Over the past several years as a Media Consultant, I have traveled to many cities across the United States. As I sit in my hotel room, I always make it a point to scan across all the local channels to see which churches are making use of the medium of television in their community.
Inevitably what I see is that there are very few and what little I find is almost a carbon copy of what I saw in the previous city. What I will attempt to do in this article is raise the awareness to the possibility that a more creative approach might be what is needed to really make an impact in today’s culture.
The cost of television equipment has dropped dramatically over the past several years making it possible for churches to produce great quality programming for a fraction of the cost. Great quality cameras and editing systems are now so affordable that the only thing needed is the ingenuity and creativity of the people involved in the media department of your church. Before you set off to create your masterpiece, you have to decide what your objective is in creating the program you are going provide to your community.
You might ask yourself, “Well, isn’t the pastor’s message or church service what we need to produce and air on television?” As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, what I saw at nearly every city seemed to be a carbon copy of itself. I was of course referring to the fact that every program I saw from a church was just that, a recording of the Pastor’s sermon from maybe the previous week or a teaching program with the Pastor behind his desk.
I don’t want to appear to be anti-preaching or anti-Bible teaching because I do believe there is a need for such programs and they do serve a purpose. What I want to highlight here is that once you define what the purpose is for having a program on television, you will notice that a different approach might be more effective. This brings me to the first thing you need to determine before you launch out and produce your first program.
I believe there are three different objectives you must consider as you prepare to produce your television creation. As you decide to get into the television media you need to determine if you are going to use media as:
1. AN EXTENSION OF YOUR CHURCH
2. AN OUTREACH OF YOUR CHURCH
3. A PROMOTION FOR YOUR CHURCH
Each of these objectives requires a different approach and a different style of program. Let’s first take a look at using media as an extension of your church. My father-in-law used to tell me of a time when nothing was open on Sunday. All the department stores were closed, grocery stores were closed, all gas stations were closed, you get the picture. This made it possible for every one to attend the church of their choice and get fed spiritually every Sunday. That is no longer the case.
Now everyone is open for business and that has caused many to miss church and perhaps turn to television to get their spiritual feeding. Most end up viewing a nationally broadcast Pastor such as Joel Osteen or T.D. Jakes depending on your style preference, but not your local Pastor whom God has placed you under. This is a perfect scenario for the preaching or teaching program most churches are producing.
Perhaps there are parishioners who are no longer able to attend your service because they have become too elderly and are no longer able to get out of the house. An extension of the church is just what they are in need of. What better way to continue to minister to them than with a program that features the Pastor preaching the sermons they love and have been accustomed to hearing when they are able to attend church.
My recommendation is that you place this program on cable access where it costs little or nothing and apply your media budget in the third objective which we will discuss a little later in this article.
Next let’s talk about the second objective. While this is probably one of the most important objectives that we as a church should consider, it is also one of the least achieved as it relates to programming. This could be where I get most if not all pastors angry with me.
As I mentioned earlier, nearly every program I saw in cities across the United States was the sermon from their Sunday morning service. In my current position at Trinity Broadcasting network, I am able to review the Nielson ratings on a daily basis for the programs we air across the network.
This has given me great insight into what attracts most viewers. What I have discovered is that while there are many Christians that tune in to the more traditional Bible teaching programs, we get the largest number of viewers when we program something more non-traditional like a movie, documentary, journalistic, or comedy/music special.
Now you may say, “We are not here to entertain people, we are here to minister to them.” To that I say, you are 100% correct but how are you going to teach them and minister to them unless you catch them first. We are called to be fishers of men and while I am not into the sport of fishing, I do understand that in order to catch the fish, you need the right kind of bait. That is what I am suggesting as you decide what kind of program to produce. Be creative and relevant in what you are producing.
There is a church in Kansas that has understood the need for the right kind of bait and they have produced a great program that has become very popular in their community. They have produced a program that resembles The David Letterman Show with a live band, comedy skits, interviews and oh yes, a short message from their Sunday morning service. They are still doing what every Pastor feels they must do, but are packaging it so they get the attention of the unsaved viewer first. There are a couple of churches that are producing reality type shows like Survivor or Road Rules but with a Christian angle. My recommendation is have a brainstorming meeting with the Pastor and the media team and come up with some creative alternatives.
Finally, let’s take a look at the third and final objective, using media as a promotion for your church. Over 14 years ago, I was privileged to help in the start of a new church in Southern California. We started in the Pastor’s house with nothing more than 12 people. It was a small group with a large vision. Very early on we began producing commercials and placing on our local cable system on various cable networks. Our church has gone from 12 people to over 7,000 people in just over 14 years.
If you ask the pastor what caused such great growth to occur, he would say it was his great teaching style. If you asked the youth Pastor, he would say it was his great ability to attract the youth. I as the worship leader would have to say it was the great worship with a great choir and band. In reality, I think we would all be right to a great extent but how would anyone know anything about us unless we somehow made them aware of who we were?
Placing commercials on networks such as ESPN, The History Channel, CNN, Nickelodeon and several others, placed us right where the people were. If you don’t have a large media budget, this is a great option to look at. All you need is a good quality camera, an editing system and a highly creative individual. Earlier in the article I mentioned that you should save your money for this option. If you are creating a program of your Sunday message already, I would highly suggest that you place that on Public access TV and spend the money on buying ad time on your local cable system. This will surely bring growth to your church, which will of course bring financial growth, allowing you to have more available for your media budget.
I hope this has stirred your creative juices a little as you begin to look at what you want to accomplish in the area of television. Have a few creative meetings, come up with a plan, and begin to program for you community.