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Preaching on Television? It’s More Effective Than You Think

Why Preaching Still Matters in a Digital World

When I started working in television, preachers and preaching were about the only thing on Christian TV. My first boss in the business, Oral Roberts, was a pioneer because we were producing prime time TV specials with major stars and celebrities of the day, and many of the programs were filmed in exotic locations like Alaska. But for the vast majority of programming, Christian television focused on preaching to the point that any creative person like me in that field was desperate to try something new.

So over the years, pioneering producers in Christian television expanded into interview programs, documentaries, concert specials, and drama. CBN even flirted with a soap opera. But in spite of all those brave attempts, a curious thing happened.

Preaching on television endured.

Since then, even though media and culture have dramatically changed, and in today’s digital world where the programming options are almost unlimited, guess what still gets the most response?

Preaching on television.

Sure, some of the major Christian networks will confirm that movies generate the biggest audiences, but when it comes to viewers who are committed enough to support the media platform, and who will show up week after week – those people are watching TV preachers. Don’t forget that it was Billy Graham’s preaching programs that generated the financial response to pay for his more innovative ideas like feature films, and international media outreaches. In a similar way, it was Oral Roberts’ preaching on television that raised the money to build Oral Roberts University, which today is a thriving Christian university complete with virtual reality and augmented reality labs, helping push the envelope for the next generation of Christian driven media.

You might argue and say that it’s a “celebrity preacher” thing, and to some small extent that may be true, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that’s not the real answer. The truth is, people respond to great preaching on television in the same way they respond to great preaching in church or other live settings.

The bottom line is that if you’re a pastor, preacher, or teacher, never take a backseat to anyone or anything when it comes to media. If you sincerely want to try other types of programs and formats, I’m all for it because that’s a sweet spot for our team at Cooke Media Group. But if preaching is your calling and passion, then don’t let your creative team push you in a different direction.

You may not even be involved in broadcast television, but whatever the digital format – short videos, live-streaming, teaching videos, and broadcasting – we all want to be creative, but we also need to understand that preaching is often the link that pulls in an audience and makes a strong connection. Plus, it has the potential to make them want to fund those other projects.

I’ll never stop exploring new styles and programming ideas, but to criticize Christian television because it’s dominated by preaching is like criticizing network television because year after year the NFL dominates audience ratings. Like it or not, preaching is there because it’s what people want to watch, simple as that.

My only request?  Film it well, make it interesting to watch, and preach a message worth hearing.

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9 Comments

  1. A great post 🙂 it seems for some that is being left behind. God knows this generation needs it. I remember the days of watching Oral Roberts as a child and how that impacted my life. In this crazy world of ours to be able to still turn on hope is what it’s all about. it really impacts you more so as a kid. for that I’m forever grateful

  2. Great post. Im a product of ORU and grateful He stayed the course with his character in tact. Thanks for the great reminder of tired and true test of time to make an impact and influence for the Kingdom of God.

  3. This from the same gentlemen who a few years ago published a book entitled “The Last TV Evangelist?” To what do we owe this most desirable conversion?

    1. Ha! I still stand by my book “The Last TV Evangelist”. It was more about being relevant and not getting stuck in the same old ways of using media. As I said in the post above, I’m all for innovation and being original. I was the Executive Producer on the Hillsong Movie “Let Hope Rise” and right now I’m producing a documentary on the rise of Christianity in Asia. But I see too many pastors and leaders who are truly gifted at preaching, but their team is pushing them into doing other things – often things they’re not so good at doing. Preaching still works on TV, and I find it’s a powerful draw for a lots of people. If it’s someone’s gift, I say run with it!

  4. I agree, Phil. Great preachers are the foundation. But are they bringing in enough income to the network — and the preacher — to grow both ministries as it has for so many years? If the audience is diminishing, then shouldn’t a plan for the future be developed now?

    1. The audience is certainly changing, and it’s always good to be planning for the future, no question. However, I do believe great preaching and teaching endures. The question for me is more about format, program structure, and style. How you “package” that preaching message really does matter. Plus, to be honest, Christian TV never brought in that much money for most ministries. It was the follow-up with the viewers that made the real connection.

  5. Phil, would you mind giving some specific examples of ways you have witnessed preachers being pressured by their teams to do other things? What are the other things you have seen preachers waste their time on at their team’s recommendation? I’m a Teaching Pastor at a decently large church and am constantly trying to keep my focus sharp, so that comment keeps sticking out to me. Any specific pointers would be super helpful!

    1. Great question Ben, and maybe I should do a complete blog post on the subject. Keep in mind that Communications and Media Directors or video people at churches are creative, and it’s natural for them to push the envelope. They also work full time at the church and listen to thousands of sermons, so it’s also natural to have the desire to try something new. (Nothing wrong with that by the way). But I’ve seen church media teams push a pastor or other leader to produce a talk show, documentaries, or even dramatic movies, and ended up being bombs because it wasn’t the leader’s gift. I’ve also seen them try things on social media or with the livestream that didn’t work with the strengths of the leader. Keep in mind that all of these are noble desires on the part of the creative team, so I’m not knocking them. I’ve produced my share of movies, TV programming, and other media projects. The difference is, I want to respect the calling, the gift, and the talents of the leader and make sure that whatever we do, allows him or her to unleash the full range of their calling.

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