Christian MediaEngaging Culture

Christian Media Producers: You’re NOT Reaching the Next Generation If:

I posted this blog a couple of years ago, as an excerpt from my book: “The Last TV Evangelist:  Why the Next Generation Could Care Less About Religious Media, and Why it Matters.”  If you’re involved in religious media, you need to read this – and pass it on to your pastor or leadership team.  Here’s some of the biggest reasons TV evangelists and pastors on TV are not reaching this generation:

OFFENDER #1:  If you talk in a different voice when the camera is turned on:  Everywhere else on television we see reality.  Love it or hate it, reality programming has left an indelible mark on the industry.  So when you appear on your program with your “classic TV voice” it sticks out like a sore thumb.  You know who I’m talking about.  Numerous ministry leaders who are gracious, authentic, and engaging when talking with friends over lunch.  But turn on the camera, and they become someone else.  The television commercial business is a great example of the change.  National spots used to be narrated by men with powerful voices.  Deep voices that resonated with power and authority.  But listen to a commercial today.  More often than not, it sounds like

a regular guy – or woman.   The advertiser knows the connection doesn’t come from a perfect voice, but from the sound of someone like you and me.  Watch regular television and listen to the difference.  Stop trying to be bigger than life.  Be real.  Speak normally.  It doesn’t make you more anointed or powerful when you try to sound like God.  Talk like everyone else, and you’ll be amazed at the connection.

The “over the top” era is done.

OFFENDER #2:  If on TV you wear different clothes or hairstyles than everyone else:  Back in the glory days of “variety” programming, stars wore some pretty weird outfits, and the audience loved it.   When I took the tour through Graceland – the estate of the late Elvis Presley – I marveled at the collection of his outrageous concert outfits.  Unbelievable stuff.  A walk through the historical section of a prop and costume department in Hollywood is a similar experience.  But that was a different time.  While I’m always open to change, as of this writing,

Nehru jackets are done.

Big gold chains are for hip-hop artists and gangsters.

Trust me.  Everyone knows that’s a toupee on your head.

T.D. Jakes is cool.  White preachers that try to dress like T.D. are not.

T-shirts under sport coats went out with Miami Vice.

Spandex is not for TV – ever.

And when it comes to TV evangelists, what’s the thing about hair?  Do I really have to elaborate?  Years ago, I filmed one offender deep in the desert of the Middle East for a TV segment.  The wind was raging, and his comb-over was so huge, he went through nearly a case of hairspray to keep it under control.  When he was finished, his hair looked more like a NASCAR helmet.  The desert sands were blowing all around him, and my crew was fighting to hold down the equipment, but that comb-over stayed firm without a hair out of place.  If a nuclear attack had happened at that moment, I wanted under that helmet of hair.  Study the wardrobe and hairstyles of secular TV hosts today.  It’s remarkably normal stuff.   Tasteful and subtle.  Now – quick – switch back to a Christian TV program.

Ouch.

Now to be fair, let me turn the tables and say something to today’s “hip” young pastors:  It’s time to stop wearing those striped shirts with the shirttails out when you preach.   Wearing jeans and open collar shirts is fine.  But styles change and it’s time to change with it.   Hundreds of young contemporary pastors all look alike today – jeans, striped shirts, tails out.  And while you’re tossing out those shirts, dump anything with big designs on it.  You know what I’m talking about – the t-shirts with the big printed crosses, or the torn up sport coats with stuff written on them.

The point is – people change, trends change, and fashion changes.  When every pastor in America looks alike, nothing is distinctive anymore.

OFFENDER #3:  If you use the phrases, “Shake the Nations,” “Transform Your Life,” or “Touch the World” more than once in a 30 minute TV or radio program.  Yes – I admit being guilty of these offenses in my day, but I went into treatment and I’m better now.

The point is about hype.  There’s just too much of it in religious media.  When every CD set, book, or sermon from every preacher will change your life, then nothing will.  The audience gets numb when the superlatives come in a continual flood.  I always coach actors that during a dramatic scene, speaking in a loud voice all the time actually lessens the impact of the scene.  When someone talks loud continually, after awhile, the audience simply filters it out.

Talking loud has impact, only after you’ve been speaking in a softer voice.   Contrast matters.  Stop the hype.  Yes, God can do amazing things.  He can transform people’s lives.  He can shake nations.  But be realistic about your products and your ministry.  Let other people say nice things about you.  Modesty is a virtue.  You’ll be amazed at the credibility you’ll gain with the audience.

OFFENDER #4:  If the audience notices the furniture more than you.  I was once asked for my thoughts on a particular Sunday morning program, and when I viewed the DVD, the first thing I noticed was the set design must have cost an absolute fortune.  Not because it was creatively designed, but because it looked so expensive.  It was almost all white, very elaborate, had a few gold touches, and generally, looked like the inside of a palace.  For some reason I can’t figure out, we’ve come to think that we’ll gain more respect as Christian broadcasters if we create the illusion of a really expensive set.  I made two comments to the pastor.  First – why should I financially support your media ministry?  Your set makes it appear you have all the money you’ll ever need.  Second – this environment is so far removed from my daily life, I can’t really relate to you or your message.  He didn’t take my advice, and his audience continues to drop.  (Well – what did you expect?)

I love a great setting for a program and our company has designed and built some amazing sets for our media clients.  When it’s appropriate, it can make a huge impact because it places your message in a complimentary setting.  Sets are important.  But the program is about your message – not about you or your set.  Keep that in perspective.

OFFENDER #5:  If you’re still doing a talk show format with a monologue, a live band, and interviews.  The comedy greats like Carson, Leno, Letterman and others have taken control of that territory, and plenty of others – especially in late night programming – are following in their footsteps.  So let’s look at another approach.   For some mysterious reason, certain Christian broadcasters think this format is sacred, and have tried it over and over and still haven’t succeeded.   But by contrast, Oprah, Dr. Phil, Glenn Beck, and plenty of others have all done successful interview programs without the need of a live band, monologue, or the other trappings of late night TV.

Be bold.  Be innovative.  Stop copying other people and explore the right  format that will showcase your gifts and talents – not look like someone else.

OFFENDER #6:  If you’re still building altars of prayer requests people have sent in.  It’s done for one reason – to impress the audience with numbers.  If the audience can see that thousands of people responded, and the evangelist has built an altar from the requests, then maybe I should send in mine as well (and include a check.)  As most of these points I’m listing indicate, this was started by well meaning people with the best of intentions.  Truth be told, it was probably a good idea ONCE.  But when it’s done over and over, it simply loses it’s meaning.

An older generation was touched by big, expansive gestures, but a younger generation sees it for what it is – excessive manipulation.

Anytime you use an idea like this, make sure you’re sensitive to the issues of manipulation and exploitation.   As I’ll say over and over throughout this book, we’re creating media for a generation that’s been sold to, marketed, and branded all their lives, and they’re the most media savvy generation in history.  Be very careful that even with a well-intentioned idea, that it’s not perceived as a gimmick or publicity stunt.

OFFENDER #7:  Finally – If the singing group on your program is called “The (insert name here) Singers.  I think this idea when out about the time of Lawrence Welk or The New Christy Minstrels.    In junior high I was in “The New Creation Singers.”   In seventh grade it was cool.  It’s not now.   The (insert TV evangelist name) Singers.  You get it.  Enough said.

The list of religious media indiscretions could continue, but you get my point.  The production styles, creative ideas, fashion, or techniques that worked yesterday don’t always work today.   Please remember that in listing these particular offences, I’m not commenting on the intentions or integrity of particular ministries who are still trying these worn out methods.   I have the greatest respect for anyone trying to share their faith with the culture.  But I’m commenting on the need to stop kicking a head horse, and start looking at a new method of transportation.   Our job as communicators is to see the changes coming in the culture and adapt, so our message is as relevant now as it was yesterday – and will still be tomorrow.

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20 Comments

  1. You are so right but the reality is the Next Generation, what ever that is does not watch Christian TV even if you call your church “Whatever.TV” they watch podcasts and streaming our Next Gen don’t even watch their own broadcast, they get the podcast and watch it in the dorm at night, late at night

  2. Interesting that you think that reality TV is reality. Concerning the culture of fake, why do women in the West, want to be taller than they are? Why are women’s shoes designed to make them look nearly as tall as men?

  3. I greatly admire and appreciate your willingness to challenge the institution that is robbing our faith of it vitality.  Makes me glad someone else sees it for what it is. 🙂


  4. It’s time to stop wearing those striped shirts with the shirttails out when you preach. ”
    Thank you.  I started calling one church First Church of the Untucked it was so prevalent.  

  5. These offender blunders are so funny, sad…and true. Some Christian media producers have very little and/or no say in regards to the evangelist’s appearance, their voice, furniture, format, etc.  I’m certain many find themselves cringing behind the camera when the offenders are in action. Some producers don’t have complete control over who gets in front of a camera. If only the evangelists who make TV appearances would read this book/chapter, it would help make some progress towards a much needed change. Some media producers are well aware that the programs they are producing are missing the next generation viewers as well as this generation with the antics, and continuing to do things the way they were done 35 years ago. Then I beg to ask the question- then why are we doing this and who is this REALLY for… the viewers or the top dogs? 
    Multitudes of people slip through the fingers of Christian media every day when minds are stuck in the far back woods of the 70’s. 

  6. This was spot on.

    #2 – “T.D. Jakes is cool.  White preachers that try to dress like T.D. are not.” – love it. Hopefully some who do that are reading this, then visiting Goodwill to donate it all. And there is a reason the stereotypical “Televangelist Look”, is the smarmy, slicked-hair, with dangling custom cufflinks, we’ve all grown tired of.

    #3 – amen. Often the catchphrases come off like a empty mantra repeated over and over to make the impact. Let the content of what’s being said do that.

  7. “An older generation was touched by big, expansive gestures, but a
    younger generation sees it for what it is – excessive manipulation.”  I beg to differ with this statement as it seems rather broad.  Older people didn’t all fall for big, expansive gestures … they saw them for what they were.  Age is not an indicator of how easily one is exploited or manipulated.

    1. Oh, isn’t it easy for an audience to be hypnotized? (Regardless of age!)

      What Phil seems to be saying, is that he encourages leaders to STOP hypnotizing audiences, regardless of age or generation, because in the end… it leads the audience far, far from Christ-in-You… and far, far from anything like Living Masters.

      The problem is… that it’s too easy to mesmerize! It’s the cheap way too many leaders choose!

  8. What about using the phrase “Life Changing” and other such lines. I hear it on podcasts all the time. I can’t remember many sermons or services that literally changed my life. And while they’re at it, excessive use of the word “literally” when it’s not referring to something literal. 

  9. My favorite is those who refer, in their bios in websites or printed media, as “relevant teaching”. Really? Self acclaimed, huh? Hilarious. 

      1. Oh, these articles are deep… just look deeper at what they imply, acronk! Phil is actually taking some pretty good looks at the Undiscovered Country of real Christ-in-You, which is missing from broadcast.

        But if you want straight-up answers that’ll that actually get somewhere… you know, to the Living Master realm (which, by the way is MIA, have you noticed? Where are the Living Masters and why are they not?)

        See http://www.inthatdayteachings.com . A sword like no other. And don’t, please don’t reject the material for being too advanced or too offensive. It has to be that way, to be an answer multitudes have prayed for, right?

        The body of Christ never gets, in answer to prayer, what it expects… only what is sent. Capiche? 😉

  10. These are just a few reasons why it can be embarrassing to associate with other Christians. We get so caught up in the flashing lights but forget about the message.

  11. I’m not a hip youth pastor. I might be a “friendly and real” senior pastor. I wanted to simplify my public speaking wardrobe – nice and neat but not business wear and I wanted to stop tying a pagan phallic symbol around my neck. So guess what, I bought a half dozen striped shirts.
    Well, I just read your point 2. Great, thanks for ruining them for me.

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