Christian Media

Why Religious Media Isn’t Making More Impact

When it comes to communicating our message, essentially there are two types of audiences Christians should be reaching. First, to teach, motivate, and challenge other believers, and two, to engage unbelievers. That’s pretty much it. The problem is really with the balance. Take a survey of most Christians who communicate through radio, TV, web, film, publishing, recording, etc… and the vast majority are doing the first: reaching each other. We call it preaching to the choir.

On the other hand, the number of Christians out there really creating content for the purpose of engaging non-believers is pretty small. The apostle Paul focused on two tasks: Teaching believers in the growing early church, and also engaging the surrounding culture. Remember Acts 17 when he approached the philosophers at Mars Hill. He also had plenty of opportunities to speak to the political leadership (usually after he got arrested).

Teaching the Church is great, and I’m all for it. It’s a big part of our work at Cooke Media Group. But I’m calling this generation of believers to re-think the balance.

Get to Hollywood. Write for secular publishers. Get in the news business. Create videogames. Record with secular labels. Let your life and work tell the story of your faith. Trust me, there will always be plenty of people to create media for the church.

But the rest of us need to pop the bubble, get outside, and change the world.

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  1. Phil, I’m not sure which dreamworld you are in, but how long can you put a light in the middle of a mudfight, and expect that light to shine very bright? Here is the problem with what you propose: in order to be a part of the “secular” side of media, you will eventually have to do some assignment that is mutually exclusive with your faith. When you refuse to do it–you are fired. If you do compromise, you lose your witness. So how does a Christian make movies in Hollywood? How does a Christian become a CNN reporter? How does a Christian sing REAL Christian music (not the ambiguous stuff a lot of artists try to pass off as Christian) and get a contract with Sony? Most likely, the only way is to do some very un-Christian things and who has really beem influenced?

    If you are asking me to compromise my convictions so that I can reach a bigger, less religious audience, I’ll pass. If we could just get Christians to do what the Bible says, we could easily change this world.


  2. Great point! A friend and I were recently talking about this topic. In many places such as the UK, “Christian” artists create their music and are promoted, marketed and played on the radio as artists, right along with “secular” artists. The dichotomy of secular vs christian markets is not an issue.

    But in the USA there is a completely separate industry called “Christian Music” with Christian artists, labels, etc. My friend remarked: “We have successfully kept the world from hearing our message.” You are right that we need to engage the world. We can be there as salt and light. As my dad has always said, “YOU are the message.”

  3. If you are asking me to compromise my convictions so that I can reach a bigger, less religious audience, I’ll pass. If we could just get Christians to do what the Bible says, we could easily change this world.

    This seems like a cop-out to me. We must reach the bigger, “less religious” audience. That is what the Bible says.

    As always, Jesus is our example, and he spent most of his time with the larger. less-religious audience including sinners, adulterers, liars, thiefs, etc…. And He did it without compromise. Daniel would be another good example. He lived his faith without compromise and changed the heart of a King! He was not afraid of the consequences of living out his faith in front of the world…and God made a way for him to have great influence. I believe the same is true for us. It’s fear that intimidates us and keeps us from stepping out and reaching out.

    Unfortunately, this same fear can cause us to limit our vision to a certain churched audience, and stay where it’s “safe.” This makes for a lot of big fish in a somewhat small pond…

  4. Phil,

    Thank you for this post. It is a good reminder while working away in the industry and often losing sight of why I am going down this path. (It’s tough sometimes!) In my place of work, while I don’t (yet) have a large influence on content, one thing I have noticed is that I have had a unique opportunity to touch individuals’ lives and be challenged and encouraged by them, as well, even though they aren’t believers. If I stayed out of the mainstream, secular industry, I wouldn’t have this opportunity to know them and be a light here, each and every day.

    As for you, Jim, I appreciate your thoughts and I know there have been a number of celebrities who, while professing to be Christians, have unfortunately been poor examples of sticking to religious conviction. Still, there are numerous stories of believers who have a major impact on people’s lives by using their talent to glorify God in so-called “secular” work. For example, my co-worker was just playing Switchfoot at her desk yesterday. It made me smile, because I know that while many of their lyrics do not have direct Christian content, they do sing songs of upright content, which is a big change compared to much of what she listens to. It also opens her up to listening to “similar artists” on music websites, and wouldn’t you know…she was playing outright Christian music another day. And then comes my opportunity to talk to her about it…

  5. Jim, Not all christians who create create christian content.  It’s not that worship artists will be on Sony anytime soon, but rather why are their singer-songwriters writing worship songs? They could be touring as a singer-songwriter… Not all secular media companies are inherently evil (certainly not more so than secular anything-else companies). 

    Conservative christians hold creative industries as somehow potentially more evil than any other.. but this is not the case.  Dole (the fruit people) just got busted for paying off rebel groups in S.America so they could keep their fruit trees.  Proctor & Gamble (the soap people) have probably wrecked as many streams and caused cancer.. they’ve been peddling cleaning chemicals for a long time. 

    Most industries have a dominant culture, lots of brand strategists were college athletes, lots of pharmaceuticlal reps were cheerleaders, lots of arts administrators were music majors; that’s the level of the conflict in hollywood or rock n roll, lots of entertainment people don’t necessarilly embody “christian values.”  

    The christian entertainment industry has more to do with exploiting an artists’ credibility, and opening a market with barriers to entry, than necessarily edifying the church, or not “sinning” while going to work. 

    What Phil is advocating, is not a Christian Arts renaissance, not kids going to hollywood and making christian movies, or telling christian stories, or writing christian songs, or reporting christian news; but going to hollywood and making movies, telling stories, writing songs, and reporting news. Embodying Christ in the workplace and relationships, rather than in the marketplace.



  6. Find me a business model that actually values the Great Commission. That is the great “omission”.

    Until such a time, the best we can hope for is inflitrating Hollywood through great stories, well told, that somehow move an audience a little closer to asking the right questions. But at the end of the day, the No. 1 priorty has to be entertainment. You have to respect the value chain. You have to respect the studios right to earn a return on thier capital commensurate with the risk.

  7. I’m a reporter for the Los Angeles Daily News who also freelances for Christian magazines, including Christianity Today and Charisma. I write faith stories for the Daily News and the magazines. I’m curious if there are other journalists and writers doing work for both the secular media and Christian media.

    Troy Anderson

  8. It’s never always comfortable and there are sure to be pitfalls when we venture out to infiltrate where it’s needed but that’s what leaving the trenches is all about. And it puts us in a situation where we have to really get out of our comfort zone and amazingly. you are in a position to see God at work. I have worked and lived in so many countries where I have seen God reach out to others in ways I never would have expected. A key however is to have a strong emphasis on personal and united prayer and a solid base of fellowship and help to fall back on. Praying specifically for ways to do this is a key and praying that you will not be put in uncompromising positions. That said, any Christian in any sort of work will be placed in positions where we may be faced with compromise. The point is- is God calling any one of us as individuals to venture out? I once interviewed Mother Theresa and asked how someone would know they were being called. “The one who is called” she replied, “He knows.” 

  9. Jim,

    You’ve forgotten who your G-d is. Hashem, Adonai, Elohim, Mighty One, Deliverer, Prince of Peace, Abba.

    Joseph certainly did not forget the G-d of his fathers while serving in Egypt, as a slave, before saving the known world. Did he compromise himself?

    When we’re being self serving, we’re not serving Adonai. Not leaving our comfort zone for fear of compromise, is simply living out of fear.

    Step out.

    I’ve spent more than half my career in secular entertainment. I started in Christian ministry/entertainment. I work with plenty of christians, and a whole lot more of everything else.

    Step up.

    Listen to Phil. He’ll stetch you, if you’re willing. We need greater influence in the business if we’re to see a change. Phil is talking excellence in our craft. The test is, is it excellent in our mom’s eyes, or is it really excellent to our Father’s eyes?

    Just Sayin’ . . . .


  10. When it comes to communicating our message, essentially there are two types of audiences Christians should be reaching. First, to teach, motivate, and challenge other believers, and two, to engage unbelievers. That’s pretty much it. The problem is really with the balance…

    …But I’m calling this generation of believers to re-think the balance… Let your life and work tell the story of your faith. Trust me, there will always be plenty of people to create media for the church. But the rest of us need to pop the bubble, get outside, and change the world.

    It’s ironic. Those of us who choose to “pop the bubble, get outside and change the world” – we’ll actually need the ones who “teach, motivate and challenge” us in our beliefs. What we don’t know we can’t preach; if we can’t preach, how will they know (Salvation, Deliverance, Freedom)? The balance is definitely personal to each and every one of us and it is exposed in the light of our relationship with Him…

    I agree with Phil. Get to know Jesus, not merely about Him, and get out there and be the light with which He has enlightened you. After all, Jesus said you can do it – all things through Christ who strengthens you – and do it greater!

  11. Right. We’re not called to be comfortable. “Greater works than these shall ye do.. .” So we are confronted with some tough issues and situations but thats one way our faith gets both tested and becomes a witness. 


  12. great post and dicussion.  I whole heartedly agree with Phill. My only concern is that Christians in the mainstream media industry may not on purpose create media content that reflect the Christian worldview or message.  While their lives may be testimonies they shy away from producing content that could impact a larger audience.

  13. You’re all wrong.


    I just wanted to say that, but seriously…we have a couple of problems:

    The main problem is that Christian’s have elevated their intentions over each medium’s purpose. For example, TV was made for entertainment, not evangelism. A recent Barna poll revealed that only 3% of the 18-34 demo use TV as a source of spiritual influence. Proof! Yet Christian’s continue to create evangelism-based TV.

    Furthermore, Christian’s lower their expectations and standards because they think that mission will outweight performance.

    Finally, Phil is right. Discover your calling and be the best in your field. It’s scriptural.

    Finally, finally…how about we stop worry about how God works through things and we just let God be God. I think we’d all be surprised at how good He is at calling all men unto Himself. Afterall, it’s the way he created it to be.

  14. I know I’m late to the party but I had to weigh in in this one.

    The biggest challenge here is that in the dream world of Christian radio and television, many believe that they are reaching the unbelieving world.  How many times have we all heard “reaching the world with the gospel,” without any real metrics to back up that claim.  Truth is they reach donors and self perpetuate what has been largely ineffective.

    Artists, production people and creative resources in the faith community are in a difficult, often untenable position.  They want to produce media that honors God, tell compelling stories that are creative and unique, but Christian culture steeped in forms and traditions hundreds of years old offers very little understanding, discipleship or support.  In the words of one artist I know, “There isn’t much I can do in the ‘ghetto.'”

    I am hopeful that Internet driven new media – which challenges everyone – will give us an opportunity to be relevant and compelling as we energize and support gen x and y in producing interactive programming that leads culture.

  15. I’ve worked in the “real world;” a special effects house in the L.A. area. I had to quit due to my witness. Not compromising was a huge witness to everyone in that place as there were several backslidden/compromising Christians in there…I think if God wanted me to stay, they would have made a way for me to work and not touch the project I had to quit over–Basic Instinct. 

    God found another job for me. And He’s done that over and over… Not that it isn’t a tougher row to hoe, but for a lot of the faithful in Hollywood, maybe that’s what they were built for–like missionaries have the grace to go to, and sometimes die in, foreign lands.

  16. Be in the world, not of it, but have the courage to BE IN IT! is what Phil is advocating. I’ve refused to do projects I thought were objectionable, and it cost me. So what? Go ahead, get fired over your beliefs and your principals. What a great statement that would make! And maybe you wouldn’t be fired: what then? Stranger things have happened. 

    Phil is right: instead of preaching to the choir, we’ve got to get some more people in the pews! And they’re not watching “TBN”, “CBN”, “EWTN” or any other “Christian” branded television, and we all know it. 

    Anyone else old enough to remember “Insight”? It was great… still is. Check it out:

    God bless you all. And thanks again, Phil, for this forum.

  17. I re-read the part in my previous post about getting fired, and it doesn’t say exactly what I meant.

    Of course, being fired is an enormous hardship. I was addressing the writer who asked why he should take a job just to be fired from it.

    If you’re sure you’re going to be fired because you’re a Christian… maybe that’s where you can do the most good. And if you know you’re going to be fired going into it… why not take a chance, if you can?

    Obviously, especially now, none of us can glibbly toss aside our jobs, unless the circumstances are dire. I know I can’t. Sorry if there was any misunderstanding.

  18. Phil,

    You nailed it. I use podcasting as my media choice. If you want a podcast to reach your church members, that’s fine but don’t expect the world to come knocking to get your message. Pastors that use sermons as podcasts expecting to reach the unchurched just don’t get it. They should put out a podcast that’s non-church like and on a secular server or host like Mevio or Blubrry. Talk English, not church language, communicate but never try to preach. Find ways to grab the listeners attention like using sports or any topic that is of interest. Let the audience know that the podcast is not a Christian podcast but a podcast hosted by a Christian. You audience will respect that and that builds trust.


  19. If you are working in the movie, music, tv or whatever industry, don’t talk God-Talk. The world hates to hear your self-promoting, self-righteous language. BE an example of what you believe. If you live right the world will recognize that you are different and they will ask you why. Witnessing on the job to me is like the pharisees praying on the streets saying I’m so righteous and holy. If you do your job and do it well and just live normally, without putting on Godly aires, you’ll reach people.

    One last thing, YES, use the internet. Use video and audio podcasts. Be an pioneer in New Media.



  20. Seems to me that we have to sort out the “problem of Christian media” (ie, that it’s fairly ineffective) using a three pronged approach:

    1) Gaining the means of production – you gotta get your hands on the hardware. But how often does the thinking and effort stop here?!?!

    2) The message itself – content is sooooo important. We’ve got to do better than videoing sermons! Or being so vague and inoffensive that we become digital wallpaper.

    3) The platform – sadly we often seek to shortcircuit the problem of access to mainstream media channels by just getting our own!! – our own radio/TV stations, our own websites, etc, which only/largely Christians seek out and are aware of. Thus we end up largely – yes Phil – “preaching to the choir”. 

    What I wonder is: do cultural spaces exist for overt Christian messages? And by “cultural spaces” I mean places and times that are regularly inhabited by the unchurched in which the expression of religious ideas is considered socially appropriate (or at least tolerable). 

    And the more I think about it, the more I’m sure that the answer is “yes”. In the individualist West, there is a lot of latitude for people to express themselves via in-your-face T-shirts, bumper stickers and YouTube videos. In the capitalist West, all it takes is money to enter the marketplace of ideas – billboards, TV advertising. And we do have the money – just look at the millions going into all the satellite TV we pump out all over the world – it’s a matter of priorities and focus.

    So far you’re saying “eeuurghh!” right?! Yeah, me too. But if these things are done well, with a clear evangelistic intent in mind, I can see it making some kind of impact.

    But then there are the less commercial marketplaces which are nevertheless highly visible – street performance (musical, dramatic) is still legal here in Australia, so long as you get a licence from the city council for a negligible fee. Flea markets, festivals, community parades and “mind, body, spirit fairs” are always looking to represent the diversity of their communities – why aren’t we there in force?!?! Or the online equivalent – the chatroom. NO!! NOT “our” chatroom – existing chatrooms that focus on current events, philosophy, science, religion, spirituality. I’ve had some rewarding experiences in Muslim chatrooms.

    And then there is the merit-based stuff – the hardest nut to crack.  Is it really that hard in America to get a documentary on NPR, PBS or HBO? What about popular cable channels like Discovery, History, National Geographic and <grimace> Hallmark? Sometimes there is funding and airtime for particular kinds of programming – youth, disability, health-focused, rural/regional, ethnic minorities, etc. Christians belong to these groups and have a lot to say about these issues. Are there organisations that exist specifically to encourage Christian filmmakers to enter their work into film festivals? Or what about capitalising on the low-cost trend in TV production – reality TV!! Maybe we should have the guts to follow ten people who are on a spiritual search and see where they end up.

    Sorry for going on like this – but you touched a nerve Phil!!

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