What’s The Future of Television for Sharing the Christian Message?

Recently I was interviewed by Charisma magazine on the relevance of using television as a tool for sharing the Christian message. In a world where most churches, ministries, and nonprofits are moving to the Internet, why think about TV anymore? I thought you might be interested in my answers. Let me know what you think:

CHARISMA: Charismatics have often been pioneers in virtually every form of media, yet today most people tend to jump on the Christian-bashing bandwagon and assume we’re lagging behind cultural trends. How would you assess where charismatics are today in the media world? What needs to change?

PHIL: Being there first, doesn’t necessarily mean being there best.  In my book, “The Last TV Evangelist,” I wrote that I’m extraordinarily proud of an earlier generation of Charismatic believers like Oral Roberts who helped pioneer religious broadcasting.  Although Christian radio began as early as the thirties, in 1955 Oral partnered with NBC to create what would become one of the longest running and most watched nationally broadcast weekly Christian TV program called “The Abundant Life Program.” However, in most cases, while these leaders were passionate about the message, they weren’t so passionate about how it was delivered.  As a result, much of Christian broadcasting over the years has been low quality, corny, and very cheesy.  Today, while there’s still much of that around, we’ve improved dramatically.  There’s no question that a new generation of pastors and ministry leaders understand the need to package the message in a creative and compelling program.  Certainly there are still too many talking head preachers and low budget interview programs for my taste, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.

CHARISMA: What are the biggest challenges facing media charismatics? Are there other examples, other than the ones you mentioned in your recent blogs, of “legacy” media ministries (still charismatic) successfully making the necessary transition?

PHIL: Too many of the most successful media ministries of the past became locked in a rut of their own making.  They forgot that while the Bible never changes, everything else does – people, trends, culture, styles, and more.  They believed that because something worked for them in 1985, it should still work today.  As a result, the very culture they were trying to reach left them in the dustbin of history.  That’s why so many media ministries that were enormously significant and influential a decade or two ago, are either bankrupt, heavily in debt, or forgotten about today.

The good news is that there are some “legacy” ministries that kept up with a changing culture.  Joyce Meyer is a perfect example.  Once she realized how rapidly her audience and donors were changing, she was willing to take a hard look at every aspect of her ministry from that perspective.  As a result, she’s more successful and influential today than ever.  Joel Osteen is probably the greatest success story of a media leader who’s transitioned well to the second generation.

CHARISMA: What are some of the positive elements and trends you see developing among media charismatics?

PHIL: There are many, but probably the most important is the understanding of the media itself.  The first generation of Christian media leaders were mostly pastors or evangelists.  As a result, they saw everything through the lens of preaching. That’s why for decades, preaching programs dominated religious media – both radio and TV.  I love great preaching, but when it comes to the media, it’s not always the best method of sharing our message.  That’s why I’ve spent my life educating pastors and ministry leaders about media platforms and how they work.  As a result, today, we’re seeing more Christians producing feature films, documentaries, music programs, short films, and more.  Plus, many Christian organizations are doing remarkable things online through websites, short videos, and social media.

Another fantastic development is the rise of Christian media professionals in Hollywood.  Today, there are literally hundreds of strong believers working at major studios and production companies who are making a difference from the inside.  In fact, right now, there are three  $100 million+ movies in development on Christian themes: one on Moses, another on Noah, and a third based on John Milton’s epic poem, “Paradise Lost.”

CHARISMA: Who are some of the names, faces and players in the “charismatic media” realm that people should be paying attention to these days?

PHIL: If you would have asked me that 10-20 years ago, my list would have been filled with pastors or ministry leaders.  But today, that list would include many dedicated “behind the scenes” professionals, who have been instrumental in creating more creative and compelling programs.  From a “famous leader” point of view, in the next few years I would keep my eye on people like Jentzen Franklin, Benny Perez, Stovall Weems, Gary and Drenda Keesee, Ron Carpenter, Kyle Searcy, David McGee, Judah Smith, Mark Crow, Rich Wilkerson Jr., Carl Lentz, Jordan Wagner, David McGee and a few others.  Some of these leaders aren’t very visible right now, but within a few years, will be making an impact nationally.

CHARISMA: Why are charismatics still so prominent on Christian TV (as opposed to mainstream evangelicals)? And on the flip side, why does “charismania” often pose such problems onscreen?

PHIL: I’ve often joked that Charismatics produce much more interesting programs than mainstream evangelicals, but Charismatics also have a higher rate of ending up in court or in jail.  Sadly, the same creativity, boldness, and openness to risk that helps create interesting media also pushes some people into ego, outlandish behavior, and sometimes outright crime.  What frustrates me the most is the excess we’ve seen in Christian media – especially among the Charismatic community.  A new generation of pastors and ministry leaders look at that and think, “If that’s Christian broadcasting, then I don’t want to have anything to do with it.”  So they turn their back on traditional radio and television, which are still incredible tools for reaching today’s culture.

CHARISMA: Where do you feel the Holy Spirit is moving most today in the charismatic media community?

PHIL: My answer may seem strange, but what I’m seeing is a new generation of pastors and ministry leaders who are Spirit-filled, but not strange.  A generation ago, many of the Charismatic and Pentecostal figures you’d see on Christian TV may have been sincere, but they were just plain weird.  Why does a Charismatic leader have to have weird hair, wear odd clothes, or act like a Hollywood celebrity?  Fortunately today, people consider the few of those guys who are left as fringe, and are moving toward new Charismatic leaders who are more dedicated to Biblical truth, don’t live a lavish lifestyle, and are simply normal folks like you and me.  Between you and me, as a media producer and consultant, I’m looking for the pastor or ministry leader who will define for a 21st Century culture what it means to live a Spirit-filled life without being wacky.

Trust me, the media world is waiting for that leader.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 17th, 2012 at 2:00 pm and is filed under General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

13 Responses to “What’s The Future of Television for Sharing the Christian Message?”

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  1. I love this statement: “I’m looking for the pastor or ministry leader who will define for a 21st Century culture what it means to live a Spirit-filled life without being wacky.” Truly, what the world needs is an example of a “normal” person who loves the Lord. Most Christians watch mainstream movies, listen to mainstream music, etc. etc. Yet for some reason, it seems as though leaders in the spotlight want to highlight how “special” and different they are, rather than being relatable. Jesus was all things to all men, talking gruffly to the Pharisees (who really needed that), and talking gently to the children. The truth is that most Christians are “normal,” but Christian leaders in the spotlight often don’t portray that.

  2. Benny Perez says:

    Phil I agree with you 100% in regards to having normal people on TV who just love Jesus. Growing up watching some of the stuff on TV was a turn off. I thank God for Joel and Joyce and others who are showing Jesus to a world without being weird.

    I believe the Holy Spirit is moving and now is the time for a new group of Charasmatic Leaders to emerge on TV. It is time to show the Jesus Style, where one is naturally supernatural.

    Benny Perez

  3. Mark Crow says:

    Thanks Phil for your insight. I agree, the bible never changes but we must change how we use it to reach this generation.

    People are looking for hope. We have biblical promises that hope is available to all. In short information may be more important than inspiration to the people of our day.

    I agree with Benny that both Joel and Joyce have done a tremendous job of informing people that there is hope for all.

  4. Jeff Nene says:

    Phil, a great summation of the condition of Christian broadcasting. I had a pastor who used to say, “The message never changes but the method needs to always change!”

    I believe there is a new group of media leaders on the horizon. They are passionate, they have energy and they love God! Those of us still in the business don’t need to tell them what to do. God can speak to them too. Rather, we need to encourage them, guide them and let God use them.

    Great post!

    Jeff Nene

    • Phil Cooke says:

      Great comment Jeff.  The question becomes how we find that next new generation.  We should all be keeping our eyes open to help them gain a voice.

    • Mhass26 says:

      Great article from Phil, and a wonderful response from you Jeff! I happen to be one of those passionate media warriors on the horizon, and God is speaking to me in ways that I have yet to see in Christian broadcasting. Let his glory lead and shine. =)

  5. MJ says:

    Great post Phil! I too like your last comment. I think we’re
    moving in the right direction as a whole to communicate the Gospel through
    television. I produce one Christian television show on an international
    broadcast network and work my hardest to attempt to book guests like those you
    listed above to counter what much of the rest of the network airs. I fear that
    our show is not making the impact it could due to the networks sigma, falling
    viewership, set design, format, etc. It’s like using the best ingredients
    available when possible, but put it in a malfunctioning oven and the results
    are not what they could have been. However, I am very encouraged by what I do
    see in other media platforms and some television. I do believe television does
    play, and always will play a large part in getting the message out… in spite of
    our history. 

  6. Deborah says:

    Great answers to some
    interesting questions.  Thanks for your insight.  I think Christian media will
    always be viewed with mixed responses, as we are showcasing a confronting
    message.  The gospel is one of the
    most challenging subjects to work with and communicate effectively in our ever
    growing, media hungry society. 
    God’s message is black and white, while humans by nature live in the
    grey. 

    I love that you made reference to
    your  ‘taste’ in relating to what
    you thought was a compelling and creative program.  Whatever we, as a Christian community produce, if God
    inspired and anointed, will make an impact where it counts.  Our challenge is not only to remain
    relevant at the forefront of the media industry, but to also keep up with the
    viewers’ consumption of media.  I
    pray Christian ministries around the world will take up the challenge to think
    big and creatively to express the greatness of our God on all media platforms.

  7. Interesting article, but you didn’t mention too much about the growing impact of social media and the increased accessibility for ministries of all sizes. That latest generation, Media Church 2.0 if you will, offers all of us the chance to reach an enormous audience at a relatively low cost. Also carving one’s own niche has never been easier…

  8. Mikehealytraining says:

    Well Said!
    Phil,I actually attend Gary and Drenda Keesee’s church and worked security for you the time you visited.
    Thanks again for helping lead the way in teaching people how to reach those who really need it in a way that actually makes sense.
    Keep up the great work!

  9. Sarahb says:

    Not bad!  I think you’ve got some great points & I generally agree with the feedback below.  Having been in the Christian media scene for more than 15 years now, it most certainly has changed.  Any astute person knows that the presentation must be dialed in to the audience that is watching or there will be no audience.  Furthermore, Christian networks also have a role to play in this unfolding drama.  With all of our opinions, what I believe matters the most is that we live our daily existence such that the people we are around (through TV, in the grocery store or PTO) find Jesus nothing less than thoroughly irresistible.    

  10. Rodney Hall says:

    A great synopsis of today’s Christian media!  Thanks for the wisdom!

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