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Religious Television: The American Experience by Peter Horsfield


Dr. Peter Horsfield is an ordained minister in the Uniting Church in Australia. He is currently employed on the Electronic Culture Research Project, a special initiative of the Uniting Church's Commission in Victoria to explore the impact of electronic media on global cultures and the implications of this cultural change on religious institutions and on the social experience and expression of religious faith. For ten years previously he was the Dean of the Uniting Church's Theological Hall and Lecturer in Practical Theology in the United Faculty of Theology in Melbourne. He has published extensively in the areas of mass communication and society and media, religion and culture. Among his publications are two books: Religious Television: The American Experience (Longmans 1984) and Taming the Television: A Parents' Guide to Children and Television (Albatross 1986). This book was published in 1984 by Longman, New York. The text was prepared for Religion Online by Paul Mobley.


Chapter 11: Religious Television and the Local Church


One of the major areas of conflict that has occurred as a result of the rapid growth of paid-time religious broadcasting has been the threat it has posed to the established church, particularly in relation to its traditional local organizations. The development and nature of this conflict has been analyzed in detail in chapter 5. It was noted there that so far there has been little empirical evidence to clarify the validity both of the criticisms and defense of the paid-time broadcasters.

In this chapter, we intend to clarify this question by examining what the research available on the subject says about it. As in the other chapters in which empirical evidence is considered, relevant findings from general communication research will be considered along with research focused spe- cifically on aspects of religious television.

The question of the effect of religious television programs on the local church has both short-term and long-term dimensions. Because of the complex interaction of religious broadcasting with other social characteristics such as broader religious and cultural movements, changing social uses of mass media, and changing historical circumstances, it is unlikely that a simple cause-effect relationship between the viewing of religious programs on television and individual faith and church interaction could ever be isolated. However, it is possible, on the basis of consistent findings drawn from a wide range of studies over a reasonable period of time to indicate areas of significant possibility and concern. While a definitive answer to the question of whether present religious television programs are having a beneficial or detrimental effect on local churches will not be found, areas of reasonable probability will be identified.

In this chapter, the principal area of focus will be the relationship between religious television and the local church. The broader and more indirect effects, such as the contribution of religious broadcasting to broader cultural changes that might affect the church along with other cultural institutions will be examined further in the following chapter. The major questions to be examined in this chapter are; What responses can religious programs elicit from viewers? Are religious

television programs increasing the membership of local churches? Are religious television programs encouraging the transfer of loyalty away from local churches? Have religious programs reduced people's giving to their local church?

What Responses Do Religious Programs Elicit From Viewers?

There are a variety of opportunities made available to viewers of religious programs to establish contact with the broadcaster, ranging from a one-time contact to an ongoing relationship of support and interaction. The research indicates that religious broadcasters receive a significantly large response from viewers, depending on the situation and the broadcast organization.

The largest response is evoked when something free is offered to viewers by a program. Broadcasters frequently use this device both to supplement their televised message with printed and taped materials and to procure names for their mailing lists. From Spring 1963 to Spring 1966 the mainline-network program "Frontiers of Faith" ran 85 weeks of Bible Tele-coursesù lectures with visual aidsùon biblical and ethical subjects. Giveaways such as free study guides, lesson summaries, and bibliographies were offered on the programs. In that period 31,017 requests for the materials were received from viewersùan average of 365 a week.(1) In the year 1978-79 the Southern Baptist Convention's Radio and Television Commission received 8,223 requests for material offered on its four television programs "Human Dimension," "JOT," "Listen," and "The Athletes."(2) Even the unusual national advertising campaign by the Passionist Fathers seeking recruits for the priesthood, featuring seven different spots that were broadcast hundreds of times on 74 television stations and more than 200 radio stations, resulted in 1,800 letters over three years being sent to the Order seeking more information about the priesthood.(3)

These figures pale into insignificance, however, when compared to the response gained by major religious broadcasters. The present paid-time religious broadcasters offer items such as religious badges, pins, record albums, pendants, and jewelry to any person who calls or writes. Though no specific figures are available on the response to offers of this kind, the "Old Time Gospel Hour" in 1979 purchased two million "Jesus First" pins as giveaways to viewers.(4)

The personal nature of the evangelical programs, with their emphasis on offering help to viewers, appears to be especially effective in attracting this personal response from viewers. After a five-day nationally broadcast crusade from Philadelphia in 1960, the Billy Graham association received over 600,000 letters in a five-day period. In 1978 it received more than one million letters from its radio and television audience.(5) The "Old Time Gospel Hour" in 1978 received an average of 10,000 letters each working day and the Oral Roberts' organization receives such a volume of mail that it has established a mail room with a handling capacity of 20,000 letters a day.(6)

More direct and immediate personal contact is possible where the program provides opportunities for telephone contact, and many of the paid-time religious broadcasters now have this facility. The PTL Network and CBN both staff telephone banks with volunteer counselors who are frequently shown on the air seated behind the host and his guests. Viewers are often invited during the program to call these counselors with their concerns, problems, or prayer requests. As was noted earlier, the PTL Network claims that in 1979, more than 478,000 calls were received on these "prayer lines."(7)

The CBN organization has decentralized these counseling facilities, having established regional counseling centers in different parts of the country. These serve as call-in centers as the program is being broadcast. WXNE-Channel 25 in Boston, for example, was built as a network station by CBN and since October 1977 has served as the regional counseling center for the network in New England. Reference has been made previously to some characteristics of the calls received at this center. Table 11.1 provides full details of the calls received at this center during the period 1977-79. Each call is categorized by the telephone counselor as it is received and recorded for subsequent computerization at the central office in Virginia. Explanation of the categories was given by Jack Kincaid, Spiritual Life Director for CBN Boston at the time. No attempt is made by this author to justify the validity of the categories nor the accuracy of the categorization of the counselors. The figures give only a guide to the nature of calls received by this paid-time religious organization.

What stands out in a consideration of the figures in Table 11.1 is the large number of calls directed to the simple sharing of a concern with another and the seeking of support through a "prayer request." This tend- ency provides an insight into the function which religious programs fulfill in the lives of many people.

The research indicates that those who use such facilities have strong common characteristics. Bailey in 1972 found that those who responded to the program "Herald of Truth" were largely married housewives on a low income, who attended church services regularly, and who were loyal "Herald of Truth" viewers or listeners.(8) In 1978 the Christian Broadcasting Network studied characteristics of the partners who used their telephone counseling services. They also found that there were shared characteristics

TABLE 11.1 Counseling Calls Received at CBN Boston, 1977-79

 

1977 -78

1978 - 79

Total Number of Calls

15,253

20,972

Salvations

1,246

1,478

(i.e. Number of people who call inresponse to an

   

Appeal on the program or who are saved by the

   

Telephone counselor after conversation

   

Prayer Requests

14,569

21,928

(Number of people for whom a prayer request is made.

   

One call could include several such prayer requests.)

   

Holy Spirit Baptisms

150

296

(Number of people who call to enquire about or to report

   

A "baptism in the spirit.")

   

Answers to Prayer

773

758

Referrals and Clergy Contact

601

517

(Number of people referred to or requesting referral to a

   

Clergyman or church)

   

Family Problems

1,338

2,317

Drug Problems

125

195

Emotional Problems

939

1.134

Alcohol Problems

289

484

Sexual Deviance

62

102

Suicide

55

89

SOURCE; CBN, Boston, "Monthly Statistical and Activity Report."


in the type of people who used these counseling facilities. Females call more frequently than males: 64 percent compared to 48 percent. Those of lower education and lower income call more than those of higher education and higher income: 63 percent compared to 48 percent. Members of the "700 Club" call more than nonmembers, and long-term members call more often than recent members. Those with a church affiliation use these counseling facilities more often than those without a church affiliation: 61 percent of those with a church affiliation compared to 50 percent of those without.

When adjusted for different proportions of persons in each of these categories, the following profile of the CBN partners who have called a CBN counseling center emerges: 80 per cent are women; 91 percent are "700 Club" members; 94 percent have been a "700 Club" member for one year or more; 70 percent are over the age of 35; 84 percent have no college education; and 90 per cent are affiliated with a church.(9) These figures suggest that, far from being a complementary activity to the church in reaching and providing care for those outside the church, the counseling activities of CBN and perhaps for all the major paid-time religious broadcasters, appear more as a service supported by older, female church members without a college education, primarily for their own support and companionship. The implications of this alternative counseling service provided for church members must be considered in evaluating the effect of paid-time religious programs on the life of the local church: is it a complementary service or a substitutionary one?

Are Religious Television Programs Increasing the Membership of Local Churches?

There are several ways in which religious programs on television may be effective in building the membership of local churches: One is by the addition of new members, the other is by the reactivation of old ones. The available research indicates that religious television programs demonstrate little ability to stimulate formation of a relationship between viewers and a church where a previous relationship did not exist. There is little evidence to support the contention that religious programs on television are increasing the overall membership of the church.

When attempting to understand the reasons for the failure of religious programs to increase local church membership, several possible explanations emerge. First, one needs to look at the dominant characteristics of the religious television audience: most viewers are people who are already active church members. The more a particular program emphasizes strong religious attributes conducive to church attendance, the more selective the audience becomes and the fewer

non-church members are in the audience. Second, one needs to recognize the substantial difference that exists between a response to a specific proposition gained by a broadcaster from viewers in front of a television set and the transference of that response to other situations of new behavior. We have noted already the research insight that the mass media cannot be expected to stimulate or dis-inhibit behaviors which are not contiguous to the viewing situation. It cannot be assumed, therefore, that because individuals have a change in attitude toward religious faith while watching religious television they will be motivated to adopt behavior perceived by the broadcaster to be related but which is not related within the environment of the viewers. That this failure to link attitude change to church attendance occurs appears to be supported by research. When persons watching television are motivated to change their attitude toward religious faith, even to make a religious commitment of some sort, most frequently they integrate that decision within their existing environment rather than changing their environment. Their newly acquired religious faith, where it persists, more frequently than not is oriented around the television set and the television preacher than around an external local church that has not been associated with the experience.

This behavior is reinforced by the broadcasters' general lack of emphasis on the centrality of the local church to Christian faith and their apparent unwillingness to channel persons who contact them toward involvement in a local church or to encourage local church members to establish contact with the respondent.

A unique opportunity to study the effectiveness of television in contributing to the growth of a church was provided in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1974, where the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination strategically planned for the establishment of two new congregations. In establishing the congregations, the Alliance employed a variety of forms of mass and personal communication. The mass communication employed was:

Radio -- a five-minute daily program on one of the local radio stations, along with occasional spots. Newspaper -- weekly ads in the church page and ads on special occasions Television -- fifteen 30-second ads in September 1973 inviting people to attend the churches Highway signs Direct mail -- to those people who moved into or within the city.

In addition to these forms of mass communication designed to reach those who did not attend church regularly, the churches conducted door-to-door visitation within the area of the churches.

In order to measure the comparative effectiveness of these various means of communication, George Thompson drew a random sample of those who had attended the church and filled out visitor cards (N=192) and a random sample of the general population from telephone books (N=251). He found that at the end of the 18-month project period, 40 percent of the general population and 82 percent of those who had attended one of the churches had heard of the sponsoring denomination, the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The main source of acquaintance for both the church sample and the general population sample was direct mail, which was named in 72 percent of the cases. Friends were the second major source, named in 25 percent of the cases. The television ads were named by only 5 percent of the respondents.

When those who had attended the church were asked what the reason was for their attendance, 86 percent of respondents said they had attended because of a personal invitation. The second most important reason-- the newspaper ads -- was named by only 8 percent of the respondents. None of those who attended said they were motivated to attend because of the television ads.

While there was no effort made in the study to control the particular input of each information variable, it is interesting to note the significant difference between the contribution of the mass media to the information function compared to the attendance function. Thompson concluded from his research that while mass communication is able to fulfill some information function when used widely and to advantage, actual behavior change or response such as attendance at a church, requires personal contact.(10)

This inability of mass communication to stimulate formation of novel relationships with the church has been demonstrated in several other studies of mass campaigns, even when the campaigning organization works closely with the local churches. Church Growth: America magazine undertook research of the Billy Graham crusade in Greater Seattle in 1976. One year later they sampled the 18,136 people who came forward or stood in their place in response to the call to accept Christ. Of that number, 30.6 percent were found to be for "conversion" reasons, but 53.6 percent of these were found to have been already attending a church. Of those who made a "decision" at the crusade, however, only 11.2 percent started participation in a subsequent Crusade-sponsored nurture group and only 8 percent finished the group program.(11)

The magazine also studied a "Here's Life, America" campaign in Indianapolis and Fresno, a multi-media evangelistic campaign based in local churches and drawing heavily on personal contact by telephone. The study found that of the 1,665 people who "made a decision to accept Christ," only 242, or 14.5 percent, began to participate in subsequent organized Bible studies and only 101, or 6 percent of respondents completed them. (12)

These results suggest that mass-communicated messages alone are limited in their ability to introduce new members to the church. This is not an isolated finding, but is also supported by the weight of other communication research. An individual stands within a strong system that rein- forces certain life-styles, attitudes, and behaviors. While particular acknowledgements may be made in response to a mass-communicated message, the extension of this acknowledgement into sustained change in behavior re- quires strong personal support, encouragement, and demonstrated viable alternatives. To this extent, it is significant that personal contact has frequently been identified as one of the major contributive factors in the establishment of novel church attendance. In the Church Growth: America study of the Billy Graham Seattle Crusade, it was found that of the 7 percent of conversions from the Crusade who were involved in a church a year later, 82.8 percent of them had a friend and/or relative in that particular congregation. The magazine in other research asked over 4,000 people in 35 states and three countries why they had become part of a local church. Between 75 percent and 90 percent responded that friends or relatives had been the "door of the church" for them. (13) Bibby and Brinkerhoff in their study of membership additions to conservative churches found that of the 9 percent of the new members who had become members through a novel proselyte-type conversion, 32 percent were either married or engaged to a member of the church at the time of their conversion. (14) This personal influence has been noted in other research on behavior change as well. (15)

In spite of these findings, most religious broadcasters make little effort to establish personal contact between respondents to their programs and a local church, though they frequently claim to be supportive of the idea. It has been noted that between 1977 and 1979 CBN Boston received 36,225 phone calls at its counseling center. Of the 2,724 of these calls that were identified as being for "salvation," only 1,118 referrals were made to local clergymen or churches, and many of these were for other counseling reasons. (See Table 11.1.) A study of the direct-mail follow up procedures used by the paid-time broadcasters in 1981 for persons who seek information on religious conversion indicates that church attendance is rarely mentioned or encouraged. Following an enquiry about conversion by the author to five paid-time religious broadcasters, a total of 54 mailings were received in the following nine-month period. Only six of the mailings were directed to answering the original enquiry; the remainder were directed primarily to fund solicitation by the broadcaster. Suggestions of the enquirer's becoming involved in the life of a local church were minimal and none of the broadcasters referred the enquirer's name to a local church for subsequent follow-up.

It is more likely that any effect that religious programs may have on church attendance and membership lies in their possible reactivation of inactive members or the channelling of members from one church to another. Engel's survey of respondents to Channel 38 in Chicago revealed that 33.86 percent of the respondents said that their church attendance had increased since their phone calls to accept Christ were made to the station. While there is no breakdown of these figures into differences between those who had not previously been attending a church compared to those who had, the figures indicate that in many cases this attendance was an increase from occasional attendance to regular attendance.(16)

In a survey of its partners, CBN found that 36 percent of its partners with a church affiliation reported increased involvement with their local church because of their viewing of CBN programs. This figure was substantially lower (19 percent) for those who had no current church affiliation. Those who were not affiliated with a church also reported a greater tendency to become less involved than those with a church affiliation. It is possible that religious television programs for church members fill a complementary role, maintaining and increasing their enthusiasm by providing alternative ideas for local church development, maintaining their level of personal inspiration, or by supplying things which are not otherwise available at their local church.

A major effect of the religious programs on church membership may be the channelling of church members from one church to another. This channelling effect has been one of the major results associated with religious television's functioning. Through the vitality perceived within evangelical programs, a viewer who is dissatisfied with the functioning of his present church may come to associate vitality with evangelical churches as a whole. This behavior ties in with research on need gratification in a situation of imbalance, and with the tendency to seek gratification of existing needs within areas perceived to be similar to previous behavior patterns rather than in areas perceived to be radically different. If the viewer has formed an attraction to a particular program or its host, the movement to a church more closely identified with the preferred program may cement the loyalty perceived in the relationship. Movement to a church of similar content and association as the television program may also remove discordance felt by the viewer between the message received through television and the message received through his or her church. The dominance of paid-time religious programs on television at present is possibly creating a substantial status-conferral effect. Viewers are more likely to associate the Christian viewpoint with the paid-time religious stance seen on television, especially in situations where the viewer lacks other points of reference.

Are Religious Television Programs Detrimental to the Local Church?

There are several research findings suggesting that religious television programs may be detrimental to the local church. A religious program on television may be effective in awakening within viewers dissatisfaction with their present situation, prompting them to begin a search for a satisfying answer to newly aroused religious questions and needs. However, research on television and human behavior indicates that a particular answer to this search will probably not be chosen if there are easier, cheaper, or otherwise more desirable actions apparently leading to the same goal. This process has been described as "satisficing" behavior i.e., where choices of behavior to meet felt needs proceed by the seeking and choosing of alternatives that are easy and satisfactory rather than optimal. The person will tend to stop seeking once a desirable rather than optimal level of gratification is achieved in order to preserve time and energy. There is a tendency then for individuals consciously or subconsciously to reduce their expectations of satisfaction in order to match and live with the levels of actual achievement. (17)

This evidence, which appears in general communication research, suggests that while religious programs on television may be effective in motivating a person to consider religious questions and needs, they may also project themselves as being the satisfactory answer to those needs. As we have seen, there are strong economic pressures on the paid-time religious broadcasters to project such an image in order to maintain the loyalty and contributions of their audiences. Perhaps in recognition of the realities of psychological reinforcement, broadcasters have developed services for their viewers which previously were considered appropriate only to a local church. Far from being a complementary service to the local church, therefore, religious broadcasters appear to be providing an overlapping service, one traditionally provided by the local church. Counseling materials sent to enquirers about religious faith place little or no stress on the need to become involved in a local church and few referrals of enquirers are made. A content study of 15 paid-time religious programs by Hilton in 1980 found that in none of them was the local church ever mentioned. This was true even for Robert Schuller, even though it is claimed of Schuller that he frequently encourages his television audience to attend a local church.(18)

There is a small detrimental effect present and this is shown to be greater among those who have no established church affiliation or who are dissatisfied with their current church affiliation. Hilton in his study of the use of television worship services by the members of the lrvington Presbyterian Church found that 9 percent of the members of that church have stayed home on occasion to watch television worship services rather than gone to the local church to worship, and 3 percent of the members said the television worship services had caused them to be less involved in their local church.(19)

The CBN study of its partners found that only 2 percent of its partners reported becoming less involved in their local church because of their viewing of CBN programs. When broken down into categories of members, the number increased to 9 percent of those without a current church affiliation compared to 2 percent for those with a church affiliation.(20)

It is unlikely that paid-time television programs alone will sway individuals who are deeply rooted in their local church and finding satisfaction within that church. As noted, the majority of the audience of religious television programs are people who are already actively involved in a local church and there is therefore little empirical evidence to support the contention that religious programs on television are "draining people out of the local churches." However, for people who are dissatisfied with their local church, who have little established connection with a local church, or whose religious consciousness may be awakened by a viewed religious program, the research indicates that paid-time religious programs, by presenting themselves as competent alternatives to the local church, offering a range of services similar to the local church, and not referring respondents or enquirers to a local church, may be acting as a barrier to people's developing their faith most fully within this interpersonal context.

Have Paid-Time Religious Programs Reduced People's Giving to their Local Church?

A contentious issue, particularly between the mainline churches, the income of which in the 1960s and 1970s has been decreasing, and the religious

TABLE 11.2 Incomes of Major Paid-Time Religious Broadcasters, 1979

 

Audience

Other

Total

 

Contributions

Income

Income

 

$ millions

$ millions

$ millions

Old Time Gospel Hour

38.4

7.9

46.3

Hour of Power

16.8

--

16.8

PTL Club

51.8

.8

52..6

Rex Humbard

--

--

30.0

Billy Graham (1978)

32.0

8.0

40.0

SOURCES: Thomas Road Baptist Church and Related Ministries, "Consolidated Statement for the Year Ended June 30, 1979;" "Financial Report: Hour of Power Television, 10th Anniversary Year, 1970-80;" "Summary of Financial Information, Fiscal Year Ended May 31, 1979," Action, March 1980; Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Related Ministries, Annual Report, 1978. " 1980 budget estimate given by Rex Humbard Ministry in personal correspondence, July 9, 1980.


broadcasters whose income in the same period has been steadily increasing, has been whether local church contributions have been reduced because of contributions to television religious programs. What does the research say? The paid-time religious broadcasters have certainly been effective in their money-raising ability. Table 11.2 lists the incomes of several of the major paid-time religious broadcasters for 1979, as drawn from their organization's public financial statements.

Though public statements are not available for other broadcasters, the more reliable estimates are: Oral Roberts, $60 million (1978); Christian Broadcasting Network, $46 million (1979); Jimmy Swaggart, $20 million (1979). Several broadcasters and newspapers suggest that the total contri- butions for these broadcasters and the numerous other smaller radio and television ministries exceed one billion dollars each year.(21) Is it possible that such a large amount of money could be given above and beyond what is otherwise given to a local church?

Evangelicals in general, who comprise the majority of the audience of the paid-time religious programs, are more generous givers to religious organizations than other church members. (22) Christian television-program viewers in particular have also been found to be more generous givers to a church or other religious organizations than non-viewers. The following table from a Gallup poll presents responses to the question: What percentage of your income do you contribute to your church or other religious organization? The study does not differentiate between contributions given to a church and contributions given to a religious broadcast organization. It does reveal that religious television viewers are more generous contributors than non-viewers. (23)

 

10%

 

Less than

 

Don't

 

Or more

5% - 9%

5%

None

know

           

General Public

16%

13%

33%

26%

12%

Watches Religious TV

26%

12%

32%

19%

11%

Does Not Watch

11%

13%

34%

30%

12%

 

Not all viewers of programs are supporters. Ben Armstrong quotes a 1978 NRB study which indicated that only between five and 10 percent of viewers contributed financially during the course of a year and of those less than 25 percent sent gifts regularly.(24) The size of the audiences over the course of a year and the generosity of those who do contribute appear to compensate for such a low percentage. It was noted, for example, that the average contribution to the "Old Time Gospel Hour" in 1976-77 was $23.(25)

A study of former partners of CBN found that 42 percent of those interviewed said that the greatest amount of their financial support went to their local church: only II percent said that CBN receives the greatest share of their giving. Former partners are those who had been regular contributors to CBN but who had discontinued regular support during the most recent 12-month period. The average annual contribution to CBN by these discontinued partners during the twelve-month period was $107, which represented only 19.4 percent of their total giving to religious organizations.(26)

A panel study of 18 CBN partners and eight prospective partners revealed that very few of the panelists supported CBN exclusively, even though many were regular monthly supporters. Nearly all of the panelists professed to be involved in a local church of one denomination or another and admitted that they gave first to their local church and then to CBN and others. The majority of the panelists said they tithed and gave the majority of this to their church first. The single most important reason given by the panelists for supporting CBN was "to get the Gospel out." In this regard CBN was seen as complementing the work of their local church, not replacing it. For this reason they felt justified in supporting both. (27)

These studies suggest that contributions given to paid-time religious broadcasters by evangelicals are not replacing giving to their local church, but are in addition to it. There is only limited research to indicate the position of contributors from the mainline denominations. In his study of lrvington Presbyterian Church, Hilton found that 15 percent of his sample of members had given money to television worship services. Twenty-five percent of inactive members were among these contributors. Of this 15 percent, 87 percent said it was money that would not have otherwise gone to the local church; 13 percent said it was. Hilton concluded his research by stating that his research had found little to substantiate the fear that the electric church was draining money away from the local churches, though he also found little support for the broadcasters' contention that the broadcasters were generating money for the local church by building up the commitment of believers. (28)

The research implies that for those who are actively involved in a local church and therefore (one might assume) among its chief supporters, the church remains central to their understanding of the Christian mission and as a result the object of their major support. It is unlikely that paid-time religious organizations will change that focus of commitment as long as the church remains satisfying to its active members' needs. Should the broadcast organization come to be the primary source of gratification for the needs of its audience, or to be seen as a functional substitute for the local church, the direction of an individual's financial support could change, though such a change does not appear to be occurring to a great extent at present.

Of concern to all churches, however, should be the approach the broadcasters take in attempting to raise money from their viewers. Little emphasis is placed on responsible stewardship of finances and possessions. The major methods used to elicit support are threat (removal of the program from the viewer's area), pathos (appeal on the basis of the broadcaster's being person-ally damaged by a financial shortfall), enticement (receiving a desired object that is otherwise unavailable), fear (protection against a common enemy), superstition (gaining something from God for a gift given), and selfishness (receiving more from God than the value of the gift given). The habituating effect of these constant appeals is now being reflected in the increasingly bizarre methods adopted in fund raising.

A survey of the research allays some fears of a dramatic undermining or replacement of the local church by paid-time religious programs. Where an effect may be taking place, it is more likely to be in the nature of channelling members of churches away from those churches that are not rep- resented on television toward those that are. The research gives little support to the contention that the religious broadcasters as yet are draining money from the local churches into their own organizations. Unsupported also, though, is the claim made by religious broadcasters that they are helping build local churches through the introduction of new members. The research indicates that few new members are brought into the church by religious programs on television, and that increases in membership in particular churches are due primarily either to movement from other churches or to the establishment of personal contact by another member of that congregation.

Further research is needed to clarify the contributory part religious programs may have played in that process and also the long-term effects of many religious programs' avoidance of reference to the local church and their development of services in competition with the local churches.

 

Notes

1. Broadcast and Film Commission, "Frontiers of Faith," p. 3. 2. Radio and Television Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, "Program Response Report," October 1978 to September 1979. 3. Terry Ann Knopf, "Advertising for Priests," Boston Globe, March 24, 1980, pp. 21-22. 4. Montgomery, "Electric Church," p. 29. 5. Robinson, "Study of the Audience," p. 119; Armstrong, Electric Church, p. 97. 6, Montgomery, "Electric Church;" Sholes, Prime-Time Religion, p. 1. 7. "PTL Counseling." 8. Edward J. Bailey, "An Analysis of Respondents to 'Hearald of Truth' Radio and TV Programs," M.S. thesis, Iowa State University, 1972. 9. Market Research Group, "National CBN Partner," Table 90. 10. George S. Thompson, "The Effect of the Use of Mass Media to Establish a Local Church: A Study of the Pilot Church Project of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Tallahassee, Florida" Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1975, pp. 141-44. 11. Win Am, "Mass Evangelism -- The Bottom Line," Church Growth: America, January/February, 1978, pp. 4ff. 12. Win Am, "A Church Growth Look at 'Here's Life, America,"' Church Growth: America, January/February, 1977, p. 4, 13. Am, "Mass Evangelism," p. 6. 14. Reginald W. Bibby and Merlin B. Brinkerhoff, "The Circulation of the Saints: A Study of People who Join Conservative Churches," Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 12, September 1973, pp. 277-80. 15. Schramm, Mass Media and National Development, pp. 132-39. 16. Engel, "Pilot Research Study," pp. 26-32. 17. J. W. Johnstone, "Social Integration and Mass Media Use among Adolescents," in Blumler and Katz, Uses of Mass Communication, pp. 35-47. 18. Armstrong, Electric Church, p. 10. 19. Hilton, "Influence of Television," p. 56. 20. Market Research Group, "National CBN Partner," Table 183. 21. See Bisset, "Religious Broadcasting," p. 29. 22. Stark and Clock, American Piety, pp. 81-107. 23. Gallup, "Evangelical Christianity." 24. Armstrong, Electric Church, p. 151. 25. Montgomery, "Electric Church." 26. Market Research Group, "National Former Partner," p. 2. 27. Market Research Group, "Report on Finances," pp. 5-9. 28. Hilton, "Influence of Television," p. 95.

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