainline denomination in the USA through our brand. Most of the time, that’s good. However, in recent months, our brand promise has been hijacked, and our church has failed to live up to the brand promise. The operative word is open, and if you truly are not, the public sees through that. They see through a sales job. People feel ripped off. We have an opportunity as a church, but it’s going to be a long road of repair.”
Steve graduated from CST in 1989, and almost exactly ten years later, he found himself writing the legislation for the 2000 General Conference to accept the “Open Hearts” campaign. He says, “It was honestly the greatest honor of my life. I just wanted to combine communications and church, and this message was a message of hope after 9/11.”
Of course, the General Conference approved the legislation, and a $22 million national television advertising campaign for the church was launched. The campaign was the first for mainline protestant churches. While executive-in-charge of the campaign, Steve produced 16 national network television commercials and 40 radio commercials with the new brand promise.
He says, “There were many people who thought a branding campaign was treating the church like toothpaste. The church is a lifestyle brand, a sacred brand. And that brand ultimately is us. A brand is not a thing or a logo, it’s us. It’s who we are. How we live, what we think, and what we believe.”
In 2014 Steve created and produced “Chuck Knows Church,” the most-watched online video series in the denomination’s history. He also created and produced “The Committee,” a web series that attracted more than 150,000 monthly viewers. Further, he created and produced a series of short films supporting the #SeeAllThePeople movement, which engages people in their local communities to form new relationships that lead to discipleship.
Steve is an ordained elder in The United Methodist Church, and had served as pastor of two churches in the Los Angeles area and as the Director of Communications of the California-Pacific Conference before moving to Nashville. Through the years, Steve has remained connected to CST as a regular donor and by serving on the board of trustees.
He says, “I don’t know if I’d be a complete Christian without Claremont School of Theology. It came at a time when I was working in film and television, and I needed to immerse myself in the church. I chose CST because of Jack Coogan. He is a highly-recognized film aficionado and documentary film expert, and I wanted to sit at his feet and learn from him. I would not have stayed with the church without him. In fact, we’re still in contact – he keeps me on my feet and on my toes. CST deepened my Christian walk and opened me to serving the church as a full-time vocation. It was truly life-changing. It is the most unique campus and collection of professors in the world, and I’m a progressive Christian who really wants people to know Jesus. There’s no place like it. It was such a pivotal time for me.”
Steve sees CST as a progressive voice of the church which he describes as “a ragtag band that makes the most difference in the world.” And, while he is sad to see CST move out of Southern California, he is confident that our “raggedy band” will make a positive difference up North. He says, “It’s really about making a difference wherever we’re planted.”
Steve has more than 30 years of experience as a television/film director, producer, radio broadcaster, and communications executive in Los Angeles and Nashville, and in 2006, he was presented the denomination’s top Communicator of the Year award by United Methodist Association of Communicators.
Steve has worked on several feature films, including Pontiac Moon and That Thing You Do. He coproduced and cowrote the film Becoming Jesse Tate, an independent, faith-based feature for elementary-aged children, and produced and directed Running Back to Forward, an Emmy award-winning short film.
He has served as theological script consultant for DreamWorks Studios in Los Angeles, and as consultant to Jim Wallis at Sojourners, a Washington, D.C.-based Christian community. He has written and produced programs for San Diego public television (KPBS), worked on the CBS episodic television series Simon & Simon and was a radio broadcaster in the San Diego and Los Angeles markets for more than 10 years.
Steve is also a member of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and founder of Nashville Aerial, a company specializing in aerial cinematography and production.
Rev. Steve Horswill-Johnston embodies CST’s brand of progressive Christian theology, and we are proud of his accomplishments and grateful for the ways he has passionately, creatively, and loyally served the church. It is for these reasons and more that Steve has been chosen as one of CST’s Distinguished Alumni/ae.