Advances in broadcast, recording, and digital technologies have transformed the ways in which many evangelical and Pentecostal churches deliver their messages. Media ministries run the gamut from support ministries for reaching congregants who otherwise could not go to church to outlets for widening a church's outreach or standalone ministries that reach out solely through the media. The incorporation of media into more traditional approaches to religious proselytization and education helps meet the expectations of a growing segment of the population and enables ministries to show that they understand and are relevant to younger adults. In addition, the vast audiences gathered by some media ministries allow them not only to spread a strictly religious message but also to effect social and political change. However, this can detract from the main, religious message of the ministry and weaken the very relevance that it is trying to demonstrate.
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Sociology of Religion: Media Ministries
Advances in broadcast, recording, and digital technologies have in many ways transformed the ways in which religious messages can be delivered. Formerly traditional churches often incorporate a media component into their ministries in order to better minister to their congregations, widen their sphere of influence, or reach the unchurched. In addition, ministries that are only available through the media have also sprung up, reacting to the expectations of many individuals in the late 20th and early 21st centuries that religions incorporate technology and demonstrate their relevance to real life. The various media used in ministry allow churches and religious groups to reach a wider audience and effect social and political change.
Although media ministries may seem like a new phenomenon enabled by the rise of technology over the past few decades, in truth, they have been around for quite some time. In the mid-twentieth century, many people listened avidly to the preacher on the radio offering to send listeners a free handkerchief that had been blessed in return for a donation, to the children's stories that supplemented Sunday school in reinforcing moral messages, or to the adult programming on religious stations that offered hymns or stories of inspiration and challenge. Such broadcast capabilities opened a whole new venue for getting out a religious message, not only to congregation members who, for various reasons, were not physically able to come to church, but also to the unchurched. As technology improved and became more affordable and television sets became a fixture in an increasing number of homes, the opportunities for using various media to expand ministry increased. Local churches began purchasing air time on both radio and television stations in order to broadcast sermons or even entire services to the homebound or the unchurched. Soon, many of these media ministries offered audio or video tapes of their programs to their audiences. Many of the churches and ministries that decided not to broadcast their message joined this trend, making available audio or video tapes (later CDs or DVDs) to interested congregants, shut-ins, visitors, friends, or anyone interested in learning more about the church or its message.
Methods of Media Delivery
With the advent of the Internet and other, more recent technological innovations, the venues for media ministries increased even more. Virtual churches promise to pull a service together "just for you" (through random generation of components) or allow one to design an interactive avatar to attend online church services. However, media ministries are not limited to such services and uses. Many churches today have websites that allow one to download the pastor's latest sermon, view the pastor's blog, or download material from a podcast or through an RSS feed. E-mail distribution lists are used to quickly disseminate prayer chains to members or publish daily or weekly devotional thoughts. As technology continues to advance and its uses multiply, churches and other religious organizations attempt to reach technologically savvy individuals whether they regularly attend church or not. Some churches are even designed as a series of linked locations or campuses so that each venue can conduct worship in ways most fitting to its individual sub-congregation (e.g., traditional, contemporary) but receive the same sermon broadcast from a main or central location. The use of media to reach such satellite congregations helps churches meet the needs of people in multiple generations while still bringing the same message.
Media ministries are often thought of disparagingly, however. Abuses such as the sexual scandal of Jim Bakker and the financial scandals of Oral Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, and others are one reason for this attitude. In addition, the use of media ministries as bully pulpits to further intolerance and prejudice has increased the ridicule that many of these ministries receive. However, not every media ministry is of this ilk. Many are legitimate, honestly trying to bring their message to a wider audience through application of modern technology. The use of media to teach and evangelize is only a tool and can be used to spread messages both good and bad, by people of good or ill intent.
Early Delivery of Religion
In the past, not only religion but every sector of society relied on print media and in-person communication to disseminate its message. Painstaking copying of letters and books was done by cloistered monks, and the resultant manuscripts were read only by the very few, in part because only the very few could read. With the invention of the printing press and movable type, all that changed. Although media communication could only be done through print for years, literacy rates increased, and error-free copies of documents could be widely read and disseminated. Further, there was little choice in where one could go to find professional spiritual teaching and comfort. Most areas were limited to a very few churches or religious institutions. Travel was difficult and slow, and people did not expect a wide variety of options for religious services, save for occasional visits from traveling revivalists.
In the 20th century, this all changed. The automobile made people more mobile, and the availability of radio technology in the early part of the century (and television technology a few decades later) gave religious organizations larger target markets and greater audiences for proselytization and evangelism. Many evangelicals were quick to see the potential in the use of media to spread the good news. Churches found that they could often broadcast their message through the use of free air time offered as part of general programming. However, some churches, in particular more fundamentalist evangelical and Pentecostal churches, decided to expand this role and purchase broadcast time. On the one hand, this allowed them greater opportunity for outreach. On the other hand, it brought with it a greater opportunity for abuse, as the churches or ministries needed to earn sufficient income to be able to pay for the broadcast time.
Most early media ministry broadcasts were modeled after the churches' Sunday morning worship services or the revivalist meetings held in campgrounds or stadiums. Such broadcasts can still be seen today in the form of television crusades or televised worship services or sermons. However, the escalation of the cost of broadcast time and the diminishing attention span of younger generations combined to mean that most media ministry broadcasts are increasingly restricted to 30 minutes or an hour. Since the preponderance of worship services requires at least an hour, with many evangelical sermons alone lasting over 30 minutes, this paradigm needed to be revised. By broadcasting recorded rather than live services, producers were able to edit the recordings in order to reduce or remove slack time and make the broadcast more interesting to the listener or viewer. Once it was realized that it was no longer necessary, or perhaps even desirable, to emulate a live worship service, many televangelists began to design their own formats, often based on templates designed for secular programming. For example, religious broadcasting can be seen in the format of a news program, talk show, or musical concert. At various...
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