Christian Media

5 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About TV Evangelists

I recently helped pastor Bobby Schuller write an article on the flip side of TV evangelism – the things people don’t know. We received such a good response on the news site that I thought I’d reprint it as a guest blog today. Here’s his take on TV evangelists. Let me know what you think:

Bobby Schuller:  I “accidentally” became a TV evangelist two years ago after pulpit-filling for my grandfather’s nearly empty and bankrupt Crystal Cathedral church in Southern California. Since then our team has done a lot to revitalize both our church and its TV ministry — The Hour of Power. In the process I have discovered the reality of TV evangelism world, and trust me — it has been an adventure. Out of that experience, our new producer, Phil Cooke (who has worked with many of the most successful media ministries in the world) and I have put together this list of five things you probably don’t know about TV evangelists.

1. The day of “big time TV evangelists” is coming to an end — which is good.  The media world has changed dramatically over the last 25 years, and the digital revolution has transformed the way Christians use the media. While television is more important than ever for sharing the Christian message, most leaders are focusing online, using social media, podcasts, and other digital tools. Those who continue to use TV will be vital, but they won’t have the profile the previous generation of TV preachers had in the wider culture.

2. TV evangelists are pastors at heart.  Most TV evangelists are not greedy or narcissistic. They are simply trying to be missional and reach a new demographic audience. Surprisingly, they are often uncomfortable in front of a camera, but see it as a necessity of the job. Most really love and care for the people they reach.

3. Most TV evangelists struggle financially.  While a small group of TV evangelists from the previous generation were very wealthy, a new generation of viewers doesn’t give financially at the same level. Therefore, many of the pastors you see on TV today struggle to keep their programs on the air. But they continue doing what they do because of the vast audience potential and the opportunity to share the gospel around what our producer Phil calls “America’s Last Great Campfire.”

4. Most TV pastors have a deeper theology than you think.  The problem here is that the theology doesn’t always translate well on TV. Media philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously said, “The media is the message.” Meaning, because television is a medium of entertainment rather than discourse, it’s a challenge to parse the doctrine of the Trinity on air. Other TV evangelists I know have incredible knowledge of church history, doctrine, and the Bible but just can’t find a way to make the ideas work well on TV. That doesn’t mean we should walk away. The message just has to be simple, encouraging, and yes, in some cases, entertaining.

5. A new generation of “TV evangelists” will be more creative than you expect.  Already, a new generation of Christian leaders is using documentaries, talk shows, short films, reality programming, and even dramatic movies to share its message with the broader culture. While many have weathered criticism from their own camp, they are boldly taking their message to platforms like OWN (The Oprah Winfrey Network), participating in secular media programming, or creating online platforms for the mainstream audience. For instance, Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia has partnered with Relativity Media to release a feature film about Hillsong United, the world’s most popular worship band. Second and third-generation Christian TV personalities like me will succeed only when we discover our own creative identities, honoring the past while being truly unique.

The day of “TV evangelists” may be coming to an end, but what happens next, might just be worth watching.

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  1. #6 There is very little accountability from the perspective of how much money they spend per month to the actual viewership. The senior pastor and his team have little skill in assessing a good buy from a bad one. And quite frankly its a pointless conversation when attempting any type of follow up or instituting an assimilation process.

    1. That’s not the case with the clients I’ve worked with. In most cases, clients who use experienced media buyers can get solid information about viewership. Plus, coupled with coordinating that information with donor zip codes, you can be remarkably accurate about which stations are working and which aren’t. The tools are available if they take the time to utilize them.

        1. One thing I really hate is when you get average person been horror movies most his life and he talented at it but thinks that if he acts like a Evangelist he will get easy money Now im not saying he isn’t but you cannot claim to be christian just to take peoples money. Whatever happened to working hard for your income. People now can claim there anybody with websites and Facebook. How come these people don’t realize what they are doing is wrong the bible speaks false prophets so how come we have so doing this to people. I understand the christian life but do you really need to give to these people who have mansions from your money. i would love to outlaw this crap from happening you dont take money from people claiming you are some form of christ or jesus I think this is morlly wrong. Everybody will have their own opinion on this but i can tell you that the best way to live Christian life is love the lord with all your heart and work hard take care of your family. Not by paying these people that claim they are a christ. I hope everybody has great day and stays confident in their abilities. Thanks for listening

  2. Thank you for the articles Phil…I appreciate your work.

    I strongly disagree with #4.. .The masses are starving for the TRUTH of God’s Word. A TRUE Bible Scholar (called by God) will have no trouble attracting, and keeping Bible students, WITHOUT any of man’s gimmicks. No compromising integrity for numbers and money.

    Pastor Arnold Murray (son Dennis) of Shepherd’s Chapel in AK. has a simple, IN-DEPTH, college level Bible Study which reaches around the world 24/7. He teaches chapter by chapter and verse by verse. God’s Word, if taught correctly, is so-o-o interesting that entertainment is NOT necessary. SCN gets (on average) 700 inquiries per day. Largest independent church in the world.
    The teaching ends with a Bible Q & A from ta handful of the 100’s of letters received daily.

    There is no expensive air time spent on inaudible (screeching) singing, a simple studio with a plain wooden desk, draped backdrop, 2 cameras, a flag, flowers, a desk and a 1611 KJV Bible. No begging, no telethons. no promises of healing for donations, no prayer clothes, Holy water, etc.

    Pastor AM (now deceased) is not popular with Christian TV stations or televangelists; he tells his listeners on fixed incomes (social security, pensions, etc) that they tithed on that money when they were working…they do NOT have to tithe on that money AGAIN.

    He NEVER mentions or preaches against any church or Pastor by name, NEVER. He lets God’s Word do the work, letting the chips fall where they may.

    I can barely sit in a brick and mortar church anymore. I’m insulted by the lack of solid Bible teaching. The personal stories (college football days, Aunt Matilda, Uncle Jo, the family dog, books, movies, etc.) are so predictable and self promoting. I came here for the Word of God and you teach and talk to me at a fourth grade level (that’s what the cemeteries/seminaries advise).

    Wake up church leaders…God’s judgment begins at the pulpit.

    1. I don’t know Rhonda. There are plenty of churches out there that do verse by verse Bible teaching. Some are our clients. Maybe you’re not looking hard enough for a good church.
      And when it comes to the Shepherd’s Chapel program, it’s not so much how many times it’s broadcast, it’s how many are watching and responding. After all, no matter how powerful the message, if no one’s watching, you’ve failed.
      Thanks for responding! You may be the first fan of Shepherd’s Chapel TV to comment on this blog!

      1. Hi Phil. Your are welcome. Thank you for responding.

        How special; I’m your first SCN student commentator. ;-). I may be the first SC student to buy two of your books also. I first heard you on WVCY (Milwaukee) or Moody Radio (Chicago).

        I know that Shepherd’s Chapel has big viewership because they could not afford that kind of air time without steady “no pressure” donations (viewers of all ages, lots of retirees, veterans, children, and disabled). My understanding is that SC checks out their new markets carefully and cuts back on programming based on viewer response (I believe every 6 months). They even drop people from their free newsletter if there is no interaction within 6 months. Not based on $$$$, just interaction. FYI :They have at least two satellites.

        Phil, I know you are an expert in this area, but don’t you think that 700 inquiries a day (without gimmicks and promises) and all of that airtime amounts to a large daily viewership? He actually keeps the older Biblical book publishers in business by the volumes of books carried by the SC ministry. Other than North America and Canada, China is SC’s fastest growing audience. I find that very interesting.

        1. Good for him. The style of program isn’t my cup of tea, but if he’s getting a response, that’s great. I’d love to see someone with your ideas get in there and help him integrate his teaching into a program format that would attract even more people…

  3. I agree on a typical preach format you are limited to the depth you can go wile holding the audience attention using short stories and 3 points is were its at. To go deeper is were we need to explore a genre of documentary that allows you to delve into real meat utilising engaging audio visual communication. You can illustrate concpts visually and can include other voices not just the guy or girl at the pulpit this is were we need to go. Also the way people consume media has changed small bite sized clips 5min max duration are more affective in todays audience.

  4. One of the biggest problems genuine TV evangelists face I think is being tarred with the same brush as the crooked snake oil salesmen like Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland that have come before them. It’s charlatans like these that make many folks flip the channel when they see a TV preacher. I do support all tools to share the Gospel, but as the bible says ‘Test the Spirit’ In the internet age it is now easier to research the backgrounds of the preachers we see on the screen. If there are red flags and scandals then tune out. If there is integrity in their lives then they may be worth listening to.

    1. Dear Sharon, You are so wrong about Pastor Benny Hinn, and I cannot ignore these terrible parroted and biased news slanders anymore. Of course he’s not perfect and makes mistakes like all of us. I don’t see anyone walking on water yet. 20 years ago, I was an Atheist living in complete darkness, and began watching Benny Hinn’s This is Your Day program for entertainment. After 2 years, I couldn’t deny the fact that so many ordinary people would testify they were healed, including little children who were deaf and mute, he would have them say the name of Jesus as their first word, and their precious faces were a miracle.

      Over the years, I attended several crusades and teaching conferences. If Pastor Benny kept all those riches you claim, he rarely had time to enjoy them, since he spent most of his years overseas on Crusades bringing the Gospel of salvation and healing to millions. Even putting his life on the line where religious leaders wanted to kill him. He was also invited to Muslim nations that would only allow him to come and has been hosted by Kings, Presidents, civic and religious leaders with much respect.

      Yes, because he was away so much, he lost his marriage to Suzanne Hinn but waited for it to be reconciled. Pastor Jack Hayford, a highly respected father of the faith performed the remarriage ceremony with the blessing of several powerful and faithful church leaders.

      I was told he rarely slept and years ago I attended a Benny Hinn Crusade in Israel, and he worked so hard with the inexperienced volunteers to make sure the Israelis heard the full Gospel of Jesus death, burial, resurrection and love for humanity. Many were healed and gave their hearts to Yeshua their Messiah.

      Only in the U.S. is he hated and abused by other Christians who rarely get anyone saved. I owe him a lot, because of his teaching on the gifts of repentance and forgiveness. It led me to accepting the grace and salvation of my God and King, Jesus Christ, who I now love and serve with all I am. Pastor Benny never once took any credit for healing anyone, but gave it all to Jesus, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

      You on the other hand have listened to the Judas crowd, who would take any human weakness and blow it out proportion to slander God’s faithful servants with no concrete evidence except a few skewed snippets on TV and news reports. Benny Hinn has been a powerful tool in the hands of our Lord to deliver multi- millions of souls into the Kingdom.

      And yes that requires a great deal of money, which some American Christians seem to have a problem with his fundraising techniques, but we need to look at the bigger picture of where the money goes. Certainly a big house in a gated community with high security and a private jet to fly to all these places is a small investment for a man and his family who are often targets of dangerous attacks and death threats. Can we claim that kind of sacrifice and harvest for our Lord Jesus? God weeds out the weeds.
      And yes, I support Christian media, it’s used by awkward ordinary people who trade privacy and security to obey Jesus’ command to “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
      O Hermann

  5. I became a Christian and now serve in full time ministry because of Kenneth Copeland. Never ever ever ever heard him ask for money. Sharon your divisive comment is divisive and unnecessary. All parts of the body are necessary and relevant regardless of your personal bigotries. It’s time to grow up!

    1. I am sorry that you found my comment divisive, but please understand that was not my intention. I merely wanted to point out the struggles that genuine God fearing media preachers have in reaching an audience are often compounded by the problems caused by some preachers who con the body of Christ and teach false doctrine. I’ve spoken with many people who believe that all TV evangelists are shady because they have only experienced a few silver-tongued crooks on the airwaves.

      Note that I never said anything about asking for funds on the air in my original comment, but as you felt the need to bring this up I will respond, and to avoid going off on tangents I will keep my response specifically in relation to Copeland ministries. I have seen many of Copeland ministries programming and contrary to your statement, there are often appeals for funds on his show. However I actually don’t believe that there is anything wrong with asking for tithes offerings and donations on the air. Funding from within the body has long been the way the way the church funds itself, and if the congregation of your ministry is getting fed via TV, then why not pass the proverbial collection plate over the airwaves? There is no problem asking for money, but there is a huge problem when the resources given by the faithful are misappropriated.

      A $6 million parsonage ranch for Kenneth and Gloria other multi million dollar properties
      for the eldership of his church that just so happen to be close relations of the Copeland’s. Then there is the fleet of aircraft including a $25million corporate jet, and all of this funded by the tithes offerings and donations of the people. On one of his shows Kenneth states that owning the jet saves the ministry money because he travels a lot and he would spend more on airline fares. Well I don’t know what airlines he’s been flying, but lets say for the sake of argument that he flies every single day and because he is working whilst travelling he feels it necessary to book business class for him and an assistant, (Missionaries from my church always fly economy as they don’t wish to be wasting the money given to them by their supporters), it would take about 65 years in ticket sales to make up the purchase price of that one jet. That doesn’t take into account maintenance, jet fuel, airport landing and waiting charges, upkeep of the airstrip that he has built on his church owned land,
      pilots and support staff wages and the cost an upkeep of the other aircraft in the ministries collection.

      At best this is a waste of kingdom resources, but to most sensible people I’d suggest that this is far worse and is a gross misappropriation of funds that is being diverted into the pockets of the Copelands instead of being used effectively for the Lord. It doesn’t take much delving to find all manner of financial irregularities at KCM. Thee isn’t space on this forum to list everything. If there were only one or two reports and maybe someone has a vendetta, but there are hundreds of reports from many reputable sources that bring into question the integrity of KC’s financial dealings.

      Also ask yourself why is KC so evasive whenever asked about how the church funds are being used. Every church I have attended has been transparent about their use of finances. Why did he go on the defensive when Senator Grassley brought into question how Copeland ministries were using the donations and offerings collected from his congregation? Why not be transparent because if he’s doing nothing wrong then he shouldn’t have anything to fear from an investigation, and for the record KCM ministries received the lowest possible F grade in regards to financial transparency at and that raises more than a few red flags.

      Also If you are in Christian leadership, and genuinely have a heart for truth and the gospel then I would suggest that you Google search the teachings of Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. You don’t have to search far to find that they teach all manner of false and heretical doctrines. You will find this is corroborated by many well respected Bible believing Christian teachers and scholars of the word. This forum isn’t the place to go into the details.

      I am not being divisive or bigoted as I point these things out to help protect believers being directed down the wrong path. I dare say that some called Jesus divisive when he threw the merchants and moneychangers out of the temple, and The Catholic hierarchy probably felt that the whistleblowers that exposed the child abuse scandals were dividing the church. Exposing injustice is not something that can be considered divisive or bigoted.

      To bring this back to the original point, it is very easy to see how many genuine Bible believing TV ministries struggle to gain an audience when they are being viewed through a similar lens as ministries like Kenneth Copeland. I wish you well in your Christian leadership, but please don’t just blindly follow what you hear without testing the spirit. There are many false teachers out there.

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