7 Things Churches Can Learn from Christian TV

May 20th, 2011

I suspect if someone were to take a poll on how much people in various careers are trusted by others, television evangelists would fall near the bottom, somewhere between used car salesmen and politicians. Since the Christian TV scandals of the 80’s, many people have been hesitant to put a lot of faith in religious programming.

Yet if you look at the amount of Christian TV shows out there, the genre seems stronger than ever. And have you checked out some of the shows lately? It’s not just people with bad hair sobbing anymore. Perhaps it’s the influence of the YouTube generation, but there’s actually some wheat out there among all the chaff. I’ll leave it to the reader to figure out which shows are the wheat (if you dare), because for now I want to explore this idea: Are there things churches can learn from the successes (rather than the excesses) of Christian television? I believe so-- in fact, I found seven.

Do it in an hour. I think one of my former pastors used to get really annoyed at me when I told him he needed to keep the services short. How come when Rick Warren says it, it’s gospel, but when I say it, I’m just complaining? Seriously, I’m not pointing it out so I can get home for football or beat the Baptists to Olive Garden. I believe when we focus on keeping church services brief, we leave people wanting more and we keep the quality high. Sure there are going to be exceptions. One of the arguments against limiting the length of a service is that it might hinder the Holy Spirit. But on television, they don’t have a choice. They have to be off the air at a certain time. Yet God still seems to be working through many of these ministries.

Don’t be afraid to ask for financial support. Some TV ministries ask too much, but many churches don’t ask enough! People want to be part of something bigger than themselves, and they want to know that their money is making a difference for the Kingdom of God. Whether solid or not, one thing most TV ministries have in common is the buy-in. They have supporters who believe in what they’re doing enough to help out financially. Churches should do as good a job getting people excited about giving to their ministries.

God uses personalities. Many of us, especially those of us in the mainline, are so afraid of “celebrity Christianity” and cults of personality that we work hard keeping everything generic. The problem is, our culture responds to personalities, and generic is often seen as boring. Since Old Testament times, God has occasionally used “famous” people to lead his people. As long as egos are kept in check, I believe this can be done for the glory of God.

Ask for specific responses. Television ministries aren’t shy about soliciting your feedback. “Pick up the phone. Write us. E-mail us. Operators are standing by, 24 hours a day. Order this book. Send us your testimony.” Churches should work just as hard hard to get more people involved in their ministries.

Disciple people and take them to the next level. Have you ever noticed how most television ministries offer spiritual growth resources? Every church should have a robust book table ministry and a way to get audio sermons to members and visitors. If the sermons at your church aren’t good enough to pass around or download, find some that are!

Go where the people are. Not all Christian programming is on Christian TV. I’ve seen Christian teaching shows on secular cable networks and local network affiliates. Churches should also plan some activities and ministries that take place outside of religious settings.

Don’t waste people’s time. Successful television shows figure out how to make every second count, because if they don’t, they know you’ll switch the channel. Granted, people in actual pews are a more captive audience, but what if churches acted as if parishioners all had remotes? How intentional would we be about every part of our services?

If we open our minds, we can usually learn practical things from some unlikely places. Most churches will never have a TV ministry of their own, but that doesn’t mean they can’t pick up some good practices from other ministries on the small screen.


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