If there was a single issue that I would put above others – regardless of the media message – it would be the need for authenticity. In politics, religion, business, whatever, the chance that your message connects with people is based on authenticity. The Wall Street Journal quotes Paul Starobin who describes it from a political perspective: “Only politicians whose life and personality match their message, with no discrepancy between the public face and the inner self, will come across as authentic.”
No amount of PR will create it, and no amount of damage control can fix it. Being authentic is being real, because being unique and different doesn’t mean fake. Someone once said that Hollywood does an incredible job of making fake things look real, and Christians do an incredible job of making real things look fake. In our efforts to relate to the culture, churches and ministries often go over the top and end up conveying a message that’s obviously dishonest and far from authentic.
I’m told I was born with the gift of saying what everyone else in the room is thinking. Whether it gets me in trouble or not, I often feel compelled to talk about the elephant in the room that everyone else sees, but ignores. That’s why this issue of authenticity is so important for me. I was born with a very sensitive B.S. button, and anytime a church or ministry presents an advertisement, website, TV program or other presentation that smacks of insincerity, I light up.
Apparently, that genetic trait was passed on to my youngest daughter Bailey. For years, I’ve been asked to judge various film and video festivals – many of which were faith-based events. During the years when Bailey was a little girl, I would bring her in whenever I had to judge a children’s programming category. After all, it was TV programming designed for her age group, so I was curious about her reaction.
Most of the time, it was tough keeping her in the room. Even as a young child, she was quick to point out how cheesy and cornball most of the programs were, and I would often use her reaction as a factor in my judging. Kids tell you the truth, and I wish more Christians who create kid’s programming used children as critics.
One major national chain of kids toy stores actually has created an advisory panel of 10 year-olds to help them make buying decisions. Churches and ministries involved in creating Christians programs for kids should consider the brilliance of the idea.
I’ve done a number of informal surveys over the years to gauge the reaction of the culture to Christian media, and in most cases, the issue of authenticity is on the top of the list. Historically, audiences have trouble relating to Christians in media because although they seem earnest, they don’t really seem sincere. So we have to realize the critical importance of honesty, reality, and authenticity when we create a brand.