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.