Stephen Cotten

Stephen CottenGiving Away Advertising

The Stephen Cotten Story

My brother and I found an investor in Plano who owned two tree moving trucks and was looking for operating partners. We made the deal and began moving trees into the exploding suburban neighborhoods. Over the first six months, we learned so much about the business including the eccentricities of our partner.

He was very well connected in the community having been the past President of the Chamber of Commerce. We also discovered that he was typically drunk by lunch. We adjusted our work plans not to include our partner any time after Noon.


After many months of this pattern, one Monday morning our partner showed up at 8:00 a.m. showered, shaved, sober and ready to work. Assuming that this was too good to be true, we observed his metamorphosis skeptically. When Thursday’s lunch rolled around and he was still working and sober, we asked our partner what had happened to him. Without hesitation, Dennis said, “Alcoholics Anonymous is Jesus disguised so that you cannot recognize Him until it is already okay.”

Dennis’s transformation was ground-shaking for me. It made me ask, “If God can do that for Dennis, I wonder what God could do in my life?” I visited a church the following Sunday and knew that God was dealing with my heart, but I snuck out quickly when the service was over.

That Sunday afternoon, the doorbell rang and when I answered it, two men from the church were there thanking me for coming to worship with them. I was touched by their presence especially because I lived a good distance from the church. They had travelled a long way to show that they cared. Again, I sensed that God was dealing with my heart.

After the two gentlemen from the church left, I changed clothes and went back for the evening worship. I knew that God was calling me into a deeper relationship, and I did not want to resist any longer. I rededicated my heart to God through Jesus Christ that night and it transformed the rest of my life.

Several years and several businesses later, my brother Michael and I began to lease land for billboards, erect the sign structures, and lease the advertising space. This was a very good business for us. It took advantage of our strengths and reduced exposure of our weaknesses. One of the difficult challenges of owning billboards is reducing the length of time that a billboard face is vacant.

We steadily attended worship and Bible Studies for several years before entering the billboard business and knew that God was continually giving into believers’ lives. God gives us love, hope, forgiveness, even God’s Son Jesus! We had a hunger to learn how to follow God’s giving footsteps.

We asked ourselves if there was a way to give away our vacancies that would be like planting seeds in God’s Kingdom. We watched the social calendars for charity events in Dallas that needed promotion. When charities had promotional campaigns for their fund-raising events that matched the timing of our billboard vacancies, we would post their event advertising on our empty spaces.

The charities covered the entire gambit of great causes in the Dallas-Fort Worth communities. The seeds we sowed in promotion of all of their fund-raisers were very helpful and led to the charities often providing us corporate sponsorship tables at their events. We danced for every disease that needed research in order for progress to occur in finding the variety of paths to God’s healing mercies.

The success of this business strategy was amazing. God’s examples of giving into our lives led us to the idea of planting our billboard vacancies into the ad campaigns of local charities. What we could not have predicted was how being present at the charity events would catapult our networking with the most influential people in the area.

Our business thrived through giving away our empties. Isn’t it just like God to take something that is a left-over, a remnant, something that has no value in our eyes and breathe life into it. That is how God works in our hearts, too.

God looks in our hearts and sees beyond our self-centeredness, beyond our emptiness, beyond our sinful nature, and breathes into us the life of Jesus Christ that transforms our stony hearts into soft hearts of flesh on which God can write God’s covenant and proclaim God’s triumph through our lives.

We had another idea for a billboard company: one that had changeable letters that allowed for a message to be changed every day whether serving one client or many clients. This allowed us to increase the daily value of the billboards; therefore, it maximized the potential and, as a by-product, created a more valuable empty product.

We offered this outdoor broadcasting product to the corporate world, and it was very well received. If we had vacancies, we would duplicate the corporate customers’ messages throughout our network. When we invoiced our clients, we would charge them for the run of schedule they had purchased but also list the additional billboard placements that they had received at no charge. The clients would call flabbergasted at the unexpected reach that their advertising had been given.

Since then, God has continued to transform my life, pruning away my selfishness, making room for more of the reflection of Jesus Christ, always giving me more than I could have expected. Along the way, God called me to the full-time ministry as a pastor. After completing a Master of Divinity degree at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, I am serving as pastor at Kavanaugh United Methodist Church in Greenville, Texas. Every day I am blown away by how God can breathe life into the least, the lonely, and the lost. I encourage anyone who has lost hope to know that there is no place of despair where God cannot reach in and touch your life.

Stephen Cotten Hearing His Voice Testimony

Stephen Cotten Testimony