The Dominant Medium We Neglect

Editors’ note: 

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Christian television.

What first crosses your mind upon seeing those two words? Whether you envision the spectacular scandals of the late 1980s, or the over-the-top material opulence and questionable theology featured on some of today’s most prominent programs, your reaction probably isn’t entirely positive, to say the least.

Why is compelling, sober, orthodox biblical worldview-and-discipleship programming virtually nonexistent? Why aren’t reasonably well-known members of this community equally as prominent in today’s most dominant form of media communication?

Many ministries point to a sense of God’s specific calling and—perhaps even more importantly—a careful assessment of the optimal ways to deploy resources. There’s even a question of whether television-delivered preaching remains effective in our time (which sounds a tad strange coming from entities utilizing pre-recorded messages at satellite campuses during worship, but that’s another subject).

Are we overlooking an important mission field? Are television consumers akin to a media “unreached people group” in terms of the theological distinctives we find so precious?

What About the Internet?

Though the internet is unquestionably a fast-rising star in the media sky, television remains the sun for visual stimulation, education, and vegetation. Recent statistics from Nielsen Research reveal that, on average, Americans watch a staggering 5.2 hours of television per day (among blacks it’s nearly 7.5) when factoring in both live TV and time-shifted viewing using digital video recorders.

Despite increasing usage across all demographics, Nielsen reported that combined time using smartphones, tablets, and PCs wasn’t even half that amount. Not even half. Combined.

Alternative to Spiritual Junk

If you asked Americans to describe Christianity, would their answers more closely mirror the message of Kenneth Copeland or Albert Mohler? Creflo Dollar or Anthony Carter? Benny Hinn or Tim Keller? Joel Osteen or John Piper?

Are we willing to consider that part of the reason for the answers we’d receive is that, in each of those pairs, one is using the dominant medium of our time while the other is not?

Yes, it’s fair to note that just as people gorge on fast food while passing by healthier options, the flesh-affirming message of false teachers is more palatable to a wide audience. But shouldn’t there at least be some options other than spiritual junk food?

We can lament the wasted time, mental stagnation, and missed opportunities of our neighbors gorging themselves on harmful television fare until Christ returns. But that’s not going to change the reality that many modern people—including professing Christians—plunk down more cash for a flat-screen TV than they give their church in a year. And how is this going to change if their only encounter with “Christianity” in their chosen medium is a diet of spoiled milk and no meat?

Taking the Field

Nothing is going to change until you, and others like you, are willing to at least consider taking the field and entering the game. Tragically, many of us seem to find more joy in criticizing—and creating snarky memes about—the way other Christians engage their TVs than in rolling up our sleeves and investing whatever necessary to exercise godly dominion over the airwaves.

As director of programming for the NRB Television Network—a channel seeking to be a Christian-worldview version of PBS, Discovery, and/or The History Channel, with limited places for more traditional teaching programs—I share many of your frustrations, but with a uniquely painful twist: I’m responsible for filling the network’s schedule of preaching and devotional fare. Finding biblically grounded ministries willing to take hold of this particular “bigger megaphone” can be a monumental challenge. For whatever set of reasons, many in this realm have never even considered utilizing broadcast television.

I humbly suggest this is tragically short-sighted.

“Television has been documented as having influenced the way in which people perceive social groups and trends, the nature of life and reality, and the way in which people organize and live their lives,” Australian pastor and media researcher Peter Horsfield observes. “If the church is meant to be concerned about what things influence people’s thought and behavior, it must be actively concerned with television.”

Many affiliated with TGC—including the organization itself—produce excellent video for the internet, but few include a vision for broadcast. The NRB Network is grateful for the opportunity to air TGC various features throughout our programming lineup, including primetime. But when it comes to weekly teaching and preaching programs from affiliated and likeminded ministries, the pickings are slim.

Considering the Call and the Cost

There is no “one size fits all” model for television outreach. You may choose to craft content for your “Jerusalem” via a cable channel or local station; distribute regionally to “Judea and Samaria” on several outlets; or to “the uttermost parts” through a satellite or cable network.

Television ministry isn’t for everyone, to be sure, and certainly there are areas of concern for those embarking on this journey without carefully considering its effect on a congregation and its resources (see Quentin Schultze’s Televangelism and American Culture). (What form of outreach can you name without its potential dangers?) Yet I believe the possible pitfalls are dwarfed by the proven potential of ministering to hundreds or thousands of souls each time you take to the airwaves.

Do you like what you see on today’s Christian TV? If not, what might you, your ministry, or your congregation be able to do about it? It’s time for us to grab hold of this powerful, culture-shaping form of mass communication for the glory of God and the joy of his people.