Christian Media

Stop Imitating Mainstream Media Programming

You have no idea of the people who come to us for advice on starting a religious program, but have a strange request: “We want to do a Christian version of Oprah.” Or, “How about a Christian version of MTV?” On one religious program currently out there, the wife of a disgraced TV evangelist considers it her “gift” to put Christian lyrics to secular popular songs. Religious organizatons often feel compelled to hire what turn out to be less talented people from the mainstream entertainment industy (usually on the back side of their careers) over far more talented believers who have proven their worth.

What is going on?

I call it the “echo effect.” The relentless pursuit of religious people to copy what they see in the secular world, rather than creating something original. We’re supposed to be worshipping God the creator, and yet we prefer to take the easy road and simply copy something else. Certainly mainstream media should be studied. Some channels connect with millions of young people and whether you like it or not, we need to learn how they work.

But when it’s time to make our own programs, we’ve got to be more innovative.

Take the high road. Forget the “echo effect.” Be an original. Jesus shook up the religious establishment of His day, and we need to shake up the media establishment of our day. And there couldn’t be a better time to do it. With inexpensive audio and video equipment, editing systems high school kids can operate, and the options for web distribution, the lid is gone, and anyone, anytime, can create something to express their faith, their feelings, and their vision.

We don’t need a “Christianized” version of something already out there. We need to radically re-think television and other media, and push some boundaries, be provocative, and make people think. Maybe we should stop “imitating” and do a little more “irritating”…

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  1. Whooooa there!
    Christian lyrics on popular drinking melodies was how the Wesley boys taught theology to their converts. You would be shocked to hear your favorite hymns in a bar, I am sure, but that’s where some of them came from. Bible thoughts in a worldly context is not an outlandish idea, because its what people can relate to. Gives the evangelist a foot in the door not to have to make everything up. Go where they are, and reach them there, that’s what the miracles of Christ are full of. He met them at their agenda, got their attention, and brought them over to his. Read up on it-in the Gospels.

    Jim Williams

  2. I stand by my thoughts…  You're correct on the drinking songs dressed up with Christian lyrics, and if that's what it takes to reach the culture, so be it.  But I still think we can do better than that…  Come on my friend… let's raise the bar a little… 🙂

  3. I couldn’t agree more with Phil. Take pop music for instance. With a few rare exceptions, Christian pop music – as opposed to worship music, which is different – is an inferior copy of what the secular market was doing five to ten years ago. All it does is create a subculture that entertains Christians.

    Thankfully, this is beginning to change in the UK music scene – this decade there have been several artists making overtly Christian albums/singles that have reached the top ten or even number one in the secular charts here in the UK – from Natasha Beddingfield, Daniel Beddingfield, David Sneddon, POD, Mary Mary, Evanesence, Athlete and even U2, whose most recent album was there most overtly Christian to date.

    Christians should be on the cutting edge artistically, as indeed they were in centuries past in novels, music, paintings and so forth.

  4. I actually disagree that the majority of Christian "pop" music is inferior. Maybe it was but now it gets major play on secular radio stations. Stacy Orrico, Toby Mac, Lyrycyst, superchik, John Rueben…they are all cutting edge and definitely not inferior…No one is has more talent than Lyrycyst and no one is more creative than John Reuben (check out his latest music video)..these guys are finding there way into the secular teens playlists and CD libraries. John Reuben was actually featured on the front page of Youtube for a while. Those are just a few examples of expanding cross over successes..

  5. Not sure I agree with you on John Rueben – to my mind he is little more than a “Christian Eminem”, regardless of how creative his videos are.

  6. Phil, you're right again! I'm 29, enjoy music and television but don't know how much more MTV music-video shows I can stomach. Actually, I can't stomach them anymore! 

    Whenever the Church tries to imitate the world, we end up being second-best and, in television, usually just pathetic. If people want to watch the coolest music videos, they'll watch MTV. If they want to watch people on dirtbikes or snowboards, they'll watch ESPN. If they want to be inspired, entertained, and watch great Christian television that's unique, they'll watch… something that is yet to be created.

    But if we're trying to reach the sheltered, homeschool kid market, we're doing a great job. 
    I guess the older and middle-aged execs are convinced by their own kids, and by looking at MTV viewership #s and hope to mirror that in their #s. They keep it on the air because people write in, excited that there's something other than infomericals and pulpit preaching on the air. 
    How many more people would write in – and watch, and be changed – with completely original, entertaining, unique, inspired and inspiring programming!  But, with the exception of Travel the Road, that is uncharted territory. 
    I like this blog — keep writing and stirring the pot!
  7. Thanks for the response, however I agree the "copy cat" of Eminem is KJ52. No rapper acts as goofy as John Reuben or has a sound like he does. He's a true artistic original. Sometimes I think people say a white rapper is a copy cat of eminen simply because he's white. Other than skin color they have nothing in common.

  8. Greg, also in my late 20's. I watch more youtube than I do TV. I wonder if that's a trend among all the masses of up and coming teens and twenties? It's way more entertaining than TV typically. I think the reason Christian TV exists is as an "alternative". Some people don't want there kids watching MTV or VH1 and understandibly so, and I think that Christians are the Christian TV audience. As long as it's labeled "Christian" it's going to have a "Christian" audience.

    Honestly, I think to reach the masses (if that's what Christians in TV should be doing) you need to capitalize on some kind of programming that can't be found elsewhere. Spike TV became huge when it partnered with the UFC and it fast became a mainstream sport. Spike found a popular sport that no one was broadcasting on TV and gained a much larger overall TV audience. Spikes advertising dollars have soared since the partnership. I know Christian TV will never do this, but they should start broadcasting sports..something that has a following but under represented in the media. I actually think it's a perfect media marriage to attract a secular audience that will always be checking in and seeing what's on.

  9. I see what you're saying, But…

    Ask most music fans, and they'll tell you that they've never heard of any of these guys before.

    Ask a teenager, even a Christian teenager who's in their Top 5 artists and usually none of these artists are mentioned. One time I had a talk with some high-ranking R-n-B radio producers, and they had never heard of the group Grits (touted as the rap stars of CCM). Unfortunately, the more I ask around, the more I realize that most Christian artists aren't even on the radar-screen. There's one Christian artist (who's name I won't mention) whose album just went certified Gold – only after 7 years! That says to me that only the parents and youth pastors are buying that album, just hoping that their kids will be into it.  It's not that I'm negative, I totally wish it was the other way around, and I think it could go in that direction. However, Toby Mac needs to get the heck out of Nashville, maybe move to the South Side of Chicago, or the Bronx or some place where he could be challenged creatively.  

    I agree that the UK is really producing some great stuff lately – Andy Hunter among them.

  10. There is nothing new under the sun but what about above it? Maybe it is time we believers start pursuing our Heavenly Father, the God who owns creativity and stop acting like we are orphans. Are we building God's Kingdom or replicating the world to suit God's Kingdom because we will not pay the price (or are to lazy to be really serious about intimacy with God) of scarifice in prayer and in many cases fasting thereby receiving fresh wisdom of God for today and beyond. We pursue money and the approval of men so much we actually lost ourselves in the process.

    When the average American spends more hours pursuing money (between 8-10 hours a day) I wonder what God gets per day from any believer today. Lets face it if we spent that much time seeking God what would our individual world be like around us. I challenge any Creative American Artisit in the media industry whether it be in film or music who calls himself a believer to spend just one hour a day with the Lord and one hour at night with the Lord (do the Word in Jsohua 1:8) and see the difference after just one week! See whether you will not get ideas that even the world will drop their jaws and be in amazement.

    We are not under the sun anymore if we say that we are believers – just check where we are seated? Go find the Scripture I won't help you here.

  11. As I delve further into the archives of the blog (mainly by following what other folks have just posted!) I come to this thread … There is, in my experience and observation, and interesting dichotomy when it comes to Christians and the arts.  On the one hand, we have a real calling from God to excellence – to creating transcendent art that is "original" and avoids the "echo effect" … while on the other hand, we have an obligation to understand the media in which we work, which means studying "successful" art regardless of its origin.  (By "successful" I mean art which finds and influences its audience, such as MTV or Hollywood films.)  And the real oddity is that we, as Christians, seem more likely to end up choosing the worst elements of each column, rather than the best.  We modern Christians create Christian art which is often mediocre both artistically and in terms of craft (not to mention shallow theologically.)  We make, for example, Christian films that look something akin to their Hollywood cousins, but have none of the basic craftsmanship that Hollywood has developed over the years, while theologically they are often superficial – and we justify non-professional craftsmanship and third-class theology with the excuse that it's God's calling!  As I write this, the distinction becomes plain to me: as craftsmen, we must understand and exceed the levels of quality of our secular counterparts – that's where comparisons to Hollywood or MTV are essential; then as artists, we must reflect the true Creator who calls us to create and elevate the debate in, and quality of, our culture.  We MUST hold ourselves and each other to the highest standards of craftsmanship AND artistry for His sake!

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