Strategy & MarketingChristian Media

Media Ministries: Welcome to the New Normal

Back in the days of only 3 TV channels, there were a handful of monster sized media ministries:  Oral Roberts, Billy Graham, Rex Humbard, and Jimmy Swaggart topped the list early, with Pat Robertson and Robert Schuller coming in a bit later.  Then, with the advent of religious TV networks, more started growing:  Rod Parsley, Lester Sumrall, John Osteen, Fred Price, and others.  Today, the leaders are ministries like Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar, Ken Copeland, Joyce Meyer, TD Jakes, and of course the networks like TBN and Daystar that give most of them their biggest platform.   But now, in the wake of this recent financial crisis, the question becomes, will we see so many religious ministries of that size ever again? 

While a few will continue, for the vast majority I say no, for a couple of reasons.  According to a July Gallup poll, 32% of respondents said they’re spending less across the board.  More telling however, is that these consumers expect this cutback to be their “new normal pattern” for the future.  Interpublic Group did a similar study and found that 75% have altered their purchasing in the last year.  While some have traded down, most seem to have evolved into a completely new lifestyle.  As one major advertising agency executive put it:  “People are going to emerge from the recession completely changed.”  With non-profit giving, the cycles can sometimes be different, but you can expect their giving habits to be dramatically adjusted as well.

The second issue is technology and changing generations.  By 2010, Generation Y will outnumber Baby Boomers and 96% have already joined an online social network.  It took traditional radio 38 years and TV 13 years to reach 50 million users, but iPhone applications hit 1 billion in only 9 months.  Bob Garfield, author of “The Chaos Scenario” predicts that within 5 years, one of the major 4 TV networks will drop out, maybe two.  By this Christmas, TV sets will easily allow consumers to watch broadband video and have imbedded links to the major online entertainment sites.

So what does all this mean for major ministries?  While traditional media isn’t going away, you basically have two choices:  Evolve, or disappear.  If you’re having financial struggles right now, here’s my recommendations:

1.  First, don’t be so quick to cut back or fire the people involved in your fund raising or donor development.  The fact that your direct mail letters, promotional efforts, TV commercials, or appeals aren’t getting the old response isn’t necessarily because they’ve failed.  The money and audience simply aren’t out there like they used to be.  The truth is, in this circumstance, the employees, consultants, or vendors you think are failing, may be the very ones keeping you alive.  This is a tectonic shift in the giving audience.  You can’t compare your response today to your old response.  That’s just a strategy for making yourself crazy.  People are cutting back, and they’re consuming media in different ways.  Get used to it.

2.  Start re-thinking your size and your priorities.
  The ministry you had 5-10 years ago probably won’t be ministry you have from here on out.  And if you don’t make the tough decisions now, the bank will make them for you next year.  What are those areas of ministry that seemed like a good idea at the time, but you simply can’t afford anymore?  Start cutting the fat, but here’s the secret to cutting:  Don’t just cut to save money.  Use cutbacks to begin shaping the organization that will emerge from this crisis.  Re-think your staff, and focus on the most competent team members.  Loyalty is nice, but if that’s all an employee can offer, then you simply may not be able to keep them around.  Flush out office politics, and build a team of energetic, strategic thinkers.  Stop comparing everything to the “good old days” and start re-envisioning your ministry in the context of a new economic and media world.

3.  Change your attitude.  I know times are tough, but walking into some major ministries today is like walking into a toxic waste dump.  Leaders are hammering on their employees, which just creates distrust and resentment.  Don’t feed the downward spiral.  Be a real leader.  Stop placing blame and start finding solutions.

4. Finally,  remember that revolutions can be good things.
  While we’re living in a time of unthinkable disruption, we’re not condemned to be mere victims.  Get over the embarrassment that your organization may be shrinking, or your lifestyle might be cut back.  Embrace the challenge.  Historically, times of great peril have often been times of great reinvention. We can lament the good old days, or better yet, recognize that perhaps God is shaking our old ways of thinking for an even greater purpose.

The world has changed.  How we respond is up to us. 

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  1. As we embrace all the “new” technologies…please embrace good, impactful content as well.  Some players may be weeded out for that aspect, which would be a good thing.

  2. Phil-

    Your blog this morning is not necessarily what I wanted to read first thing on a Monday, but I applaude your incredible insight. As the President of a medium-sized broadcast mininstry, it has become painfully obvious that the need for new thinking and a redirection of priorities will be necessary for sustained existence. Notice I said existence, not growth. There has been tremendous ebb-and-flow with media ministries over the past 32 years that I have been involved with them, from local church to international ministries; however, NEVER has there been more uncertainty of our future than present trends lay before us. Forget that fund-raising in this environment has been unprecendentingly difficult. Forget that broadcast networks continue to raise rates in spite of knowing the difficulties ministries are facing. Forget the NOW…what about tomorrow? If broadcast leaders don’t get a handle on the future instead of just concentrating on the survival of the here-and-now, there will be no future. Super-ministries will become a thing of the past and only those with forward-thinking will survive. Thanks for the heads-up and courage to point out the obvious…even on a Monday morning!

  3. Although I know there’s some truth to these words…  it all sounds a bit depressing to me…it also depends upon the particular ministry you’re talking about. I know several who are having record years…I know some who are tightening their belts.


    The key from my perspective is developing innovation (not doing the same old… same old), planning and marketing (strategy, goals and objectives), optimization and execution (doing what it takes to make things better and becoming more efficient at it).


    Results are showing that there is still an audience out there, however if it is getting smaller…then as a part of your approach you need to find out where the niche audience is and focus your ROI there as you continue to target and develope other sources of income.


    One side note to Ron…good points….however about networks raising rates…we are NOT seeing higher rates in fact in many cases we have negotiated lower rates over the past year based on the soft economy.


    As we learn through this process…I hope to respond to change wisely.


  4. Point number four is a really good one. I think that in times of comfort we remember too well what works, but forget that it took a revolution in thinking to get there. Each generation gets its moment where they are called to change. Here is our’s; let’s make good on it.

  5. Vertical Response and Targeted Vertical Marketing is where it is at in this day of media confusion…  I have experienced tremendous success using the Internet to communicate with my ministry constituents.  While cutting back syndicated media airtime, growing program outreaches into the networks that seem to be so saturated – only makes sense for newcomers to media ministry. Yes the pie is getting cut into smaller and smaller pieces as the proliferation of media ministries and networks continues.  Streaming media, e-blasts with video letters embedded, and podcasts to the new types of cellphones that can show video only makes sense to communicate ever-more personally to that 1 user. 

    I have served many media ministries and have experienced great success down through many years and economic cycles.  Yes, ministries cutback when they need to, but today,  so many are growing like never before as they embrace the new media using the Internet.  I may be readhed through social media networks I subscribe to. 



  6. As a new comer to TV (three years) and to the media world I would have to agree with Phil. However, I know that media is here to stay and I know that people will always be looking for answers. I believe that for the money, media is still an incredible deal. I pastor a church of 900 people. The budget for that church is 2 or 3 times what I spend on media yet Faith Life Now recieves 35,000 to 40,000 unique visitors to our website each month. That is 30 to 40 times the number of people that I reach in my church on a monthly basis. When I sit back and look at what media accomplishes, I am inspired, knowing that there are probably at least twice that number that watched, were encouraged but did not respond or go to our website. Yes it is expensive, but worth it.

    As far as costs go, it is a challenge, but we always manage to pay our bills. As far as the future, I believe change will be needed but I do not think that the economic problems brought that to light. Anyone with any business sense knows that change is a way of life. So with media’s huge potential to reach millions and cross borders, we all need to maintain an open mind to the future, realizing from the past that the changes that are occuring now will actually provide us with the ability to reach even more people.

    Gary Keesee

  7. I remember watching Herbert Armstrong and the World Tommorrow program as a kid. From what I can remember this program was on one of the top 3 TV channels and had a huge number of viewers…surprised you did not mention this program.

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