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The National Religious Broadcasters Convention: Big Changes Are Happening

A Conversation About the Future for Christian Media Professionals

I’ve been on the board of the National Religious Broadcasters for a long time, and been a member since shortly after we launched Cooke Media Group in 1991. Originally an advocacy group to lobby Washington for the freedom to proclaim Christian programming on radio and then TV, it’s now expanded into online programming, social media, movies, and more. While at various times, I’ve felt the NRB was becoming irrelevant, the current leadership has reinvigorated the organization and I’m seeing very positive signs for the future. Besides, their annual convention is the one place where yearly, Christian media producers, broadcasters, distributors, vendors, and others come together to meet, learn, and network.

I recently sat down with Dan Darling, the NRB’s Senior Vice President for Communication to find out more. If you happen to be a Christian and interested in sharing your message through media, this is a conversation worth your time.

Phil Cooke: I’ve been associated with the National Religious Broadcasters for a very long time, but in the last few years, I’m starting to see a virtually new organization. What’s up?

Dan Darling: Well NRB is committed to the same mission that began back in the 1940’s: to equip Christian communicators  to spread the gospel around the world and to advocate for that ability to communicate on every medium. What has changed, with new leadership in our CEO Troy Miller, is a refocus on this core mission and to help broaden the idea of who might consider being a member of NRB. I believe radio and television and film are as powerful and viable as ever, but we also feel strongly that the next generation of digital ministry and church media is an important part of our conversation.
This is why our tagline is: an association of Christian communicators. If you communicate, in any form, we think you belong in NRB for the equipping, the networking, and to receive advocacy on important issues like platform censorship and keeping the airwaves as free as possible for gospel witness.
So this is why we are excited about our new branding and logo and we feel God is calling us to equip this next generation of communicators to be courageous in sharing the good news in a confused age.

Phil: Are you primarily responding to the changes in technology or the changes in the culture?

Dan: I think we are responding to both. The mediums people are using to access content is constantly evolving and our ministries are adapting in amazing ways. This last year showed the importance of Christian media as people increasingly turned to Christian radio and television and digital content while the pandemic raged. And we saw churches pivot quickly to streaming and digital content. I am also excited at the way younger generations of communicators, who already have a robust digital platform, have turned to television and radio. I get calls almost every week from younger pastors who want to use radio and TV. So there is a sense in which we need Christian media in all available formats to reach people from all demographics and age ranges where they get their content.
I think we are also responding to the cultural shifts. I’m not an alarmist by any stretch, but it’s no secret that there is increasing hostility in the West to faithful Christian orthodoxy. So we need effective advocacy on religious liberty to protect our institutions and we need to think through how to communicate the truth and beauty of the Christian story to a generation that is increasingly skeptical.

Phil: Originally, NRB was focused on “broadcast” radio and TV ministry. Today it covers everything from online video, social media, streaming, feature films and documentaries, fundraising, leadership, and much more. Should people involved in emerging media give the NRB a second look?

Dan: I really think they should, for a few reasons. First, our ministries are already adapting in really strategic ways. For instance, many ministries that began as broadcast TV are continuing to do that with excellence but have become leaders in the digital space. I see this with our radio ministries as well.
I also see us as a place to equip church media. A few years ago, most churches didn’t see themselves as media producers, but increasingly, churches need to have robust digital content. The pandemic exacerbated this as many big and small churches had to quickly pivot. Our goal is to come alongside churches and help them continue their digital ministry in an effective way.
But perhaps the most important reason, I think, for emerging technologies to be part of NRB is the need for advocacy. All of our ministries are platform-dependent, from TV to radio to church media to film to our NGO members to our members who do advocacy. Think of the places we host and post content: Vimeo, YouTube, iTunes, Spotify, as well as the social networks. The threat of Big Tech censorship is real and NRB is committed to doing everything we can to keep these platforms open for the spread of the gospel.

Phil: One of the founding principles of NRB was to advocate for sharing our faith through media particularly when it came to attempts at censorship. Today, censorship is rearing its ugly head again. How is NRB engaging with that issue?

Karen Race Photography 2019

Dan: The censorship issue is a real concern and is at the heart of our advocacy. Its more complicated because we are, on the one hand, dealing with private companies, but on the other hand, dealing with large corporate platforms that are essential to basic communication in a digital age. This is why we are actively engaging both the platforms themselves, advocating for common-sense community standards and why we are engaging actively in Congress and in the agencies advocating for reforms that ensure viewpoint neutrality.

Phil: NRB’s annual convention is in Dallas this year. What can we expect to experience?

Dan: This is going to be one of the most important NRB conventions in recent memory, both in assessing the ways in which the pandemic has exacerbated trends in digital content and delivery but also in the need to gather and network after a year in which so many of us lacked human contact. One of the things that makes the NRB convention unique is the networking across Christian media. As an author and podcaster and communications professional, coming to NRB was essential to me every year, well before I starting working for NRB.
We are really excited about this year. We have an amazing lineup of speakers, including Paula Farris, Tony Evans, Mark Jobe, David French, Lila Rose, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Joel Rosenberg, Bob Pritchet (CEO of Faithlife), Tony Reinke (Desiring God), Kristin Waggoner (ADF), and many others. We also have the incomparable Phil Cooke speaking, which is worth the price of admission alone. (Chuckle). We also have quite a few digital and church ministry practitioners speaking, leading workshops, hosting panels, etc.
This year you can expect really quality main stage session speakers and some very important discussions around religious liberty and platform censorship as well as conversations about the changing nature of film and tv distribution from leading filmmakers and producers. And our workshops are really packed with helpful sessions on church media, podcasting, fundraising, leadership and many other things.
Phil: Is the convention just for church and ministry communicators, or is it for others as well?

Dan: This year we added quite a bit more content for church and ministry communicators. We feel this is an area of growth for us as churches are emerging from the pandemic wanting to continue doing digital ministry but wanting to know how to do it with excellence and to learn about the important tools available. But NRB is for anyone in Christian communication. So if you are involved in radio, television, fundraising, podcasting, marketing, social media, content production, advocacy work, etc this is the place you need to be.

Phil: Anything else we should know and where can my readers register?

Dan: I think anyone thinking about coming should consider it. I have made valuable and important connections every year at NRB. I wouldn’t be where I am in my career had I not come and built relationships across Christian media. So I’m encouraging folks to come and to expect God to do great things while you are here. If you register here by May 21st, you can save $100.

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