Christian Media

Warning Signs of Bad Christian Television

In my book “The Last TV Evangelist: Why The Next Generation Couldn’t Care Less About Christian Media – And Why It Matters,” I released a list of mistakes that reveal when Christians are dropping the ball – particularly on television. Some readers have called it “TV Evangelist Porn.” While that may be a stretch, it does echo just how out of sync with good taste these “offenses” are:

OFFENDER #1: If you talk in a different voice when the camera is turned on.   Love it or hate it, reality programming has left an indelible mark on the industry. So when you appear on your program with your “classic TV voice” it sticks out like a sore thumb. There are numerous ministry leaders who are gracious and authentic when talking with friends. But turn on the camera, and they become someone else. Be real. Speak normally. It doesn’t make you more anointed or powerful when you try to sound like God. The “over the top” era is done.

OFFENDER #2: If on TV you wear different clothes or hairstyles than your audience.   Back in the glory days of “variety” programming, stars wore some pretty weird outfits, and the audience loved it. But that was a different time. While I’m always open to change, as of this writing,
Nehru jackets are done.
Big gold chains are for hip-hop artists and gangsters.
Trust me. Everyone knows that’s a toupee on your head.
T.D. Jakes is cool. White preachers that try to dress like T.D. are not.
T-shirts under sport coats went out with Miami Vice.
Spandex is not for TV – ever.

And when it comes to TV evangelists, too many still have the hair thing going on. Years ago, I filmed one offender deep in the desert of the Middle East for a TV segment. The wind was raging, and his comb-over was so huge, he went through nearly a case of hairspray to keep it under control. When he was finished, his hair looked more like a NASCAR helmet. The desert sands were blowing all around him, and my crew was fighting to hold down the equipment, but that comb-over stayed firm without a hair out of place. If a nuclear attack had happened at that moment, I wanted under that helmet of hair.

Now to be fair, let me turn the tables and say something to today’s “hip” younger pastors:
It’s time to stop wearing those striped shirts with the shirttails out when you preach.
Wearing jeans and open collar shirts is fine. But styles change and it’s time to change with it. Hundreds of young contemporary pastors all look alike today – jeans, striped shirts, tails out.  And while you’re tossing out those shirts, dump anything with big designs on it. You know what I’m talking about – the t-shirts with the big printed crosses, or the torn up sport coats with stuff written on them.
The point is – people change, trends change, and fashion changes. When every pastor in America looks alike, nothing is distinctive anymore.

OFFENDER #3: If you use the phrases, “Shake the Nations,” “Transform Your Life,” or “Touch the World” more than once in a 30 minute TV or radio program.  Yes – I admit being guilty of these offenses in my day, but I went into treatment and I’m better now. The point is about hype. There’s just too much of it in religious media.  When every book or sermon from every preacher will change your life, then nothing will. The audience gets numb when the superlatives come in a continual flood. Yes, God can do amazing things. He can transform people’s lives. He can shake nations. But be realistic about your products and your ministry. Let other people say nice things about you. Modesty is a virtue. You’ll be amazed at the credibility you’ll gain with the audience.

OFFENDER #4: If the audience notices the furniture more than you.  For some reason I can’t figure out, we’ve come to think that we’ll gain more respect as Christian broadcasters if we create the illusion of a really expensive set. When the set design is over the top the audience thinks “Why should I financially support that media ministry?” Your set makes it appear you have all the money you’ll ever need. I love a great setting for a program and our company has designed and built some amazing sets for our media clients. When it’s appropriate, it can make a huge impact because it places your message in a complimentary setting.  Sets are important. But the program is about your message – not about you or your set.

OFFENDER #5: If you’re still doing a talk show format with a monologue, a live band, and interviews.  Comedians like Leno, Fallon, Letterman, Kimmel, and others have taken control of that territory. So let’s look at another approach. For some mysterious reason, certain Christian broadcasters think this format is sacred, and have tried it over and over and still haven’t succeeded. Be bold. Be innovative. Stop copying other people and explore the right format that will showcase your gifts and talents – not look like someone else.

OFFENDER #6: If you’re still building altars of prayer requests people have sent in.  It’s done for one reason – to impress the audience with numbers. If the audience can see that thousands of people responded, and the evangelist has built an altar from the requests, then maybe I should send in mine as well (and include a check.)

The list of religious media indiscretions could continue but you get my point. The production styles, creative ideas, fashion, or techniques that worked yesterday don’t always work today. Please remember that in listing these particular offenses, I’m not commenting on the intentions or integrity of particular ministries who are still trying these worn out methods. I have the greatest respect for anyone trying to share their faith with the culture.  But I’m commenting on the need to stop kicking a dead horse, and start looking at a new method of transportation.

Our job as communicators is to see the changes coming in the culture and adapt, so our message is as relevant now as it was yesterday – and will still be tomorrow.  You can also find out much more in my book, The Last TV Evangelist.

Any other offenses that bother you?

 

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19 Comments

  1. Yes, as much as I would love to dress like Ziggy Stardust, have Randy Stonehill hair, and furnishings like Liberace, I’ve found that genuineness sprinkled with a touch of vulnerability is what actually communicates well. Every speaker must ask themselves if the way they look enables the message, or gets in the way of it.

  2. Interesting article Phil. I don’t watch any religious TV (for obvious reasons). But I’m curious how you would write this to a local pastor? I pastor a church in a small town. Wearing a suit and/or tie would simply be out of the question. What do you suggest?

  3. Thanks Phil. I thought I was the super critical flat screen gazer, but it seems many of the things that make me cringe maybe valid. My biggest jaw tightener is when Christian interviewers have a guest then get so excited about the guests message the interviewer shares the one big thing that person has been blessed to share. While the interviewee sits and listens to their message being preached…sort of and hardy is able to say a word. Or when the interviewer asks a question then cuts the interviewee off before the full answer is given and the interviewer seems clueless they did that. That is showing me they are more interested in the time hacks or what’s going on behind the cameras then they are truly listening to the answer. Theres two I’ll stop now…

  4. Addendum to #6: If you are trying to convince the masses that the ONLY way they will be blessed is to support YOUR ministry. Also VERY leary of those whose “testimonial interviews” with guests only speak of blessings in terms of financial gains.

      1. There are a lot of radio ministries that ask for support “after you have supported your local church.” Most of them are in the New Reformed camp. About seed faith ministries, I too wait to hear that giving money to somebody else is a good idea.

      2. Phil, I actually recently heard a prominent ministry on tv have their
        announcer say at the end, ” ______ ministry believes your tithe belongs
        to your local church to support it ministry. Any offerings you would
        like to give above and beyond that we ask you to prayerfully consider
        supporting this ministry”. I nearly tripped over my own feet when I
        heard it. For many years when I was a pastor I always disliked the fact
        that many ministries shamelessly asked for tithe AND offerings as if
        the local church did not exist or need financial support from its
        members. I too would like to hear and see more ministries do that WHEN I
        watch Christian TV and for some of the reasons you listed I have lost
        interest in many.

  5. Hi Phil – I work for a large TV ministry and I agree with your points (and we only violate one or two of them!). Here’s my question: anytime we try to break out of the TV realm and into the online world (and putting short form stories on the web, instead of a full 60 minute broadcast), we don’t get any sort of traction or response. It’s not like we’re unpopular – with over 1 million fans on Facebook – it’s just that no one ever responds to us. And we certainly haven’t found a way to monetize our online endeavors… Any suggestions?

    1. That’s a tough question Burt – not know the ministry you’re with. However, I can tell you that the transition from online VIEWERS to online DONORS or RESPONDERS is the biggest challenge nonprofits and ministries face right now. There are some donor development experts we work with who are making some interesting progress, and perhaps I’ll do a series of posts in the coming weeks on the subject. It’s a big question and I’m glad you brought it up.

  6. All very good observations, Phill
    A couple more for you (which I know you already know…)

    1. The camera equipment is woefully outdated, lighting is amateurishly poor, and camera operators (and the director) clearly untrained. If you can’t do TV to at least a medium level of professionalism, don’t do it at all. TV viewers never say, “Oh, this is a Christian program… it’s OK that it looks terrible.”

    2. At the other end of the spectrum, just because you have the latest gee-whiz electronic gadgetry/cameras/graphics/ jibs/Steadicam/LED lights/GoPros, doesn’t mean you have to use ALL OF THEM ALL THE TIME AND AS MUCH AS HUMANLY POSSIBLE. They are storytelling tools, nothing more. YOU RARELY TYPE IN ALL CAPS for good reasons. Same goes for all your expensive tech toys. Learn from a pro how, when, where, and why to use them to their maximum potential.

    3. Don’t try doing TV ministry on your own with no professional guidance. If I want to race cars, I hire a race car driver to teach me. If I want to learn jiu-jitsu, I hire a black belt to teach me. If I want to launch an effective TV ministry, I do not learn it from YouTube. That’s just plain bad stewardship. (And dumb.)

  7. Don’t use a Southern Accent unless you are really from the South.

    Don’t do the Carnac the Magnificent bit where you are divining that a viewer is suffering from an illness then heal them through the TV. You look like John Edwards in a polyester suit. Remember when James Randi debunked Peter Popoff on Tonight Show? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q7BQKu0YP8Y

      1. The Emperor is naked but he is still the Emperor. Now he sells Miracle Water and I’m guessing that Miracle Air is next.

  8. They Holy Spirit isn’t in a time frame.He really has to work around that when a ministry is really trying to reach out and minister to people for whatever time limits they have.

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