Chapter 9: Characteristics of the Religious Audience

Religious Television: The American Experience
by Peter Horsfield

Chapter 9: Characteristics of the Religious Audience

While the broadcast evangelists envisage television as a God-given tool by which to reach "the world" with their message, research on religious television programs indicates that the actual audience of most religious programs is highly segmented and that those who watch usually do so for very specific reasons. Far from being a broad medium of communication, religious programs on television appear to be a specialized programming service for a specialized audience. The recent eruption of paid-time religious programs on the modern scene has raised many questions about the audience of these programs. In this chapter, emphasis will be placed on analyzing the available research in relation to three key questions: Who watches religious television programs? Are the programs viewed by people who are otherwise nonreligious or unchurched? Why do people watch these programs?

Who Watches Religious Television Programs?

Much of the information on the demographic characteristics of the regular audience of religious programs again comes from the surveys of the Nielsen Company. A sufficient number of other studies also exists to form a fairly comprehensive picture of the audience of religious programs. The characteristics that emerge from research follow.

1. Women watch religious programs more than men.

In the case of syndicated programs, the proportion of women to men viewers is approximately two to one. Nielsen audience data for November 1979 indicate that the average number of women viewers per household for all syndicated religious programs was .74 compared to .42 men viewers. It is sometimes suggested that the main reason for this disparity is most programs are broadcast at times when women are the major part of the audience. However, Comstock has noted that on Sunday mornings, when most religious programs are broadcast, composition of the national audience is equally male and female, compared to prime-time when the audience comprises 25% more females than males.(1)

The Nielsen figures for November 1979 indicate only three (out of 52) syndicated religious programs in which men equal or outnumber women as viewers. These three are comparatively small programs: "What Does the Bible say?" whose audience of 20,100 is 45 percent men and 45 percent women; "Treehouse Club," a children's program, whose audience of 20,100 is 19 percent men and 9 percent women; and "Missionaries in Action," whose audience of 16,060 is 44 percent men and 38 percent women. Comparative percentages for the major syndicated programs are as follows:


% Women




Oral Roberts

59.8 %

29.8 %

Rex Humbard



Hour of Power



Jimmy Swaggart



Day Of Discovery



Old Time Gospel Hour



Gospel Singing Jubilee



PTL Club






James Robison




Each program shows a significant difference between men and women as viewers, with some programs having as high as 61 percent of their audience composed of women viewers.

These trends have been found in other studies of religious programming also. Dennis, in a 1962 study of the radio and television audience in Detroit. and Robinson, in a 1964 study of the radio and television audience in sever cities, found that women were greater consumers of religious programs than men. (2) Buddenbaum, in 1979, found that regular viewers of religious television programs are twice as likely to be female as male. (3)

2. Viewing of religious programs generally increases with age.

Increasing age has consistently been found to be one of the strongest distinguishing variables between the audience and non-audience of religious television programs. As age increases, so does viewing of religious television programs. Dramatic differences are noticeable in those who are aged 50 or over. Older women watch more than do older men. Younger men appear to watch less than any other adult group, watching only slightly more adult religious programs than do children.

This characteristic has been demonstrated also in studies as far back as 1962. Dennis found that while increasing age was not directly proportional to increased listening or viewing, significant differences occurred once the person reached the age of 60. (4) Robinson found in his study of the radio and television audience in seven cities that as age increased, the percentage of irregular listeners and viewers decreased and the percentage of regular listeners and viewers increased, to the point where half of all respondents over the age of 60 listened to or watched religious broadcasts regularly.(5) Solt, in a study of religious program audience in a New York county, found significant differences occurring at age 44, (6) while Buddenbaum found that frequent viewers of religious television were most likely to be over the age of 62, while those who never watch are more likely to be under age 34. Among adolescents and young adults, 67.2 percent and 70.3 percent, respectively, reported that they never watched religious programs compared to 25.7% of older adults who said they never watched.(7)

These trends are reflected also in the audience for current paid-time religious programs. The general trend is for women over 50 to be the largest viewing group in the audience of the syndicated programs. In 1979 they represented 45.8 percent of the audience for "Day of Discovery" and 44.2 percent of the audience for "Oral Roberts." Women 18-49 and men over 50 formed approximately equal proportions of the audience for most of the major paid-time religious programs. Men in the age group 18-49 were the smallest adult group of viewers, representing only 8.8 percent of the audience for "Oral Roberts." The pattern changed for only one major syndicated program, the sustaining-time program "Insight." This program is the only one among the top 10 syndicated programs which employs a dramatic format. "Insight" shows a more even distribution of age groups among its audience, with women 18-49 forming 26.3 percent of the audience, the largest age grouping.

This dominant age grouping reflected in most religious programs corresponds to general television viewing patterns. In 1976, for example, women over 50 watched an average of 35.0 hours of television a week, significantly more than men over 50 who watched 31.9 hours and women 18-49 who watched 31.5 hours a week. Men 18-49 watched almost seven hours less per week. In 1978 the figures increased to almost 33 hours a week for men over 50 and 37 hours a week for women over 50. (8)

3. People of lower income, lower education, and in blue-collar occupations watch significantly more religious programs than do those of higher income, higher education, and in white-collar occupations.

These variables are, of course, interrelated. Though not an absolute rule, people with higher education tend to be found in white-collar occupations which pay a larger salary or provide a higher income. The distinction between these two groups has been demonstrated in several studies of religious broadcasting. Dennis, in 1962, found no significant difference between the audience and non-audience of religious programs up to the high-school level of education. For educational levels beyond high school, however, listening and viewing of religious programs decreased rapidly. He found that even significant differences between the listening and viewing behavior of Reformed compared to Pietistic Protestants levelled as the amount of education increased. He also found that as family income increased, men especially were less likely to view religious programs.(9)

Robinson, in his study of the audience of religious programs in seven cities in the United States in 1964, found that the lowest levels of formal education were much more likely to listen to or view religious programs regularly. He found that only 30 percent of those whose income was less than $13,000 were non-viewers of religious programs compared to 67 percent of those whose income was greater than $16,000. (10)

Solt in 1971 and Buddenbaum in 1979 had similar findings. Both found that increasing formal education correlated statistically with decreasing viewership of religious television programs. Buddenbaum found that the regular audience for religious television programs comprised mainly blue-collar workers and "others," which included housewives and non-classifiable employed persons. Only 5.3 percent of the professionals identified by the study reported that they watched religious programs regularly compared to 30.4 percent of blue-collar workers and 25.3 percent of "others." Solt found particularly dramatic changes occurring with retirement, a factor that corresponds with the previously identified relevant variable of increasing age. Of those who were retired, Solt found that 40.4 percent were regular viewers, a significantly greater proportion than retired persons who never viewed or occasionally viewed. (11)

These findings relate to trends which have been noted in general television viewing also. If the head of the household has finished four or more years of college, the household in the fall of 1976 watched an average of seven hours of television less per week than households where the head had less than four years of college.(12) This trend has been found among the elderly as well; (13) persons in lower-income households also watch considerably more television -- an additional half-hour a day in the fall of 1976 -- than the average for all individuals. Those in households with an income under $10,000 watched an average of 32.3 hours a week in the fall of 1976 compared with 25.2 hours a week for those with income over $15,000.(14)

Various research findings also suggest that there may be variations in this pattern of relationships in relation to religious television viewing. The nature of the program can effect the nature of the audience. Research on the "Frontiers of Faith" program series found that the better-educated made up the majority of the audience though the less-educated found the program more helpful.(15) Ringe found that those with a twelfth-grade education or less preferred traditional religious programs, while those with more than a twelfth-grade education preferred more novel programs. (16) Dennis found that the effect of education on viewing preferences was not as pronounced on women as on men, (17) while Parker et al. in 1955 found that occupation was not a significant variable in Catholic, Jewish, or mixed-religion households but was significant in distinguishing the audience from non-audience in Protestant households.(18)

The research suggests, therefore, that while the overall trend is for the viewing of religious programs to decrease as educational and income level increases, changes in the composition of the audience can be effected through the particular format and content adopted.

4. There are geographical patterns identifiable in the audience and non-audience of religious television programs.

The most detailed figures in support of this finding are those assembled by Arbitron and presented by Hadden and Swann in their book Prime-Time Preachers. Though all the major religious programs are broadcast in every major market in the country, the make-up of their audiences shows a distinct bias towards the southern and mid-western states, regions which are highest in church attendance in the country.

All of the major broadcasters except for Robert Schuller are under-represented in proportion to audience in the eastern states. While the eastern states contain 22.5 percent of the total population of the country, the major broadcasters draw between 10.3 percent and 14.7 percent of their audiences from the area. Robert Schuller, the exception, draws 24 percent of his audience from the eastern states. Similarly, all major broadcasters are under-represented in the western states, even Robert Schuller, whose home base is in California.

All broadcasters except Schuller are over-represented in the percentage of their audiences drawn from the southern states. The area contains 32.4 percent of the population of the total country, and Oral Roberts draws 53.9 percent of his audience from the region. This bias is most outstanding with the program "Gospel Singing Jubilee," which draws 97 percent of its just- under-a-million audience from the southern states. (19) This tendency was identified in earlier studies also. Dennis in 1962 found that having one's birthplace in one of the southern states was a significant factor in distinguishing audience from non-audience of religious programs.(20)

5. The strongest discriminating variables between the audience and non-audience of religious television programs are religious interest and church affiliation.

As may be expected, religious affiliation and interest are consistently strong differentiating variables between the audience and non-audience of religious television programs. The major proportion of the audience of religious programs is people who already indicate a high interest in religion. The research provides some elucidation of the various elements of these characteristics.

Protestants are significantly heavier viewers of religious programs in general than are either Catholics or Jews. Robinson found that 90 percent of the regular listeners and viewers of religious programs were Protestants, while greater than 50 percent of Roman Catholics and Jews were non- listeners or non-viewers. (21) It should be noted, however, that the greatest number of religious programs have been Protestant programs. This denominational factor changes when there is a program distinctly aimed at a particular tradition. Bishop Sheen's program "Life Is Worth Living" in 1952 drew 75.5 percent of its New Haven audience from the Roman Catholic community, even though it represented only 52.8 percent of the total population.(22) Similarly, the emphases of the different Protestant programs largely determine the nature of their audiences. Dennis found that General Protestants and Reformed Protestants as groups viewed religious programs significantly less than did Pietistic Protestants, though this may reflect the influence of other common variables such as occupation, education, and income. (23) Solt found that Baptists, Pentecostals, and Independent Protestant groups in 1964 were twice as strong in the regular category of viewing as were Episcopalians and Lutherans. The reverse held for the "never" category.(24) The CBN organization in 1978 was drawing more than 55 percent of its partners from the conservative and evangelical denominations, even though as a group they formed a much smaller percentage of the general population. (25)

While intense religiosity has always been a factor in religious television viewing,(26) this characteristic has come to reflect more of the evangelical ethos as evangelical programs have replaced other types of religious programming on television. The characteristic has most recently been demonstrated by the 1978 Gallup Poll on Evangelical Christianity. From a national population sample, the poll found that those who watch religious television programs compared to those who don't watch religious television programs are more likely to have had a conversion experience, to believe that the bible is free of mistakes, to believe in a personal devil, to read the bible more often, to talk to others about their faith more often, to attend church services more frequently, and to hold to or engage in beliefs and practices characteristic of evangelicals as a whole. The poll also identified characteristics among evangelicals which correspond to other characteristics already noted as significant in distinguishing the religious television audience from the non-audience: the typical U.S. evangelical was characterized as a white female Southerner, aged 50 or over, with a high-school education and a modest income. (27)

This Gallup poll calls into question the claims made, particularly by some news weeklies prior to the 1980 election, that the evangelical broad-casters had the capacity to sway the opinion of all evangelicals. The poll makes it clear that not all evangelicals watch religious television, not even a majority of evangelicals do. This finding is supported by the actual sizes of the audiences drawn by these programs. The poll indicates that for the three evangelical subgroups identified by the survey, 47 percent, 46 percent, and 45 percent, respectively, indicated that they either didn't watch or didn't know how much time they spent watching religious programs on television each week, and another 9 percent, 6 percent, and 5 percent indicated they watched for less than one hour each week. In the light of these findings and the statistics on audience sizes for these programs, the paid-time religious programs appear not as a major thrust fully supported and influential on the evangelical movement as a whole, but as a rather small subculture within evangelicalism. Had these factors been recognized previously, their impact on American politics may have been viewed in a more realistic light.

Are Religious Programs Watched by Non-churched or Nonreligious People?

While the characteristics mentioned in the previous section dominate in the audience of religious television programs, evidence suggests that these programs are watched on occasion and in some cases regularly by non- Protestants, non-evangelicals, those of higher income and education, those in white-collar occupations, and those who claim no religious interest or church affiliation. In Onondaga County in 1971 Solt found that 18 percent of all regular listeners or viewers of religious radio and television programs were people who claimed they rarely or never went to church. (28) In the Gallup poll of the unchurched in 1978, 28 percent of those considered by the poll to be unchurched people said they had heard or watched a religious program on radio or television in the past 30 days. (29) The Gallup Poll of Evangelical Christianity in 1978 found that 27 percent of those who watched religious programs claimed not to be a member of a church or synagogue, 18 percent claimed not to attend church, and another 18 percent claimed they attended less than once a month. (30) Frank and Greenberg in their study The Public's Use of Television found that several of their specified interest groups in the community had a higher-than-average use of religious television programs even though their interest in religion was below average.(31)

While in most audiences of religious programs there is a percentage of people who are unchurched or who indicate little interest in religion in general, it needs to be noted that this percentage is consistently small. It is useful, however, to ask why people who otherwise express little interest in religion spend time watching religious television programs.

Why Do People Watch Particular Religious Television Programs?

The research on the audience of religious broadcasting indicates that there is a correspondence between the nature and content of a program and the dominant characteristics of the audience it attracts. Changes in the nature of one's audience can be brought about, therefore, by appropriate changes in program content and broadcast time.

One of the most valuable theoretical approaches for understanding the connection between the content of a specific program and the nature of the audience it attracts is that of the uses-and-gratifications approach to mass-communication effect. The appropriateness of this approach to religious television was intimated by Parker et al. in their research project in 1955. Arising out of their research into the audience of religious television they noted,

There are logical reasons for listening or non-listening that go deep into the personal and personal-social situation of audience members, far deeper than their simple identification as Catholics or Presbyterians, or non-participants in any church.(32)

In recent years this perception has been given fuller theoretical and research development in relation to general mass communication. The uses-and-gratifications approach has served to emphasize two research perspectives: (1) that the audience has prior social and psychological needs which are brought to the communication experience, and (2) that these prior needs force the individual actively to seek communications which will gratify these needs. The approach stresses that in understanding communication effect one must consider not only the influence of the message being communicated but also the use being made of the message by members of the audience as they actively seek, select, and interpret communications necessary for the satisfactory management of their lives.

In spite of the fact that this approach was reported several decades ago and lies at the base of earlier communication research, little serious theoretical or empirical development of it was made until recently. Central to the recent formulation of the theory have been two books, both published in 1974: The Uses of Mass Communication and Mass Communication Research.(33) In the former book Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch outline the uses-and-gratifications approach as being "concerned with (1) the social and psychological origins of (2) needs, which generate (3) expectations of (4) the mass media and other sources, which lead to (5) differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities) resulting in (6) need gratification and (7) other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones."(34)

Several of the findings from this uses-and-gratifications approach are of direct importance for understanding the nature of the audience of religious television programs and the reasons for viewing. One is that because of the active part played by people in the audience in seeking out gratifying communications to meet their personal and social needs, the dominant uses being made of a religious program may be quite different from the stated aims of the program itself.

The major reasons given by the paid-time religious broadcasters for their programs is that of evangelism: that is, of reaching outsiders with the message of the Christian faith with a view to converting them. It is apparent, however, from the dominant characteristics of the audience that, for the most part, the broadcasters are not reaching outsiders, but insiders. Such a correspondence is not inevitable, however. Research has demonstrated that the characteristics of one's audience are shaped by the nature of the program. The differences have been noted, for example, between the audience of the dramatic series "Insight" and the audiences of the commercial religious programs that employ a preaching format. "Insight" was the only top syndicated program to attract a representative audience in relation to age and sex variables. While it may be more effective in reaching a more representative audience, a dramatic format is not suitable for the purpose of building a personal relationship between broadcaster and audience, which for the paid-time broadcasters is essential for maintaining fund raising.

Research suggests other aspects of preferences among different audience groups. Dennis in 1962 found that blacks and blue-collar workers watch all religious programs but prefer evangelistic ones; older persons prefer worship programs, discussion programs, and evangelistic programs; and persons with higher education prefer discussion and dramatic formats. (35) Ringe found that those with a twelfth-grade education or less preferred traditional religious programs, while those with greater than a twelfth-grade education preferred more novel programs. He found also that closed-mindedness and doctrinal orthodoxy were significant variables in determining a preference for traditional religious programs. (36)

The research shows that to a large extent religious broadcasters choose their audience by the content, format, and marketing of their programs. The pressure on the paid-time religious broadcasters to maintain the specific structure of their audience because it is the most financially supportive for them has had the effect of shaping the character of their programs away from their original intention of evangelism, even though they keep the intent of evangelism as a masthead. The dominant needs being met by their programs are now quite different from those that would be consistent with genuine evangelism. The research indicates that the dominant functions now being served by Christian programs for the major segments of its audience appear to be personal inspiration, companionship, and support. When Engel surveyed those who had called Channel 38 in Chicago he found that for the majority of the respondents the most helpful role of the station and its programs had been to help them grow spiritually as Christians. (37) When Hilton surveyed the use of television worship services by members of the lrvington Presbyterian Church, he found also that the major uses made of the programs were for personal inspiration and uplift. The most helpful aspect of the programs mentioned in this regard were the music and singing, mentioned in 55 percent of the responses. Only 4 percent of the members indicated that the television programs had influenced their understanding of what the most important things are about being a Christian, an important part of evangelism. (38)

It appears, therefore, that the paid-time broadcasters have adapted their programs to this dominant use made of the programs by those members of their audiences who are supportive. This adaptation is seen in the development of facilities for personal counseling. Research shows that the dominant use made of these facilities is also for personal support and inspiration, expressed mainly through prayer requests for oneself or another. The CBN Counselling Center in Boston, for example, in its first two years of operation (1977-79) received 36,225 telephone calls. These included only 2,724 calls for salvation but 36,497 requests for prayer. (One call could include more than one prayer request.) (39)

In spite of this dominant use now being made of religious programs by church people, the paid-time broadcasters still maintain that the dominant intention of their programs is evangelism (i.e., reaching outsiders). This is also the basis on which they solicit money from their audience and the basic reason why viewers support the program. In one CBN survey, the single most important reason given by those surveyed for supporting the work of CBN was to "to get the Gospel out."(40) This illusion of evangelism in many ways reflects the central ethos of the evangelical tradition. Because of the importance placed on evangelism, appeals are most effective if they are couched in terms of their evangelical effectiveness, even though that may not be their primary or dominant function. The realization of this contradiction led one evangelical broadcaster to question what was being done: "Does this mean we are talking to ourselves. . . . And if so, can we justify the money spent and the strategies employed" (41)

A second implication of the uses-and-gratifications research for understanding why people watch religious programs on television is the insight that uses made of the media and gratifications derived from these uses change over an individual's life span. (42) This insight suggests that television communication should not be considered universally attention-gaining, but is effective only with certain population groups. This characteristic may explain the majority of older persons in the religious television audience. Television fulfills a more important role in the lives of older people than it does in the lives of younger people. It is the predominant leisure-time activity of older adults and older adults may watch more religious programs simply by reason of the greater frequency of their viewing. Studies have also found that as viewer age increases there is a corresponding increase in the serious content of programs watched. Religious programs in this context appear to fill some of the needs demonstrated by older viewers: the programs act as a source of information, as a substitute for lost social activity, and as a source of companionship and support. This research insight may imply that religious programs on television will be limited in their effectiveness with those age groups which do not use television as a source of gratification for serious content, and therefore that television should exist as only one element in a much broader strategy for ministry and evangelism. A third implication for religious television arising out of the uses-and-gratifications research is that the gratifications found from particular programs and the uses made of them differ with different population groups. It is wrong to assume that because a person is watching a particular religious program he or she is doing so for the reasons for which the program was devised. There are a number of studies which indicate that there are other gratifications being sought and gained from religious programs than specifically "religious" ones. In 1962 Dennis found that people viewed religious programs for other than religious reasons. He identified moral, information, entertainment, and substitution motives for viewing also, and though they were clearly subservient to religious motives, they were present in the audiences' motivation to some degree. (43)

Buddenbaum in 1979 correlated frequency of religious television viewing with nine personal needs. She found only two of the needs to be positively correlated with frequency of religious viewing: the need to know onself better and the need to avoid feelings of loneliness. She found a weak correlation between the frequency of viewing and the need to be entertained. The other needs studied -- the need to have influence, to plan one's day, to kill time, to relax and release tension, to hear what others say, and to keep tabs on what is going on -- were negatively related to frequency of religious television viewing but not at the level of significance. (44) In commenting on these correlations, Buddenbaurn noted that the religious television audience reports quite different needs from those of the general television audience, Television viewing as a whole has been found to be most useful in satisfying the needs to be entertained, to kill time, to relax and release tension, and to avoid feelings of loneliness. While religious television viewing correlates positively with the need to know oneself better and also correlates positively with the need to avoid feelings of loneliness, it corresponds negatively with the need to be entertained. It has been noted already that religious television viewing increases significantly with age and that older viewers demonstrate an increased interest in serious content on television, especially news and public-affairs programming, as compensation for losses of more social sources of information and engagement.

One of the most in-depth studies of the reasons why people may view religious programs on television is that of Frank and Greenberg, published under the title The Public's Use of Television: Who Watches and Why. As part of the larger study, Frank and Greenberg also studied the viewing of religious programs on television. Their suggestion is that different population groups watch religious programs for very different reasons.

Frank and Greenberg divided the U.S. population in 1978 into 14 groups or interest segments according to clustered interest factors. Of these 14 interest segments they found six to be above the average for the entire population in the viewing of religious programs. Frank and Greenberg's descriptions of these interest segments and the functions they suggest religious television plays for the groups are as follows. (45)

1. Male: Money and Nature's Product. This group is made up of older males with a high proportion rural and retired. They are interested primarily in passive activities that obtain some form of tangible return on their product. Their rate of religious program viewing is 136 percent (based on 100 percent as average for the entire population). Frank and Greenberg suggest that their heavy viewing of religious programs probably helps to satisfy their needs for support and contact and reinforcement of the more traditional values associated with American life.

2. Male: Family and Community-Centered. This group is employed, blue-collar/white-collar adult males. They are married, living in non- metropolitan areas. They have a broad range of interests, including home and community-centered activities and religion. They are usually light television viewers. Their above-average religious viewing rate of 133 percent is probably reflective of their religious, community, and family interests.

3. Female: Elderly Concerns. This is the older segment, with a high percentage of retirees, widows, and with few children. Their few interests include religion and news and information. Their focus is on maintaining a sense of social integration and belonging in the absence of direct inter- personal contact. Their rate of religious program viewing is high, 191 percent. This high rate of religious program viewing matches their expressed interests and their needs to overcome loneliness and to lift their spirits. It corresponds also to the low need within this group for intellectual stimulation.(46)

4. Female: Home and Community-Centered. This group is made up of adult females with a relatively high percentage of homemakers. Their highest needs are for family ties and understanding others. Their lowest needs are for intellectual stimulation and unique/creative accomplishment. Frank and Greenberg suggest that their high rate of religious program viewing of 164 percent satisfies their need for social integration because of separation from other adult companionship.

5. Mixed: News and Information. The interests of this group are related to keeping informed on a broad range of subjects and activities. Their needs are focused on being socially stimulating and maintaining family ties. Their rate of religious program viewing is 154 percent, although they are heavy users of television in general both for entertainment and as a means of keeping informed about the world in which they live.

6. Mixed: Highly Diversified. This group is comprised of southern black adults with children. They have a broad range of interests, especially those permitting personal participation with family and/or other informal small group settings. They have a high need for intellectual stimulation. This segment is the highest segment for amount of in-home time used watching television. Television viewing appears to be a family affair, with a diversity of programs being watched. Their rate of religious program viewing is 164 percent.

The lightest viewing of religious programs takes place by the following interest segments: Males: Mechanics and Outdoor Life, 13 percent; Youth: Competitive Sports and Science/Engineering, 39 percent; Mixed: Cosmopolitan Self-Enrichment, 31 percent; and Female: Family-Integrated Activities, 48 percent.

Not all the groups that indicated high viewing of religious programs correlated with having religion as a general interest factor. Males: Money and Nature's Product, which had a religious program viewing rate of 136 percent had an average interest factor for religion of -.26. The group Mixed: News and Information, which had a religious program viewing rate of 154 percent had an average interest factor for religion of -.29. Similarly, Mixed: Highly Diversified, which had a religious program viewing rate of 164 percent, had an average interest factor for religion of -.07. Conversely, not every non-viewing segment correlated negatively with religion as a general interest factor. The group Female: Arts and Cultural Activities was 6 percent below average for religious television viewing but had an average interest factor score for religion of .21. Youth: Indoor Games and Social Activities had an average interest factor score for religion of .46 but was 36 percent below average for religious television viewing.

This segmentation into group characteristics and situational needs provides an alternative approach to understanding the reasons why some groups are heavy viewers of religious programs while others are not. It also provides an alternative method apart from the heavy-handed shotgun approach of the present paid-time religious broadcasters by which religious communicators may plan a more comprehensive and effective television programming approach. It suggests that religious broadcasters in general would gain by identifying the specific characteristics of their audiences and the uses made of their programs, and working to develop their effectiveness in that area. Their adherence to a universal impact and outreach model can only distract from a more comprehensive and realistic strategy of ministry by the whole church in which television may play its appropriate part.


1. Comstock, "The Impact of Television," p. 17.

2. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," p. 56; Robinson, "Study of the Audience," p, 127,

3. Buddenbaum, "Audience for Religious Television," p. 55.

4. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," p. 56.

5. Robinson, "Study of the Audience," p. 127.

6. Solt, "Study of the Audience," pp. 57-59.

7. Buddenbaum, "Audience for Religious Programs," p. 54.

8. Comstock, Television and Human Behavior, pp. 91-93; Nielsen Television 78, Northbrook: A. C. Nielsen Co, 1978.

9. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," pp. 61-67.

10. Robinson, "Study of the Audience," p. 127.

11. Solt, "Study of the Audience," pp. 56-61; Buddenbaum, "Audience for Religious Programs," pp. 56-67.

12. Comstock, Television and Human Behavior, pp. 61-62.

13. Elliott S. Schreiber and Douglas A. Boyd, "How the Elderly Perceive TV Commercials," Journal of Communication, Winter 1980, pp. 62-70.

14. Comstock, Television and Human Behavior, p. 94.

15. Broadcast and Film Commission, "Frontiers of Faith," p. 8.

16. Ringe, "Analysis of Selected Personality," p. 125.

17. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," pp. 61-62.

18. Parker et al., Television-Radio Audience, p. 202.

19. Hadden and Swann, Prime-Time Preachers, pp. 60-61.

20. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," pp. 68-70.

21. Robinson, "Study of the Audience," p. 128.

22. Parker et al., Television-Radio Audience, Chapter II.

23. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," pp. 71-72.

24. Solt, "Study of the Audience," p. 69.

25. Market Research Group, "National CBN Partner," Table 182.

26. See Dennis, Robinson, and Solt.

27. Gallup, "Evangelical Christianity in the U.S."

28. Solt, "Study of the Audience," pp. 70-76.

29. Gallup, "Unchurched Americans," p. 57.

30. Gallup, "Evangelical Christianity," pp. 109, 125.

31. Frank and Greenberg, Public's Use of Television, pp. 55-127.

32. Parker et al., Television-Radio Audience, p. 408.

33. Jay G. Blumler and Elihu Katz, eds. The Uses of Mass Communication: Current Perspectives on Gratification Research, Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, 1974; W. Phillips Davison and F.T.C. Yu, eds.. Mass Communication Research: Major Issues and Future Directions, New York: Praeger, 1974.

34. E. Katz; J. G. Blumler and M. Gurevitch, "Utilization of Mass Communication by the Individual," in Blumler and Katz, Uses of Mass Communication, p. 20.

35. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," p. 180.

36. Ringe, "Analysis of Selected Personality," pp. 106-114, 125.

37. Engel, "Pilot Research Study," pp. 38-39.

38. Hilton, "Influence of Television," pp. 55-56.

39. CBN Boston, "Monthly Statistical Reports."

40. Market Research Group, "Report on 700 Club Finances," p. S-1.

41. Bisset, "Religious Broadcasting," p. 28.

42. See Andrew Morrison, "Mass Media Use by Adults," American Behavioral Scientist, September/October 1979, pp. 71-93; Frederick Williams, Herbert Dordick, and Frederick Horstmann, "Where Citizens Go for Information," Journal of Communication, Winter 1977, pp. 95-99.

43. Dennis, "Analysis of the Audience," p. 175.

44. Buddenbaum, "Audience for Religious Programs," pp. 60-85.

45. Frank and Greenberg, Public's Use of Television, pp. 55-127.

46. The high rate of viewing in this group is reflected in their dominance in the overall religious program audience. This group has also been found to be one of the major users of the paid-time broadcasters' telephone counseling services, expressing their need for companionship and inspiration.