Christian Media

Making Religious TV Work

Secular studios and networks have invested millions to reach the Christian audience, and yet many (if not most) explicitly Christian networks and stations have been screwing it up for years. Why can’t we do better? A number of people have been passing e-mails around about the subject, and I’d like you to start posting them here so a larger audience can join the conversation. First up is from Mark Dreistadt, featuring “10 Truths About Christian Television“. Do you agree or disagree? Let us know:

1. Most Christian television is created to please the donors, not to reach non-believers.
2. Most Christian television is more about ministry exposure and product sales than evangelism and discipleship.
3. Many people give to Christian television ministry because they believe they have a right to exist, not because they actually watch it.
4. Hollywood takes what is fake and makes it look real, while Christian TV tends to take what is real and makes it look fake.
5. Christian TV has the potential to be the most influential force for the Kingdom, if only ministries would understand how to use the medium properly (few do).
6. The great dilemma in Christian television is if you produce a show that truly relates to our culture, no one will pay for it. (There isn’t a large enough audience to generate significant advertising dollars and the donors probably won’t like it.)
7. Christian television programming and family entertainment programming should be much closer to each other than they are.
8. If America was watching Christian programming, Hollywood would be producing more of it.
9. The most popular Christian television show in America is not watched by 98% of the potential mainstream audience.
10. The internet can provide the most creative, affordable and viewable venue for creative media evangelism.

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  1. This comment just came in from Norm Mintle at Regent University:

    As you know, you’re preaching to the choir. The older I get (no snorting and laughing out there) the more I find myself – rather shockingly, actually – extending grace to our brethren of another (older) dimension. While once I wanted to nuke the entire NRB-type world, now I recognize their (waning?) value. Really, beside Fox News, what would our parents watch?

    Just ended a similar conversation with the chair of our Journalism department here at Regent University. That (academic and practical) world is changing so rapidly, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the reading – much less constantly tailoring a curriculum. But in the middle of the hype about the impending collapse of ‘bricks-n-mortar’ news establishments (giving way, allegedly to a more ubiquitous ‘citizen journalism’ model), I had to ask – if we dismantle our program in favor of something fuzzily futuristic, who funnels Christian practioners into the ‘old school’ newspapers and broadcast journalism endeavors? They’re not going away. My contention was/is, that while this sexy and exciting new INTERACTIVE world explodes with growth all around us, it grows ALONGSIDE the current analog world.

    And, while the analog world’s demise is certain, what isn’t at all clear is, when the last dinosaur will expire. Sorry for the rambling analogy. Likewise, I now realize that while our dear brethren (Christianese used purposefully here) may be in the final gasps, a new world paradigm needs to grow up SIDE-by-SIDE, prepared to take over at some future eventuality.

    I’d love that to happen today. Apparently, it’s not on the schedule. Here’s another sad reality that dawns on me with some regularity. We (again, I don’t know everyone on this list) are the ‘tweener’ generation for these occurrences. We may get a wonderful glimpse into the promised land of a media future, but most of us probably won’t enter in fully. Our kids will.

  2. I think if Christian Television was a creative as some of the more recent alternative Christian music, we’d be talking– but it’s only been a recent thing, breakthroughs in media seem to take a long time. Where through most of the 80’s and 90s, Christian music was mostly comprised of artists that were following the lead of secular bands, now you have innovators and forerunners.

    I agree with all ten of your points up there, Phil, it’s just we are trying to fit this big clunky box of tv ministry into our iPods and widescreen tv’s– and the church doesn’t know how to deal with the changes in dimension.

    A few weeks back, God TV stepped aside and let Mike Bickle’s OneThing conference air for several hours per night. Aside from a few glitches, this was a major step in the right direction: no-name presenters that weren’t promoting themselves but promoting God & discipleship. Teaching that was thoroughly engaging, going against the direction of prosperity teaching and calling for a radical sermon-on-the-mount lifestyle. This is the best of what christian ministry can and will be, hopefully!

  3. The brilliant thing about our new media culture is how so many great ideas can be discussed on blogs like this.  Yet it's amazing how helpless we can all feel.

    I love putting the pieces together from various posts.  This blog represents some of the most creative people in the business (and some of the least, perhaps).  We all agree that radical change is needed.  We could just talk complain about fixing an industry that is hardly ever watched by people of infulence anymore (see Mark's point #9) and possibly stilll has some diminishing value (see Norm's post).  But, I know that if God can put our heads together we can come up with some more creative and revolutionary solutions than just "fixing Christian TV".
    Who reads this blog?  Gifted producers, writers, directors, actors, studio executives, and people with resources.   The real magic will happen when we start teaming up with one another.
    So let's be encouraged and keep talking and networking (on sites like this and behind the scenes). Jesus always had a more creative way.  Change can/will happen!
    Erik Ticen
  4. What exactly is it that Christian media people want? From a lot of the posts it sounds like people are after some eutopian vision of complete morally based Christian TV being pumped out 24 hours a day…Do people really believe if we have more and more faith-based tv programs and movies it will stem the tide? That this is the answer to transform the wave of media destruction that has been so very effective in gradually blinding so much of the world? Personally I think Christian media has only a very small part to play. Christians IN the media however…

  5. An add on to that blog,

    I was surprized by Mr. Crouch's reply, but he did mention one thing that stuck with me. I think it's something worth considering for those who have a bone to pick (that includes yours truely, here). He stated

     "The tools for doing TV production (i.e., cameras, lights, editing systems, etc.) have plummeted over the last few years and there is no excuse for not getting in the game! If you have an idea that will revolutionize and evangelize the world, then "Go for it!" When God guides, trust me, He'll provide."

    I think about this every time I get frustrated with Christian TV. I think, "so, what am I doing about it." All it takes is a great idea, and individually funded productions. Go "indie".   If you have an idea and the expertise to oversee the production, go for it. There are so many production companies out there who are dyin' to be busy. Find the money, and then bring the finished product to networks like TBN or The God Channel. They'll snatch-it-up.Pretty much it's the ability to pay for it that's the biggest hurdle (as it is with every indie-project or pilot). After that it's up to a savy casting director, right?

    I heard recently, that 80% of SAG actors are not working in film or television. That's an enormous amount of talent just itching to be in on a project.  After that, though, (and here's my other beef with Christian productions).       

    THE SCRIPT. (Oh, man! so many let-downs)

    Even with top actors, if they don't have realistic sounding conversations, or any profound things to say, then it's pretty much a sunday-school lesson. Think about the most amazing films you've seen. Probably all of them have a brilliant script.

    Take the latest film, One Night with the King; it was praised for it's talent and production values, but it was ripped to shreds for it's script. Personally, I think a script should be rehearsed with live actors – like a play – so everyone can 'work out the kinks' (unless you have a very experienced screenwriter, of course. But even they do constant re-writes. Pick-up a copy of Emma Thompson's Screenplay diary for "Sense and Sensibility" It gives a wonderful glimpse into that whole process). 

    While we're on the subject to plays, and scripts. Plays are rigorously worked out before a final draft in what they call "workshopping". They get the actors together and have them do the scenes. and see what works, and what needs tweaking. The same with musicals.

    (Oh, boy. Now I'm sounding like film-school) 

    That's All.                                                    

  6. Phil’s idea of engaging the culture to me means presenting Godly values in a context that the world might pay attention to. Present dramatic situations that put Biblical principles to work. Show how Scripture is relevant to today’s situations, without preaching it. Christian reality TV has a great deal to say, because it could show how people react in Biblical ways to happenings in their lives and the outcomes. We all fall, don’t we? We teach Bible in Sunday School and then face what we face in life. How we deal with life from God’s perspective is something that could be attractive to people, because they’re just like us in being presented with the challenges of life.

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