Christian Media: Talking Mostly To Ourselves

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If you are a Christian and you like reading Christian books and websites, listening to Christian radio and watching Christian TV and movies, welcome to the club. Lots of Christians are absorbing Christian media, but not much of it is reaching the non-Christian world. That fact comes to us from a recent National Religious Broadcasters (NRB)/Lifeway Research scientific poll.

In a report issued by Lifeway, they noted that Christian broadcasters have a devoted following, with about two-thirds of weekly churchgoers and evangelicals saying they tune in to Christian radio and television on a regular basis.

Christian books have a similar use by churchgoers and evangelicals and Christian movies remain popular, according to the report, with about 4 in 10 Americans having seen one in the last year.

christian media movie stats

Sadly, the research reveals that Christian media we know and love is not fulfilling the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). They note that many Americans ignore Christian media.

Ed Stetzer, executive director of LifeWay Research said, “Christian media delivers teaching, music, and entertainment to a predominantly Christian constituency. Not surprisingly, those who embrace Christian teaching will value and consume these the most.” Stetzer released the study’s findings during the NRB national convention in Nashville, February 25.

Non-Christian Antipathy Towards Christian Media

The report said:

  • Two-thirds of Americans (67 percent) rarely or never watch Christian television.
  • Those who skip church all together (94 percent) or have no religious affiliation (89 percent) rarely or never watch.
  • Seven in 10 Americans (72 percent) rarely or never listen to Christian radio. They include those with no religious affiliation (94 percent) or who rarely (84 percent) or never (97 percent) attend church.
  • Two-thirds (65 percent) rarely or never read Christian books.

Christian films have wider reception in the non-Christian community:

  • Four in 10 (40 percent) Americans say they’ve watched a Christian movie in the last year.
  • About half (51 percent) have not. One in 10 (9 percent) are not sure.
  • Americans over 65 (31 percent) are less likely to have seen a Christian movie than those 18-29 (40 percent).
  • Those with no religious affiliation (11 percent) and those from non-Christian faiths (37 percent) are least likely to have seen a Christian film.

Believers Love Christian Media

The NRB/Lifeway Research poll demonstrated that Christians consume a lot of media aimed at them:

  • Self-identified evangelicals (69 percent), weekly church attenders (62 percent), and African-Americans (54 percent) are more likely to watch Christian television.
  • About two-thirds of evangelicals (67 percent) and more than half of weekly church attenders (57 percent) are fans of Christian radio. Just under half (46 percent) of African Americans also tune in. Overall, about 1 in 4 (27 percent) Americans frequently or sometimes listen to Christian radio.
  • African-Americans (59 percent), evangelicals (74 percent) and weekly churchgoers (64 percent) are more likely to have seen a Christian movie.
  • About a third of Americans (33 percent) say they frequently or sometimes read Christian books.

“It’s stunning to see how many American believers are listening to or watching Christian media,” said Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, an international association of Christian broadcasters and communicators. “It’s also encouraging to learn how new forms are emerging.”

The research demonstrated that Christian media has found a significant audience online. One in 4 Americans (25 percent) say they watch or listen to Christian programming every week on their computer, phone or tablet, according to the phone survey. An additional 5 percent tune in online monthly. One in 10 (9 percent) watch or listen online less than once a month.

“That would amount to over 60 million adult Americans each week,” explained Stetzer.

Podcasting did not fare well. Only 4 percent of Americans listen to Christian podcasts frequently. About 1 in 10 listen sometimes. Most Americans (84 percent) rarely or never listen to Christian podcasts.


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3 Responses

  1. J.Z. Howard says:

    Unfortunately, these stats reflect a long-standing malady: the Christian media’s failure to reach the world’s eclectic mix of differing faiths (and non-faiths). I’m shocked so few comments have appeared for something so vitally important. In my experience, a major reason is because so few American Christians rarely think of inviting secular friends and relatives to Christian movies, music concerts and radio programs – yet we have the greatest good news ever. Is their reluctance due to embarrassment knowing the content in these media contain Gospel-based messages that may confront their invitee, or lead to accusations of proselytizing?

    Another reason may also be: So few American Christians really believe it is their duty to witness to secular neighbors and coworkers (“Sorry, evangelism is just not my calling”). Complacency and unwillingness rule. Numerous Christians avoid venturing outside the comfortable confines of their cozy bubbles of fellow believers. When was the last time you heard about church members heading out to witness to the masses?

    And then there’s the limitations of the media itself. Most non-Christian adults would readily say Christian media is too tame. Having sampled a few movies or books perhaps and judged them against secular entertainment, they’ve concluded Christian media as a whole doesn’t reflect real life, that it’s too safe, too G or PG rated. (Let’s understand that entertainment and diversion are likely their main interests, not message-dense content.) Non-Christians know it’s been sanitized and invariably contains no sex, no drugs, no violence, no profanity — certainly very little that’s R rated and never X rated.

    Jesus’ final statement to his followers — “Go and make disciples to the ends of the earth” — is a command many American Christians find annoying and ready to dodge. The word “go” implies movement away from one’s current location, and “ends of the earth” inevitably involves crossing boundaries into unfamiliar places and where unfamiliar dwell, both geographically and culturally. Admittedly, different customs, languages, clothing, food, and opposing beliefs await the traveler outside his or her comfort zone.

    For some Christians, excuses that they don’t have the verbal skills, or because they dislike mingling with strangers, is justification. As I see it, Jesus’ claim that He was (and still is) the sole bridge to God — “Nobody comes to the Father except through me”— can be a tough sell. Making that a convincing argument can put a person who is witnessing on the defensive, or face a backlash, or it could magnify the latent insecurity and uncertainty of the individual’s own beliefs about Jesus.

    In my experience, resistance may also have to do with a lack of empathy for our struggling unsaved brothers and sisters — strugglers like I was once myself. For 33 years I battled depression, insomnia, a stomach ulcer, headaches, and a host of emotional grievances and addictions before accepting Christ as my Savior and Lord at the point of suicide.

    The world is filled with such strugglers burdened by painful histories similar to mine, who never benefitted from attending church as youngsters or observed prayers answered. Think of the hundreds of millions who struggle solely in their own power trying to manage the best way they know how to produce solutions to the humanly insoluble dilemmas of living on a fallen planet. Think of all those who’ve never heard an encouraging word from Christians to relieve their disheartening struggles.

    Centuries ago the Apostle Paul traversed numerous borders and traveled to the edges of secular societies to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, all in the face of great risks and obstacles. Paul was edgy, and fearless. He was an out-spoken advocate for the lost citizens of the then-known world and a role model we can all look up to today. Nothing stopped him. Nor did he condemn or look down upon the sinners who heard his declarations of the Good News, despite scoffers and enemies who sought to stone him. His attitude was “all people are worthy regardless of their sinful condition.” Are we today treating those in our daily path with the same compassion?

    We are to be like Christ more and more each day. And that includes the marketplaces and schools and stores where we work and play and shop, as well as our jobs and careers in the media. Jesus was famous for hanging out with all the “wrong” people: tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, outcasts, and the “little” people. His ministry reached everybody wherever he went, regardless whether they accepted his message and miracles or did not.

    Like Paul, Jesus was “edgy” — THE role model for us all to follow of the bold messenger impacting the edges of sinful society. He didn’t stay confined to a cozy set of traditions. As Christians in the media, we can preach to the choir or reach out to folks who are not part of it; we can come alongside those who are hurting in our increasingly secularized world and be avenues of the Power and Presence of Jesus in their lives.

    Can we refuse to engage the world when we have the greatest good news ever? Can we remain content talking mostly to ourselves?

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