A Word to Christian Media

Two weeks of research in Christian media reveals trends too obvious to ignore, and a fascia in need of some thoughtful alteration. Clearly, there are many outlets of Christian media that are getting it right – and they should be. With roughly seventy-five percent of Americans ascribing to the Christian faith, the audience is out there.

However, in a similar strand, Christian media (and Christian culture, for that matter) is getting something wrong. The number of “Christians” in America has steadily decreased since 1990, falling more than ten percent in twenty years. [1]Within that same time frame, media communication has advanced technologically and increased audience more than ever before. For a religion whose basic tenets rest on spreading the Good News to all peoples in all nations, it seems as if Christians are missing a valuable opportunity.[2] Maybe they are utilizing television and film, as research suggests, but have generally overlooked the population who needs a clearer view of the Christian message.

Let me first differentiate between American “Christians” and true believers. It’s an ugly distinction, but avoiding it would be ineffectual. While many Americans claim membership to the Christian tradition, only a select few are receptive to (and therefore, practice) Christian doctrine. The need for appropriate Christian media is there for everyone. Unfortunately, in most Christian outlets, only the needs of true believers are being met. Why? I’ll first eliminate the apparent non-issues.

Though a good portion of Christian television fits into the “low-budget” category, sponsorship for some on major networks allows for vast viewership opportunities.[3] Likewise, many Christian films receive financial support from prominent production companies. One Night with the King, which had a substantial budget of $20 million, produced less than $14 million in box office revenue. Availability of budget is not the issue.

Some attribute negative reviews and low profits to acting quality in Christian television and film. While in some cases this may be true, the issue cannot rest definitively at this point. Behind the Mask, a made-for-television film of 1999 boasted the accomplished actors, Matthew Fox and Donald Sutherland. When the DVD was released eight years later, the film created little to no response, and Matthew Fox went on to make his first successful debut in the 2004 ABC series, LOST. Christian movies do not suffer a lack of qualified acting.

If Christian media letdowns are not for lack of acting, perhaps they lack proper directorship? Not according to Rocky Mountain Pictures 2008 film, Billy: The Early Years. Though its director led over 100 sitcom episodes to success and later joined teaching faculty at the esteemed Tisch School of the Arts, the film made less than $350,000 in the box office. Directorship is not the issue.

Though these three things, combined, can contribute to the failure of any production, the common factor among unsuccessful Christian media appears to be perspective. Many films, shows, and series are so far from the acceptance of an audience in need that they might as well be on different planets. The realities of true believers and the secular world are segregated. Terms like “sin”, “redemption”, “sanctification” and “resurrection”, which are inextricably ingrained in the Christian vocabulary, come off as foreign, preachy and elitist to the non-believer (or non-practicer).

In an American culture that is becoming more individualized and less God-focused, preaching has become exclusively effective for “the choir”. As observed by Newsweek’s Jon Meacham, “Judging from the broad shape of American life in the first decade of the 21st century, we value individual freedom and free (or largely free) enterprise, and tend to lean toward libertarianism on issues of personal morality.” Anything (and that means you, Christian media) that comes off as damning based on a Christ-centered code of morality is immediately rejected by non-believers.

So how do we change the face of Christian media? Two ways.

First, with a new perspective. With less preaching and more listening, Christians can have greater impact. We need to be hearing the culture that needs Christ, not attacking them with the Gospel. By not posing as a new brand of church-talk, we can pass on the God-honoring virtues that have led believers to accepting Christ and practicing faith. This is more powerful than sermonizing television and film.

Second, we need higher expectations for Christian productions. We need to be seeking out funds, organizing skilled management, requiring only excellence and anticipating positive reactions. Secular culture is giving America compelling, trendy, high quality entertainment. It’s time for Christians to do the same.

I believe Wall Street Exodus does these things, giving it the power to change Christian television and film.

[1] http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/03/09/us.religion.less.christian/

[2] Matthew 28:19, Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

[3] Three Wishes, ABC

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