Christian Radio

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Location: Grand Rapids, Michigan, United States

I'm the Executive Director of Mission Network News, a broadcast network servicing more than 900 radio stations in North America, New Zealand, Eucuador, Romania and Moldova

Friday, May 20, 2005

Christian radio getting better?

A few weeks ago I received an email from Barna Rearch that made me wonder a number of things. I was reminded of it today when I came in today. A friend e-mailed me, wondering if I had seen this.

He writes:

"If Christian radio is getting better, why aren't more people listening? This is from a Barna report dated March 14, 2005. Have you seen it?

The total audience for Christian radio, however, has declined from 56% of the adult population in 1992 to its current 46%. While population growth has muted the effect of that decline, the bottom line is a net loss in listeners over the past 13 years. The research shows that the loss has been mostly among the non-Christian audience, which has dropped from 42% of the listening base in 1992 to just 28% today."

If this is true, then non-Christian Christian radio listeners aren't listening as much as they have been. Why? Is it because we're now sounding more like everyone else that they don't stop and listen? Is it because the vast majority of non-believers just don't want to hear Christian radio and they shun it completely?

This is only an opinion, but my guess is because the Gospel has been watered down by so many Christian radio stations that the power of God's Word isn't as visible, thus it doesn't attract people. They just stay away because there's nothing special to keep them listening. What do you think?


Blogger Couchy said...

I think watering down may be part of it, just as spicing it up ineffectively may be part of it. Plenty of Christans and non-Christians alike go running the other way when a fire and brimstone yeller comes on the radio, and plenty of Christian stations have their share of those theologically questionable preachers who come across as hucksters.

There's also the matter of Christian radio becoming a decidedly right-wing-only atmosphere. Ministries such as Focus on the Family have forthrightly told listeners that if they don't share FOTF's political views, their Christianity is questionable at best.

10:09 PM  
Blogger Greg Yoder said...

I don't know a lot of fire and brimstone preachers on the air anymore. Chuck Swindoll and others like him don't preach that way. But, in doing interviews with people, these preachers are an important part of why they listen to Christian radio. Yes, music is the main reason, but the word is a draw, too.

Christian radio has long been right winged. That's not a shift. The record number of listeners to talk radio also indicates that 'right winged' programming may not be a negative.

10:29 PM  
Blogger Couchy said...

Chuck Swindoll is an exception though, and an exceptional speaker. Clone him at various ages and stages in life, and Christian radio stations with long form programs would be in fine shape.

Certainly Christian radio has always had a leaning towards the right, since our morals align with many of those positions. Two trends have contributed from 15 years ago until now: 1) Conservative talk radio... Most Christians I know listen to these stations. Back at the start of Barna's time frame, Rush was still becoming known and Hannity was probably still in puberty. Christians go to these stations for their political fix now, and may not expect it or want it from their "safe" Christian radio stations. 2) Christian radio commentators (national and local) who in essence tell their audience that if they don't vote a certain way, they probably aren't really Christians.
Yes there was a lean to the right back then, but outside of Falwell and Robertson few Christian media speakers were synonymous with "right wing." Now, virtually all are. (Billy Graham takes issue with that development by the way.)

The gospel is meant for all people, regardless of political positions, or political ignorance. Christian radio has done a lot to let those in the middle, on the left, and those who are uninformed, know that their way of thinking (or lack of it) is definitley not God's way and therefore it is disgusting at best, and certainly evil. Not exactly the most loving, Christian way to share the love of Jesus if you ask me :-).

The word will always be a draw. It should be THE draw. How we package it, or fail to package it, how we frame it, is where problems lie. From watering it down to politicizing it, problems abound as long as imperfect people are entrusted with radio stations. God will still get the glory, and will use our lackings and misguided methods to lead people to Him.

11:46 PM  
Blogger Greg Yoder said...

I think that's the point. As more and more Christian radio stations squeeze out the Gospel or try to 'package' it (whatever that means), the uniqueness of the Gospel will disappear. Many radio stations have been sucked into believing that people tune OUT when Christian programs air. They're more likely to tune away when they hear a song they don't like.

You say that Chuck Swindoll is an exception. That's just not true. Here are others; James McDonald, Charles Stanley, Alistair Begg, John MacArthur, and surely I'm missing some. Jeremy Grinnell did an excellent job for your station.

It's not so much about 'packaging' as it is just making it relevant to what you're doing. That's what Christ did. That's what Paul did. That's what Billy Graham has done. Everyone can do it.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Couchy said...

The speakers you name are not on a majority of Christian stations though. Some who were relevant no longer are...they aged with the audience and few younger ones have come up to replace them. (I don't even mean young like WaYfm young, I mean young like Greg Laurie young.)

You are absolutely right that making it relevant to what we're doing is the key, and that's all about packaging. If there's an awesome smelling double cheeseburger waiting for me in a dinged up box with mud on it, I'm probably not going near that burger.

Christian radio ignored the packaging too long, and now many stations are trying to overcorrect by focusing on the packaging but forgetting the importance of the beef inside. We can agree there, right? :-)

11:33 PM  
Blogger Greg Yoder said...

I agree that many radio stations have been sucked into the world of 'consultants' and focused on the nuts and bolts, but failed use what they learned to be better Christian broadcasters. They focused on being just like everyone else in radio.

We have the most incredible product out there...the Gospel...which is "Touching Hearts and Lives" (to use a great station liner). We need to get back to that message because once we do we'll see hearts changed and lives touched...and because our listeners are being touched we'll have a lot of p1's that consider us family, not just a station with the most p2 or p3 listeners that give us a chance each morning.

7:41 AM  
Blogger Couchy said...

In the minds of many Christian stations, drawing in P2s and P3s is evangelism near its finest, as these formerly reluctant Christian radio listeners didn't decide to stations who proclaimed to be touching hearts. It only matters if it touches their hearts, and simply saying it does will not make it so.

Christian talk programs got out of the habit of touching hearts, and more into the habit of reaching for checkbooks and/or votes.

9:37 PM  
Blogger Greg Yoder said...

So long as the do evangelize people. What I'm hearing on Christian radio is mindless entertainment, which does attract a certain listener, no doubt. But, where's the meat to connect them to Christ? Is it a just a 'praise the Lord' here and a 'What would Jesus Do?' there? Again, God's word is more powerful than any two edged sword.

There are many radio stations that use the music and concerts to draw non believers in, which I think is great. Then, once they're there they not only hear the music they like, but then the gospel's presented. And, I know people are coming to Christ.

But, when the Gospel is missing from a 'let's attract more listeners' Christian radio programming philosophy, I think we're missing a great ministry opportunity.

8:08 AM  

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