Christian Media

Should Churches Produce TV Programs?

It’s pretty popular these days to bash local churches producing broadcast TV programs. Even megachurches with adequate budgets for media don’t escape the criticism. After all, the history of Christian television shows us that a significant number of programs through the years were downright embarrassing, and if anything, drove people away from the faith, rather than toward it. But in spite of the mistakes, poor quality, and questionable results of some church efforts, here’s 5 reasons I still encourage churches to consider a broadcast ministry:

1) The audience is still significant.   Amid all the buzz about people moving to the Internet, the audience for broadcast and cable TV is still huge. In fact, it’s one of the key reasons I wrote this post based on secular research that indicates TV is still the most effective advertising medium. If our goal is culture change, then the size of the audience means that TV still needs to be in the evangelism mix.

2) The audience still responds.   The last generation of Christian TV viewers were incredible financial givers. Their response to media ministries built universities, hospitals, and some of the largest mission outreaches in history. This generation hasn’t proven to give at those levels, but if you can engage them with an honest message, and amplify that message across multiple social media and other platforms, they still may respond – sometimes financially, and sometimes through action.

3) In today’s culture, the visibility of television programs matter.   Ask a nonbeliever about a major Christian figure today and chances are, those with TV ministries are the most likely to be named. Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Billy Graham, Brian Houston, Andy Stanley, T.D. Jakes, Jack Graham, and others are known around the world because of their exposure on television. And for most pastors and leaders, it’s not about ego, it’s about giving the message visibility.

4) In many cases, churches already have most of the elements in place for a TV program.   The Sunday service is happening weekly, the pastor is teaching, and many churches are already filming their services with multiple cameras. It’s not a major step from shooting a service for streaming or social media, to developing a broadcast TV program.

5) TV cuts through the barriers.   People can slam the door to someone knocking, refuse to listen to someone share the gospel at work, and stay away from church, but you’d be surprised how often people stumble onto a Christian TV program and actually stick around. I’ve personally seen letters and emails from people who’s lives have been transformed simply because they clicked on a Christian program and decided to watch. One man actually checked into a hotel room with the intention of committing suicide. When he sat on the bed, he accidentally sat on the remote. It turned on the TV and a Christian program was playing. He listened long enough to accept Christ, put the gun down, and go back home. I can give you plenty of other stories as well.

I know you can give me lots of reasons churches shouldn’t do TV, and there have been plenty of mistakes in the past. And we could certainly stand to see more creativity as well as correct theology when it comes to programming. But the truth is, television is still a powerful medium, and if we’ll take the time to understand how it works, and how it connects with an audience, it still can be an important element in sharing our message with today’s culture.

What are your thoughts?

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25 Comments

  1. Phil, you’re on target as usual. We’re finding the same research and information as an agency – churches should be making use of the airwaves. Still a great way to reach the masses – for now anyway. Hopefully, broadcast television will not lose in the current spectrum auction that could eliminate some access for churches – support your local stations!

  2. Hi Phil, I love it, as long as the only motivation is the mission the we need more great churches on TV not less, relevant ministry is essential as a doorway to people who could otherwise never walk through the doors of a church. Keep up the great work.

  3. I can’t recommend if a church should or should not be on TV, however research shows that Local Broadcast TV is still one of the most effective and efficient media buys out there. It all depends upon the demographics the church wants to reach, but even for many Millinials who do not subscribe to cable or satellite…local TV is still reaching a percentage of younger demos via free over the air signals. If it’s message, mission or pure promotion…TV should at least be considered.

  4. There is no more pervasive media than television. Television creates awareness like no other medium. Properly produced, television motivates response. I always say there are four elements to a television program…

    1. CONTENT – You have to have something to say in a unique way. If the quality of the content is lacking, nothing else you will do will compensate for it. If the content is the same as others, there is no differentiation, and the message is lost in the sea of sound.

    2. PRODUCTION – The program has to be produced at a quality level that will gain the respect and attention of mainstream TV viewers. Poorly produced TV has been the plague of Christian television for years. One of the Christian television pioneers once told me, “Hollywood takes what is fake and makes it look real – Christian TV takes what is real and make it look fake.” Be committed to making the real look real!

    3. DISTRIBUTION – There are more distribution options now than ever before and churches are using them. From streaming video on your website, to video aggregation sites, to IPTV, to local broadcast to national broadcast via cable and satellite. Choose the distribution method that fulfills your objectives. We have clients that focus on the local market – because that is their calling; we have clients that want a region outreach of several hundred miles; we have who want to reach America – and client who want to reach the world. Each of these objective require a different mix of distribution channels.

    4. FOLLOW-UP – This is often the most overlooked area of video broadcast ministry. It is not a glamorous as the other three but just as critical. If you have great content, a quality production, and strong distribution but weak follow-up – then your outreach is in vain. How you follow-up with those who respond to your broadcast determines the fruit your broadcast ministry will produce.

    Should churches produce television programs? Absolutely – but they must do so strategically with clear objectives and realistic expectations. We live in a video culture. Most Evangelical churches have video screens in their sanctuary. To ignore video is to miss out on a powerful opportunity to change lives for the Kingdom. But to produce TV programs is a commitment that should not be taken lightly. It is a choice every church must make for themselves. However, whatever you choose to do – do it with excellence!

  5. The biggest challenge facing the Church and Ministries is getting our message out to the masses. There is a lot of dysfunction going on in the world and various interest groups are using the media channels to get their message in front of the masses. We can’t let our message get lost by letting others define what is heard.

    Television, Video, etc. is the best way to put people at the pulse of our activities. Talk no longer gets the job done, the story needs verification and video puts the person watching on the front row of what you want them to see. They need stimulation to create excitement and passion. There is no better vehicle than video to do just this.

    The evolution of technology is fast paced, and what worked just a few years ago may not necessarily be the only avenue that needs to be filled. The Church must seek to ensure that our message is just as visible and at the forefront of our target audience. If it’s not, then the message that will be heard, will not be ours. That is not good for our society, and certainly not good for the Church.

    We are blessed to be driven by the greatest message ever given to the world. How we package and present this message will determine how successful we are at making a positive impact on those around us.

  6. Very valid points, Phil.

    Having been a producer of a weekly Christian TV program it can be like a runaway train (that won’t slow down) to shoot, produce & edit 50 episodes a year. Such a series will consume a fledgling or even an advanced media department. For the church I worked @ (briefly) the weekly TV program, they estimated, was the draw for 60% of new visitors. When leadership pulled the plug on local tv for cost reasons? Visits went down. That’s the power of TV.

    Buy why weekly? Looking back over Billy Graham’s media ministry, he never produced a weekly TV program. Quarterly instead. Put all his eggs in 3-4 critical baskets a year. Easter. Christmas. Summer.

    Lately I’ve spoken to lots of pastors w/ small & medium sized churches. They want to be on TV…for various reasons. I steer them to trying quarterly specials first. Put all your best efforts into stories, short & compelling messages on-location, features. Buy good local secular TV time. Promote. Then get ready for show week.

    Use your weekly message for live stream. Just a thought.

    Craig

  7. I wanted to comment from a slightly different perspective. If your church wants to go on television with the thought that the television program will grow the local church – stop. Having seen this approach tried without success many times I can tell you that it is not a good solution for church growth. You would be better off putting boots on the ground going door to door in the neighborhoods around your church. However, if your minister is dynamic and your production quality is on par with programs you see as looking professional, then by all means. We need you and we need your voice.
    Go for it!

    1. I’ve had experiences both ways – but to use media to get visitors, you do have to be very intentional about it. Good thoughts, and I certainly agree on the professional angle.

  8. There is good news and bad news …

    The good news for religious (or potential religious) broadcasters is that the historic gate-keepers (the owners and program managers of radio and television stations) no longer have the power they once had. The internet has changed everything. Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix predicts that in a few short years the major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Turner, Disney, etc.) will not exist as they do today. Audience members will simply choose what they want to watch on IP connected smart devices (smart phones, tablets, computers and smart TVs, etc.). The lines separating what is a TV and what is a computer continue to blur. In the future, if an audience member wants to see Netflix original content, they’ll click on a Netflix icon on their device. If you want to watch Disney original content, then click on Disney … Any church can now not only create their own original content inexpensively, but can do so without relying on a 3rd party for distribution. You can go direct to your audience!

    The bad news is that local churches broadcasting their services on the internet are now competing directly with the best content that the most polished mega-ministries and Hollywood can produce, in the same space! In the words of Kevin O’Leary, one of the investor/cast members on ABC’s Shark Tank, “what’s to stop them from crushing you like the cockroach you are?”

    Recognizing the dilemma requires the following questions:

    What is it about my content and my presentation which will be unique? If I am offering the same information, packaged in the same way as someone else, what compelling reason will there be for someone watch MY content among the clutter.

    Who do you compete with? Despite the “bad news” above, religious broadcasters should not attempt to compete directly against Hollywood or the mega-ministry everyone knows of. They should compete against their audience’s “mouse” or their TV remote control.

    A church member will rarely walk out of a Sunday morning sermon. Why? They are invested. It’s cost them something to be there. They may donate to that church. They may even tithe. They had to get up, get the kids cleaned up, get everyone dressed, drive to church, find a parking spot, drop the kids off at their classes, hope nobody is sitting “in their seat” in the sanctuary. Going to church is an investment!

    It’s the same thing with going to see a movie in a movie theater, or a Broadway play. And how many movies, plays or church services have you ever walked out on in your whole life? I bet less than five.

    But people walk out of TV shows and internet webcasts five times every night! Why? It doesn’t cost them anything. There is no investment in the program.

    This requires our religious broadcasts to be BETTER than our church services. When we start producing content for audiences that are not yet invested, we’ll see results. Until then, our fate is the mouse, or the remote control. [CLICK].

    – Tom D’Angelo

    1. Awesome and critical questions Tom. Really good stuff here. These questions could be in a workbook helping pastors decide about the potential of a media ministry. Thanks for helping us think this through…

  9. Hey, thanks for the gratuitous Redemption photo. As far as my experience in TV production goes, it takes a lot of work and ongoing investment to back up a robust vision.

  10. Totally agree with many of the comments along the lines of if you can’t do it well, then don’t do it at all. Also with the concept of being a doorway, insight to the contemporary church that many unchurched would not be aware of. However the main reason I believe we need more church TV programs is so there is more chance they will be culturally relevant. If you spend just a few moments watching Korean, Chinese, German, Russian Etc TV it becomes painfully obvious our English, mainly Anerican programs, just don’t fit. Love to see some of our media savvy churches come alongside churches in other cultures to empower them to create quality church programs designed for their culture. Alternatively if the church has say a Spanish speaking service, make that the one that does the TV, instead of or in addition to the English service.

  11. I would like to know this group’s thoughts on SAT vs Cable vs Local. This is surely my youth talking (36) but I do not know anyone who watches local access channels deliberately, or who channel surfs for that matter! Most of my friends are very deliberate in their TV viewing habits, no matter their age.

    We have an HD livestream Catholic mass that gets several 1,000 views per week, as we are based on the west coast, very contemporary with our music and have a dynamic pastor that shares many of the same passions as Pope Francis. I’ve been thinking its time to look at the next logical step. Roku is the clear winner for IPTV: the growth has been huge and it’s really easy to develop a channel platform. However, what’s the next step beyond IPTV, and how do you figure out where your potential market lies?

    1. All good questions Daniel, and I’d need to know more to make a good recommendation. But – I do know that ROKU is a huge player in the mix – especially in light of their Slingbox option. I don’t have the research at my fingertips, but there are more channel surfers still around than you might think. And those channel surfers are the older crowd, which happens to be the best donors for religious and nonprofit causes. Although I do agree that the younger generation is more likely to be deliberate about what they view.
      All good stuff to be thinking about, so thanks for bringing it up!

  12. Churches should take the massive air time budgets for buying time and use those to produce programs that are not based off the church worship service. It has been my experience that anything besides talk/preaching shows can be placed on religious TV stations for free. They are begging for different content.

    Take the $200k that would be spent on buying airtime in a larger market, or on a network, and do a ultra-low budget series. Using gear the church already owns, people already in the church who would volunteer as cast and crew, You could do something that would hit audiences current worship service programs are missing.

    We had no money, but 10 episodes later… my little program has been on 4 big networks, lots of smaller local stations and in 3 countries. All because it was a sitcom, not a preaching program. 2 years after we’ve stopped making episodes, it’s still being shown. Imagine what we could have done with $50k, $100k, $200k.

    1. Great points Scott. I can’t argue on that, in fact there’s no question that we should be doing a wider variety of programs than simply preaching shows. Can you share some links of the programs you produced? Might encourage some folks to give your strategy a try…

      1. Sure! You can see the series here: http://www.peculiarshow.com We were able to do this with volunteer cast and crew. If we’d had even a bit larger budget, we could have hired actors, had better production in general. I think there will always be preaching/teaching programs, but shows like this can reach different audiences, and don’t have to cost a huge amount.

        1. Thanks for the link. The important thing is that you’re out there trying something different, which is to be applauded. I hope other readers check out the link and get back to you with their reactions!

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