Future media
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Future media

Published on: 28 January, 2016

There are two things worth stating at the outset. Christian media is expensive. And most of it doesn’t work. 

Yes, we’ve all seen the marketing campaigns from media ministries and we’ve heard the sensational stories. And, of course, people who work in media are good at blowing our own horns and we have, by definition, a megaphone to do so. But here’s the deal. Most Christian media is made with one audience primarily in mind: donors.

Don’t believe me? Then flip on a big name Adventist TV show and watch. First, watch the program as an Adventist. Not bad, eh? There they are, a group of older guys in suits, giving out the message in a very comfortable, time worn manner. But now imagine you’re a non-Christian.

First think about the names of the shows. Imagine if secular TV kept regurgitating shows from the 50s like Lassie and Gunsmoke. How well would they connect with the modern audience? And yet, the biggest name Adventist media ministries are all making shows with names coined in the glorious but dusty past. 

Then look at the design. I can’t remember the last time I saw an Adventist TV ministry that didn’t look like it was on a set from 30 years ago. Safe, secure, middle-class, suburban. And boring as mouldy bread. 

Why so excessively safe? For that you have to understand the secret of fundraising. There is a giving curve. When people are young, they don’t have much to give. As they progress in their careers, disposable income increases—so giving potential goes up. But do you know where the real fundraising paydirt is? It’s the 55 years and older demographic. Why? Because many have paid off their mortgages and waved their kids off into the world. How do you get money from them? When it comes to media, you make the kind of media they are comfortable with. And so, we do. 

But imagine you’re living in a city in the South Pacific. Imagine you’ve got aspirations to progress your life. You’re smart. You’re motivated. You’re connected with the modern world. What about any of our “legacy shows” comes close to connecting with you? 

Well, that doesn’t matter, because the secular audience doesn’t fund the show—its primary audience, by necessity, is the 55+ Adventist couple who are in their best donor years.

And so it is to you, dear donor, that I write this column. Because how you decide to employ your resources makes all the difference. If you decide to invest in media that appeals to you, that is your right. But let’s not kid ourselves. When we do that, we aren’t giving to spread the message. What we’re giving to is creating media that makes us feel comfortable, and that we wish appealed to others. And yes, like collateral damage in war, there will be some impact on non-Adventists along the way. And those people will be highlighted in fundraising letters—implying the exception is the rule. It isn’t. 

And if you don’t believe me, come and sit in my chair. Because I’ve written fundraising letters for an Adventist TV ministry. And every time I have, my first challenge is to find good stories. And what’s shocked me is how few good stories there are. Our legacy media ministries are proving successful at absorbing substantial resources, producing high quality fundraising materials, and reaching ourselves. What they are not excelling at is reaching our modern society in any substantial way. I wish it were otherwise, but it’s not.

Something has to change. We need a very different approach to media ministry. But we can’t fully do that. And you know why? Because Adventists only support the kind of shows Adventists like. Do you see the paradox? We want to reach the unreached. But we only support shows that reach ourselves. We can change that. 

We need to give to reach the future, not replicate the past. We are desperate for new, fresh, engaging programming. God’s blessed us with a community brimming in talent and ideas. But the bulk of our donations are wrapped up supporting legacy programs aimed primarily at ourselves.

If we want to reach the world with media, we have to financially support innovative, faithful programming. Why? Because if there are enough of us who actually want to reach the unreached with media, we can do it. It’s up to us.


James Standish is Communication director for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific. 

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People under 55 can contribute much to the gospel. The challenge is getting it out of our pockets and into God’s work. Don't quibble over how the available donations are directed; lead our young people to put their heart on heavenly things.

We used to train our children to do investment projects to raise money for missions. We need to bring back this spirit into our young because once they have learned the joy of giving and the blessings that accompany generosity, it can stay with them for life.

Berating people for sending their money to wrong cause won't get it sent to your organisation. One of my friends exemplified what I think will be a common reaction: "I think that I will send a sizeable donation to It is Written.”

Zero-sum thinking is low-faith thinking, and shouldn’t really be part of this conversation if you want to increase donations. God can, and will, supply every need.

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James, your editorial was raw and honest and for that i cheer loudly and do a little dance. There is hope in Adventist media if the people at the top move forward as you suggest. As a 40 year old intentional creative I am weary with the same old stuff being given from the Adventists and if you've lost me you've lost most of the generation under my age. I am not asking for entertainment but programming for where I am at. Doctrine isn't the answer, but Jesus is and he talked about relevant things passionately: money, health, anger, parenting, spirituality to name a few. I know many young Adventist studying media and creative pursuits who need a chance to bring their freshness to their generation, lets recruit and mentor them intimately. Big budgets isn't the answer but big boldness given by God may be. The Jesus I follow was a radical and a good steward who focussed on building up people and releasing them into ministry in whichever way they were gifted. Let us do likewise.

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There is a reason why independent ministries exist and why I will continue to support them. Independent ministries
'boldly' preach the three angels messages - no gimmicks used; just plain spoken truth. I want every soul to be saved. Do you? You have to be ASLEEP to not realise we are living at the very close of time. Yes, all ten virgins were sleeping but SOMEONE was awake to give the midnight cry (Matt 25:6). I often hear the argument that before we can reach the world with the Gospel, we have to employ the world's methods to proclaim the truth. This reasoning is indefensible on two accounts: world methods trivialize the message; and, they are contrary to Biblical teaching. The preeminent method of proclaiming spiritual truth is by the spoken word. "It pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Cor 1:21). The Apostle Paul learned this from experience. The SPD could do well to heed this advice.

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I agree with the comment from Sam (below). Living Ministry Media has been broadcasting on free to air Channel 44 locally in SA for nearly 22 years. During this time we have had a few families baptised however I believe that's not what it's about. It's about spreading the gospel and reaching as many people as possible and then let the Holy Spirit do the rest. We should not be measuring the success of any ministry through baptisms. I also believe that it makes a difference what type of programs we broadcast and this determines the type of feedback we obtain from viewers. Over the years we receive many calls every week from the public wanting to know more. The programs are very similar to Amazing Facts in content and include prophecy, end times etc. We also have hundreds of thousands of views for our programs on-line, via YouTube. It is time for the Media Centre to stop talking and start doing and I'm sure that their ministry will be blessed.

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Evangelism is sharing the exciting news about Jesus. You can't help but bubble over with excitement when your filled to the brim with Holy Spirit. This has nothing to do with corporations, comitees or administrators, it's all about seeing where our Father is working and joining Him. It's all about being alert to His voice and obeying.

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Yes you did have some of the best working for Adventist Media. But last year I understand there was quite an exodus of your top talent over a number of issues mainly to do with Administration so I hear? Why should we have confidence that there is a wonderful new direction in storytelling when none of that lost talent has been replaced by new creatives employed to fill the gap of media professionals who left? I concur with a number of respondents here who have asked to see a business model/plan something, anything that shows real world accountability has been followed and not just a whim.

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I agree with Harold.. As one of those over 55yr olds who would rather support Independent Ministries than the churches media (I do pay tithe and offerings to church) I would suggest you look deeper and ask us why? Quite frankly if it weren't for the Doug Batchelors, Steve Wholbergs, David Gates, Pastor Bohrs etc I would probably not be in the church.. why? Because they are brave enough to preach the 3 angels messages and keep us up to date with what is happening in the world.. I cannot remember when I last heard a Pastor warn us that the end is close.. that the Vatican is moving quickly. That this yr the Pope has declared it to be the year of "Mercy" so that the Protestant churches can return to the "Mother" church and all will be forgiven.. If we heard this from the pulpits and therefore received a fire in our bellies to go out and warn the world instead of wishy washy sermons that put us to sleep maybe just maybe things might change. I will continue to support these God fearing men

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Of course, we are working on new material and new shows. But we also need the funding to do ambitious projects. We have terrific story tellers in our church, with some of the best working in Adventist Media. But the funding paradigm, as I've described, explains the problem. So, if we want better programs, we have to change the funding paradigm. Hence this piece is a first step, not a final step.

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A direction that I am taking with short films and a feature film that is in the queue, is portraying walking with God in every day life. Not a sales gimmick (like the prosperity gospel, i.e. follow God and you will get rich and nothing bad will happen to you again) or tricky tricks, or reveling in 'Christian' culture which is loosely related to Christ.

The media is filled with exploringwhat it means to be human and all the darkness that comes with that. I aim to bring humanity to the screen in the context of fictional narratives depicting parts of people's journeys that centre around concerted and continual effort to allow God to swing them away from following the flesh to following the spirit. This follows the principle of cinema and godliness, "show me, don't tell me."

I enjoy the concept of identifying with aspects of others people's journeys with God. For example, it's really enjoyable to hear other people tell about how God has been teaching them the same lesson that He has me.

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Amen James right on the money! The time has come to call a spade a spade and be honest.
I was just watching Hope and Pr Loyd was continually calling non christians (papists), Christian very misleading!
Yes we do need to get with it and get the attention of the younger people! and quit the moldy and patronising bits.

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Amazing Facts has been on national TV in Australia for 8 months. In that time over 8000 non-adventist have contacted the ministry requesting material on Final Events, Daniel and Revelation and What happens when you die. People respond to all forms of media when they have a need - i.e. buy a vacuum when they need to clean the floor. People respond to TV when the holy spirit works on their heart and they hear the world of God preached. Most of the responders are drug users, people with no friends/ lonely or someone who was a christian and gave up. Its the word of God not the name of the program that causes a reaction. The methodology used by these ministries is highly organised after surveying over 5000 Australian's to determine what programs they will respond too. Many of those donors that give are highly successful business man and women who understand what causes people to become engaged and make a reaction. A time tested marketing methodology. 8000 new contacts,God at work.

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Remember that people vote with their wallets. This is not necessarily a good thing but not necessarily a bad one either. Regardless, it's reality. Put a proposal on the table, and people will either support it or not. But the church must understand that just because people give offerings, they can't do with that money what they feel is good, if the donors feel it's not. For the donors will shortly stop giving if they don't agree with what the church is doing, and give to private, independent ministries which they feel are doing things they agree with. This is accountability. And so, if the church sometimes feels like their tithes and/or offerings are dropping, perhaps they should survey the church members on why that is.

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Boom. Brutal honesty is what we need in truckloads within the church. Keep it up.

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I'm not sure of your true motivation behind "blaming" donors for any perceived issues with the model the church uses for Christian media.
The church in Australia receives tens of millions each year in tithe and offering, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from being proactive and updating to this wonderful new model that you possess by utilizing some of this money.
Alternatively, rather than taking up your time having a go at donors and their lack of real world media nous maybe you would be better off putting that energy into developing a detailed business plan on this wonderful media platform that you say will work. If you want anyone to invest you need to sell to them the concept, just like in the corporate world. Why should I believe you have the answer? I'm interested to see your business plan, not just an article with a few buzz words.
If you want to attract the secular audience have more programs like It Is Written, using real world secular stories and on-location recording

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I love the way you say things straight to the point,many cutting to the issues, and sometimes making some (or many) of us uncomfortable. Thanks for your prophetic and insightful voice.

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To my knowledge in the SPD we have - Hope Chanel, 3 ABN & It is Written (as far as I am aware) (New Hope may also be included) Hope Chanel is funded by the official church; 3 ABN is funded by private donors; It is Written is funded by private donors; New Hope is funded by private donors. (Please correct me if I am wrong.) (Perhaps also overseas ministries might be included?)
James, could you spell out which of these ministries you are concerned about?
I haven't watched any TV for years, including Christian TV so may be out of touch somewhat.
Perhaps we have too much choice and not enough money to go around?

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If its cutting edge media talent and ideas you need, than support the US based media ministry Forerunner Chronicles.

Check out the Forerunners latest outreach documentary entitled "Leopard Vision" an excellent exposition of prophecy done in a way that outsiders can clearly understand and done in a very entertaining manner.

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Any attempt to do anything creative or out of the box, is always rejected.

What we need is more independent adventist ministries doing cutting edge media.

The hierarchical, financial and administrative structures of the church are archaic and not in tune with modern times.

You only have to look at "the record keeper" fiasco to understand Adventism particularly in the media realm takes fictional depictions of biblical events too seriously.

People are smarter than that, they can tell the difference between distinct doctrine and a fictional portrayal that is trying to highlight the issues at stake.

If we are going to continue investing in legacy programs and talent, we should look at trying to revive or update programs to a postmodernist context. That would at least sharpen the focus a bit.

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Yes well said, but actions speak louder than words James and one is confused when they read the above and then see Infocus recouched, the epitome of safe re-runs for the donors. The sad truth is Adventists want to preach at people rather than connect with them through stories. . We've taken our preaching on beasts and prophetic timelines and simply shifted them to new platforms. Our problem is we love the platforms but we are afraid of a story without an explanation. Modern audiences don't want you to solve the mystery they want you to challenge them to think. But that's dangerous and we wouldn't want folks making up their own mind about what they just saw so we'd better tell them what they should think. The solution, Adventist Media globally needs to be taken out of unqualified hands and given to real storytellers. Until it removes unqualified administrators from the approval chain it's doomed to preach to the donors who pay their wages and vote them in and out of office.

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Well said. This is the continual tension in creating real evangelism from a church context, something we have often struggle to do and must do better at. It is also the tension that exists in many of the church committees that decide and direct the church's creativity and evangelism, both locally and more broadly.

 

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We want to reach the unreached. But we only support shows that reach ourselves.
 

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