Engaging CultureChristian Media

Editor J. Lee Grady from Charisma Magazine Weighs in on Christian TV

From this month’s Charisma, Lee Grady writes the following editorial on his take on current religious television:

Christian TV Needs an Extreme Makeover
We need so much more than canned church services beamed from La-La Land.

You might be shocked to know that I don’t watch a lot of Christian television. With my hectic schedule I don’t have time for too many talk shows.
I do watch broadcast news, PBS documentaries and an occasional movie on AMC. When I am in total couch potato mode I’ve been known to watch reruns of Boy Meets World and America’s Funniest Home Videos with my kids.

But my children aren’t too fond of religious broadcasting, and I can’t blame them. I would rather sit in traffic and listen to my favorite worship music than watch a group of slick-haired evangelists gab about the importance of tithing. Who came up with this odd programming concept, anyway?

“If we get back in touch with reality, people will tune in by the millions.”

I know there are some great Bible teachers on the air today, and TV pioneers Marcus and Joni Lamb of Daystar Television are taking remarkable strides to improve the image of Christians in the media. (You can look for Charisma ’s cover story on the Lambs in two weeks.). But let’s be honest: While television is an incredible way to spread the gospel, Christian broadcasting today is a vast wasteland of missed opportunities.

I’d like to offer a few suggestions on how Christian TV executives could stop turning off viewers.

1. Get real. People are looking for authenticity, not hokum. When unbelievers see Christians on TV they need to know we have real human problems as well as practical answers. They don’t need to see religious masks, hear pat answers or be forced to decipher sappy religious lingo.

We must be as professional and sophisticated as possible when we go to the masses. National television is no place to be cheesy, flamboyant or weird.

2. Reset the clock. This is 2006. Much of Christian TV needs an extreme makeover. The gospel is timeless, of course, but that doesn’t mean we will attract a big audience if we package our message in an outdated style.

My generation is not going to watch a Christian version of Hee Haw or The Lawrence Welk Show .. I know of one prominent pastor who refers to typical Christian television as a “Granny Hootenanny” because the sets, music and preaching don’t appeal to anyone under 75. Christian networks need to hire some people under 30 and let them invent a new broadcasting formula.

3. Give us some substance. I realize that some people watch Christian TV instead of going to church. (That is actually a very scary thought). But since many of us already attend a worship service at least once a week, Christian programs should not be church services beamed from La-La Land. We need more than an inspirational song, canned applause, a sermon and a lengthy offering appeal. Help us apply the Word of God to everyday life!

4. Tone down the begging. Some Christian programs remind me of those mindless infomercials that air at 3 a.m. to entertain insomniacs. Except in this case, instead of movie stars from the 1970s selling face creams, diet shakes or vegetable storage systems, it’s Christian leaders gathering on the same set, night after night, to preach their favorite prosperity messages to one another.

They jostle to the music, slap one another’s backs and remind the audience that God will free them from debt if they charge a $1,000 love gift on their credit cards. Meanwhile, for effect, studio technicians play the sound of ringing telephones in the background (do phones still sound like that?) and they show an electronic board with a rapidly changing number of “available” phone lines.

Will someone please make them stop? This is bad advertising for the gospel. These people make it sound as if God is constantly running short on cash. Here’s an idea: Why couldn’t Christian stations have commercials? I’d rather hear from the eccentric local car dealer every 15 minutes than endure an hour of telethon torture.

5. Have some integrity. What really grieves me is that a network will put any old preacher on the air if he can wow a crowd. Never mind that his theology is toxic. Forget that he left his wife and married another lady a week later. He can sure get the people to shout—and to open their wallets!

I won’t be a guest on many Christian talk shows as a result of this article. But I hope someone out there in TV land is listening—and is willing to make today’s programming relevant to mainstream viewers who certainly are not going to find Jesus while watching CNN, HBO or MTV. If we get back in touch with reality, people will tune in by the millions.

J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.

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  1. I think with the overwhelming discussion and comments, it seems that it's not just a few people who think Christian TV needs an overhaul! Christian TV needs a major makeover…get rid of the "religious" broadcasts and rich people in suits preaching at these mega churches…

    " Christian networks need to hire some people under 30 and let them invent a new broadcasting formula"

    -That's the smartest thing I've heard all day, but are networks smart enough to figure that out?


  2. how many of those 30,000,000 salvations that Paul Jr. talks about are for people under the age of 16?  if we are going to reach this next generation, we can't do it by appealing to their grandparents.  i'm not saying we compromise the christian message, i'm just saying we change the packaging.

  3. Hello Lee,

    Regarding your article that Christian TV needs an “extreme makeover”, I find it hard to believe that you can write an article about this subject when you admitted that you really do not watch that much Christian television. If you had taken the time to actually watch Christian television all day and every day for a week you would have discovered that there are many sincere dedicated ministers of the gospel from many of the country’s top churches that regularly appear on Christian TV.

    What about these great men and women of God? Aren’t they the same “TV preachers” that appear in your Charisma ads on a monthly basis promoting their conferences? By the way, do you have to have so many ads in your magazine? It makes it very difficult to find the cover story and other pertinent articles of value. In fact, I counted the ads in the October 2006 issue. To my surprise there were 41 full page ads and 12 half page ads. This is approximately 50 per cent of the magazine. I don’t know of any Christian program or TV network that could get away with asking for money or advertising 50 per cent of the time. Even on secular TV it is not allowed except for infomercials and they are usually relegated to overnight time slots. On TBN the amount of time allocated per year for telethons is two weeks. This represents about 4 per cent of the time per year spent in telethon. TBN also runs a monthly gift offer spot every hour. This adds up to approximately 24 minutes per day out of 24 hours. The various ministers that purchase time on TBN represent about one-third of the programming. These ministries are only allowed three minutes to ask for donations, or they can use the time to promote book or tape offers. All in all, the total time on TBN spent in fund raising or ministry offers is approximately 10 per cent. Compared to Charisma, at about 50 per cent, that is a significant difference. But why report the facts about actual funding practices when the “begging for dollars” telethon stereotype is too easy to resist, especially for those who do not watch that much Christian television.

    Speaking of advertising, I noticed you were in one of the full page ads endorsing the New American Standard Bible. Isn’t there an unwritten law in journalism to not mix editorial with advertising. I know this because I purchase many of the magazine ads that TBN places in various publications. In fact, TBN purchased an ad for the November Charisma issue that will feature a cover story on Christian Television. Now that I have discovered all the advertising clutter in Charisma I wonder if we should have passed on the ad. Also, after reading your views about Christian television I wonder if the November article will be fair or will it contain bias? I also wonder how many of the TV Preachers you criticized are going to think twice about running their conference ads in Charisma.

    You said that you regularly attend a weekly church service. Is your church also on TV? If so, would it also be “a scary thought to watch your own church service on TV” as you proclaimed about those that regularly watch televised church services? Your comment about those that watch Christian television because they cannot attend actual church services is uncalled for. It is an insult to those that are shut-ins or elderly. It is not a scary thought to them to watch Christian television, it is one of the things that help bring them hope and encouragement in the Lord.

    I know that Christian television isn’t perfect but most of its message is trying to get the Gospel out to a world that doesn’t have the right answers for eternal life. I know PBS, AMC, the news channels and the other shows that you regularly watch don’t have the answers either. But if we redesigned TBN so that it entertained more and preached less would Jesus spew it out of his mouth because it was neither hot or cold but simply lukewarm with stylish contemporary programming that looks great but is lacking in substance?

    It is okay to give constructive criticism but acknowledge the good that Christian television is doing. If Charisma was examined with a critical eye there are certainly some areas that need improvement, too. I have heard on a number of occasions from people who complained about the news section in Charisma that routinely reports on the mistakes and shortcomings of Christian leaders. They said that this is nothing more than gossip. On top of that your advertising is far more annoying than the occasional offering appeal on Christian TV. Most people I know hate the aggravating subscription cards that magazines place in between the pages. I know this technique helps to draw attention to the subscription renewal card but why not use a card to promote the plan of salvation. Why use such a prominent device to push a selfish cause when the primary focus should be to get people saved?

    In your quest to write about the shortcomings of television ministries you have tried to get a splinter out of the eye of Christian TV but did not notice the plank in your own eye.

    The bottom line is, we all need to support each other as Christian leaders and Christian ministries. We are all part of the body of Christ and we need each other to reach a lost World that is dying without hope. We do not need to air our dirty laundry and fight with each other openly. The only fighting we should be doing is fighting the good fight of faith. Lee, I know you meant well, and TBN and the other TV ministries are trying to improve Christian television. Just give us some time. In the meantime try and write some encouraging articles that will inspire TV producers to make more relevant Christian programs. Your love and admonition will go much further than a beating on the head.

    In Christian love and admonition

    Bob Higley
    Vice President
    Affiliate Sales and Marketing
    Trinity Broadcasting Network

  4. Hey guys, anyone out there really. If you or anyone with a passionate and dedicated heart to serve the Lord need help in any way with a production or event please write down my information. I will be a VOLUNTEER. No pay required and frankly, discouraged. I am a Media Studies and Business Major at Azusa Pacific University, a school located 26 miles north of Los Angeles. No duty is beneath me, I just want to help any way I can. I cannot say yes to every event, I am carrying quite a few units, but I really desire to help. This is where my direction is leading(hopefully, I believe it to be, my purpose). I can’t write that I have any amazing insights to the problem that faces any Christian Media outlet, or what it will take to fix it, but I do have two hands and feet( frankly, pretty strong hands and feet, for any heavy boxes etc..) that can and will help if there is a need. Your Brother in Christ,

    Preston Zoetewey

  5. Interesting…

    The bottom line is it takes lots of money to communicate …  Christian TV is the most costly and the most cost effective way to reach the most people. 

    So we (all of us in this business) become a slave to it, and too soon the end justifies the means.

    The truth is, great programming may not pay for itself.  So who foots the bill?  The crowd that is the most supportive of Christian TV is the same crowd that likes prayer cloths and Jesus junk.

    People do telethons because folks don't give unless they do.

    How did we get off this train?

  6. Bob-

    And I quote (you) "We do not need to air our dirty laundry and fight with each other openly."  Really?  Seems that the previous 7 paragraphs in your post were quite the opposite.  I have learned a few things in my life…and have discovered that when someone is critical of me I usually get out my computer and start typing a very LONG tirade of why THEIR wrong…and what THEIR faults are.  Thankfully I rarely send it after reading it back to myself, realizing…..you know….he just might be right.  You act as if Jesus was never critical of his followers.  Quite the contrary.  While Lee's comments may sting…I'd read them a few more times…and then read your commentary back to yourself.  You might regret hitting that "post" button.
  7. To Paul and Bob Higley from TBN's on their comments,

    Get a grip. If your TBN is so inovative spend some bucks on TV commercials on secular T.V. and lets see just how inovative you are.  And as to Paul's claim of millions of salvations. Bunk. How many were really regular viewer who wanted the Jesus junk or a lock of Jan's hair. GET Real. 


  8. I have to agree with the previous comment. As I read Bob Higley's response, I kept wondering, "Who is this person and why is he ripping into Lee Grady?" Well, when I saw that it was one of TBN's top guys, it all made sense. Please, reread Lee's post and give it some thought. We'd all thank you for it.

  9. I'm dissapointed with TBN's lack of willingness to listen to what people want to see. They seem bent on preserving and defending the current status quo

    There has been some good discussions and ideas and great questions posed. Few of which have truly been answered by TBN staff that responed. The latest response was almost an attack. There was a question earlier somewhere asking about how do tv producers make $ if they invest into Christian TV. Maybe not everyone wants to "donate" or can afford to "donate" into a sinkhole. My guess is that no producer could invest and actually make money back on Christian programming with the current model.

  10. I appreciate your comments. Actually, I did not intend to make this public but had simply emailed it to Lee Grady and copied Phil Cooke. I posted it on this blog after Phil asked me to. I do regret it now but I stand behind my comments to Lee. Although I admitted in my email that Christian television is not perfect and needs improvement I felt that the sterotype references made by Lee were uncalled for. This was especially true when he said that "it is a scary thought" that some watch Chrsitian television istead of going to church. This is an attack on the defenseless grandmothers and elderly people that are shutins and cannot get to church. I guess I came unglued and went on the attack against Lee.

  11. I agree …and that is because America Christians do not support evangelism or helping the poor the way they have been taught.  Few tithe.  Fewer still give over and above.

     So Christian TV became beggers from Day One.  The programs with the best beggers survived using Jesus junk and telethons.  The only other ones to survive have massive congregations paying the media bills.

    Who is at fault here…chicken or the egg?

  12. We have an incredible opporutnity to reach the world for Jesus Christ.  The tools we have at our fingertips are virtually limitless.  Imagine if the early church had access to what we have. For starters, this blog is such a blessing.  What a great place for us to encourage and pray for one another.  We are just beginning to see the first fruits of what God has planned for the media and entertainment industry.  There is an enormous swell off shore rolling towards us – this incoming wave not only represents the opportunities we have as Christians to reach the world, but, more significantly, the harvest of people seeking the truth.  Are we ready?  is the church ready to "feed" these people?  It is such an exciting time in history to be serving Christ, especially for those of us working in media. there is a war to fight.  let's pray for each other. we fight for the same cause and every last one of us is needed in this battle. there is no time for dissension among the troops. satan's days are numbered.  it's time to reclaim the kingdom!

  13. Kids, kids… don’t make me stop this car and come back there. We all agree Christian TV needs some serious help. It’s not going to get better by ripping into each other. And by the way J. Lee (sounds like a cousin of J Lo), giving the keys to a bunch of sub-30 year olds with a camcorder and final cut pro isn’t the answer either. We have discussed this topic at a very great length on this site. So far, I don’t see much improvement. Maybe we need to start actually producing good stuff, and putting it on the air. Oh my, what a concept. Joe – Director of Media & Marketing – Grand Rapids First

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