CreativityEngaging Culture

One of the Key Reasons Christianity Doesn’t Impact Today’s Culture

In many ways, the independent nature of protestant churches is a marvelous thing. Even with a long history of major denominations here in America, it’s the fully independent congregations today that are exploding. While the Catholic Church can be slowed down by bureaucracy and sheer size, independent protestant churches are responding to cultural shifts and becoming more and more popular, especially with younger people. However, that independence and fragmentation comes at a cost in terms of cultural impact.

Smaller, independent churches – or even mega-churches – don’t have the financial backing to build national platforms for engaging today’s culture. This generation is a media-driven generation, and if the Church today is going to be heard, media has to be part of that strategy.

I was reminded about that when I saw that the church of Scientology’s recent national advertising campaign. Apparently, it’s designed to change the public’s perception of the organization which has been criticized as a cult, and more toward an apparent legitimate path to self-realization. They’ve even expanded that campaign with videos of professional athletes professing the virtues of the organization. Like the campaign or not, Scientology’s centralized organization allows them to afford the cost of national advertising and promotion.

Certainly mainline protestant denominations have made attempts at creating national media campaigns, and in fact I produced a series in the 90’s for the Southern Baptists. Although the spots won awards, like most large organizations, the leadership at the time bungled the distribution, and the spots were hardly seen. Likewise, Methodists and Episcopalians have made similar attempts, but more often than not, the spots focus more on why you need to become a member of that denomination instead of the bigger issue of changing people’s perceptions about God.

We’ve been through the 400 year anniversary of the English Bible. I can’t think of a better reason to create a national media campaign that would cause people to re-consider the Bible’s impact on the Western world. Changing that perception would be a major move toward the culture re-thinking Christianity itself.

Our company – Cooke Media Group – is certainly here to help develop the creative strategy to make something like that happen. But the truth is – in today’s fragmented world of Christian churches and ministries, finding the level of funding to make a national impact will be the greatest challenge.

Any suggestions?

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  1. Looking at the Church through my MBA glasses, I can see that our business model is completely incompatible with mass media. Whilst a local church may have a larger budget to evangelize their ZIP code than Apple or Coke, they simply dont have the economy of scale to overcome the massive barriers to entry. What’s needed is a new business model – a game changer – something that can deliver the marginal benefit of mass media at a local level. Whats needed is a plaform where an “army of ants” can behave like a single entity, with customizable local advertising piggybacking nationally syndicated high quality content.

    Its simply too wasteful for a local church to pay for a broadcast thats 99% outside the catchment area of their congregation. But if they could buy a “zip code slice” of a national broadcast – and make it feel like their own (thats the deal breaker) – then we’ll see the biggest altar calls in history. It would also have to be very, very special broadcast content that could unite the entire Church – probably a mini series on the life of Christ that rakes in “Superbowl” type ratings. Not impossible – heck, I’m believing for it.

  2. I believe there are alternate means for reaching the masses on a corner-church budget. New, lower-cost production equipment and the ubiquitous nature of the internet mean that we can create higher-quality materials and target the product as widely or as narrowly as we please all for minimal cost. i think that Phil’s argument is true, but only in the context of the traditional forms of media (i.e. television, radio, and print). I think that online media changes this equation in fundamental ways not often considered, and certainly not well capitalized upon, by religious organizations.

  3. You already identified one of the biggest problems.  When asking church people what our national message should be, their answer is often “their church.”You’re the brand guy — How can we get our media creators to make our message all about Jesus?  Jesus lost people find attractive.  Only Jesus can change a heart.

  4. That’s the first time I saw the Scientology campaign. Maybe it’s because I skip through all the advertisements on TV. But the campaign itself isn’t clever enough to go “viral” – there’s still only 140,000 views on the YouTube page. And that’s why I question media campaigns for church organizations. Will it ever really be seen?

    I think one of the more well done campaigns here in Texas is – there are billboards all over the place and commercials that run on a regular basis with testimonies told that contradict what society tells us. Many of the Christians here loved the campaign at first – but now not many ever talk about it. And I don’t know if there is a way to really judge if it’s making an impact where it counts – in the lives of Non-Christians. At least none of my non-christian friends have ever mentioned it. And that’s why I question the value of spending so much effort and dollars into something that will be just a quick fad…if you’re even lucky enough to get to that point.

    Personally, I would never give money to such a campaign. Which I guess proves your point about independent churches lacking the funding to do such a thing.

    Now if it was a movie being directed by one of Hollywood’s best that has a recognized cast that doesn’t include Kirk Cameron, yet still accurately portrays the gospel in all it’s gritty detail at times…count me in. But then I wouldn’t be needed. Because it would be for profit, which requires a level of measurement for failure and success…something of which these media campaigns don’t really have – or at least it’s difficult to judge the success of such campaigns. And that’s another reason why it’s hard to give to such a campaign – because you can’t really judge the success or failure of it.

  5. p>PhilStill have copies of those great ads for inspiration.Ray of Hope and Refuge are my favorites.Can we really change people’s perceptions of God using the media?Mainstream media bombards us with anti-God and anti-relgious sentiments every hour.Reconsidering the Bible is admirable, but what version of Christianity do we want culture to rethink? Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Quakers, Jehovah’s Witnesses or the Southern Baptists?Wouldn’t we need billions to counteract that?Additionally, are we looking for people to get a new perception of “Christianity”, or are we looking to help people find the Jesus of the Bible?Anthony: Like your “army of ants” metaphor, however this resulting in one of the “biggest altar calls in history” is questionable.Research indicates that 90% of new believers come from personal testimionies and interaction with believers. Only one half of one percent come from evangelistic crusades. Five percent believe because of the testimony of a vocational Christian.Check out this great video on Vimeo from Tom Mercer, senior pastor of High Desert Church in Victorville, CA. talks about believers intentionally reaching their OIKOS – Greek for household, those 8 to 15 people God has supernaturally place into our center of influence.He also has a great book called Oikos – Your World, Delivered.PS Phil, I’m sure he could use your assistance to get the message out. 

  6. Good idea Anthony. Something similar could be considered for media ministry on an ongoing basis.

    A game changing business model will take active engagement from the “army of ants.” Whether we’re talking about a single event, or rebuilding an entire industry, the level of impact being sought here will take mass cooperation.

    We all know that we could more effectively let the power of Jesus loose on a national or global level if we worked together. Then comes the loud, “But…

    So what we need to do is select a single community or region to develop the idea around. We would then be better positioned to expand and sustain it, I believe.

    Churches, ministries, businesses, entrepreneurs, broadcasters advancing the Kingdom through effective partnerships and networks. That’s not impossible either. I would be willing to help on a project like that.

  7. I would be deeply saddened by a national advertising campaign for the Christian church. It would be further confirmation of the attempt by the Western church to cling to its heritage of power and influence. I doubt that it would have any significant influence on culture, no matter how well crafted it may be. Where the church has grown historically (except during periods when the church was linked with the ruling power), and continues to grow today in non-Western cultures, is underground, low key, humble, following Jesus into the margins, focusing on, believing in and demonstrating his message of restoration and hope. In our media driven context, this does not cut out media but media can be utilized in a much more understated manner.

  8. I’m sorry but I respectfully disagree Phil.
    I too am involved in Christian media and I do see media as a useful tool in our arsenal, but truth be known the most effective impact that Christians can have on the culture is to quite simply be Christians.
    Not Catholics, Protestants, Episcopalians, Southern Baptists, Evangelicals, ecetra, but to live their lives, as best they can, according to the way Christ taught them to live their lives.
    There is more power in personal realtionships and peoples attitudes than any media blitz could ever create.

    Additionally people don’t really have confidence in media’s truthfulness.
    For the most part, the current culture sees media as, at best, entertainment, and at worst a collection of twisted truth’s.
    Because of this attitude toward media, no matter how truthful, direct, or nuetral, the media campaign, the current culture will see it as yet another media campaign or entertaining movie and fast forward; change the channel; or move on to the next blockbuster movie,

    If Christians really want to make an impact on today’s culture, they simply need to follow the examples of the Apostles and live their lives according to the way Christ taught us.
    By simply doing that the Apostles are still making an impact on culture 2000 years later!

  9. Scientology has a very powerful media force behind it. Not only is it very well executed, but an ad like this appeals to exactly the one thing people want to hear about…which is themselves. They make very ambiguous statements, like “You are hope…You are imagination…” So, mixed with a beautifully shot montage…it makes for a quite intriguing piece for somebody who is searching. There en lies the danger. But these guys are smart because they’re using their resources to appeal to many different types of people in a very artistic way to DRAW PEOPLE IN. Not to trick them…not to force them to do anything…but to draw them in. Scientologists, as crazy as they may be, actually believe what they’re selling here…so, this isn’t a trick as much as we wish this campaign was for something good. 🙂 I wish it was.

    My question is…why aren’t WE doing this???? We believe what we talk about in our churches! I don’t know, perhaps we’re too used to talking to each other in our small Christian bubbles rather than to the lost? Out of sight, out of mind? We have many resources at our disposal…it’s just too bad most of them are filled up with cheese.

    I think if we were to do something on a big scale…we shouldn’t “Left Behind” it…(which could have been great, but wasn’t even close to good.) – It should be simple, yet not insulting people’s intelligence (which we often do). It should look stellar, to rival or surpass any other mass media image being smacked into the public’s faces…and it should be intriguing, not abrasive. The fact that Scientology can make headway with ads like this is because they seem genuine. The ads completely break away from the idea that this thing might be a cult. If they can do this…we can certainly breakaway from the tags that have been placed on us, which at the moment aren’t nice. 🙂

  10. Wot Henry B. sed.  Change hearts, not brands.  We need Christian media, but we don’t necessarily need the kind that sells Christianity TM but rather sells Christ.  Much of the Christian media I’ve seen seems to say, “Come to us, we have the answer” when it should be “here’s the answer.” It’s the difference between a MacDonald’s commercial and an episode of Alton Brown.

  11. I mostly agree with Jon here. Working on a personal level is the best way.Hey, maybe the campaign should focus on that, instead. Inspire Christians to reach out in a personal way with a really well done message.I think a vision for evangelizing through broadcast media is about 30 years too late, unfortunately. People understand TV and film media so well these days, they’ll immediately look through about 3 or 4 layers of meaning and find a meta-meta-message and it’ll take them just a couple seconds to understand what it is.If you’re interested in reaching the masses through culture and really grabbing them, you need to look to the media of the future, which includes computer-based things like social media and videogames.An upcoming mega-blockbuster videogame called Uncharted 3 will appear on Jimmy Kimmel live on December 13th. If you check it out, you’ll get an idea of the potential for good this medium can have, and how so far it is largely being under-utilized.

  12. How about a series called, Did you know?
    Starts with the above question (black and white) …
    Pans one aspect of creation (color)….. (mountain, sky, clouds…)
    Sun, rain, wind, sand, ocean,tree (one) touches a person or people…

    (ie. couple sitting under shade of tree or child on tree swing…)

    a verse scrolls slowly (right to left) to center screen and stops, ie
    … the strength of my life … or
    … my heart has heard you say, ‘Come talk to me’

    scrolling in smaller letters(left to right) and continues to exit screen
    words of God as written in the Holy Scriptures

  13. Anthony’s desciption of the need is the truth and the goal of any local church. I think that is exactly the strategy. The “zip code slice” is a huge necessity although we have found that people are more willing to leave their zip code and travel to another that has a place for their life to find significance and meaning. So the zip code can be expanded to more than one. Our advertising strategies must include more of a participation component than just a receiving one. Will my life count if I become part of this community? What’s the long-term relational bonus? People want THAT!

  14. I’m pretty sure our culture is supersaturated with the “text” of the Christian Message. What’s missing is the lives of believers to put that message in context. Jesus doesn’t need a better Media Strategy, he needs better followers.

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