Mainline Disengagement from the Media: How Stupid Was That?

The mainline denominations are
re-discovering the media.

Twenty years
ago, the mainline
Protestant churches
made a decision
not to get
heavily into
that was stupid.
We didn’t know
how stupid at
the time.
Jan Love, Associate
General Secretary
Women?s Division
United Methodist
Church, in
The Nation

As I was listening to speakers at a media forum, I received an e-mail about a story on mainline leaders re-discovering traditional media in The Nation, by Dan Wakefield. The thrust of the article is that mainline leaders are recognizing the value of traditional media and the Internet.

It seemed ironic that the forum speaker was describing chaos in traditional media today, not the least of which is the abandonment of some traditional media for new forms and formats.

In fact, mainline denominations began to disengage from media thirty years ago, much earlier than Jan Love of the Women’s Division of The United Methodist Church says in the article. But her comment bears more truth than not.

Back then some of us did say how stupid it was to pull back from the media, how dumb it was to cut communications staff and how ridiculous it was to slash communications budgets. We were discounted, and some lost their jobs.

At the time, more than a few, especially ecumenical broadcasters in local markets, were actually producing programs, maintaining an audience and providing a base of operation for mainline religious groups to interact with mass audiences.

The key to effective communication is the relationship with the audience. Pioneering ecumenical broadcasters maintained wonderfully interactive relationships because most understood that they were engaged in a form of servant ministry. This attitude of service for the common good provided an opening for dialogue that led to audience reaction and participation that was sometimes quite moving. Because they had to communicate with people unfamiliar with the language of the churches, the subject matter for programming was as contemporary and relevant as it’s ever been.

The downside is in the bottom line. Providing spiritual information to individuals in a mass audience so they might understand life more holistically did not translate into increased attendance at worship or putting food into hungry people’s mouths. These bottom line indicators made it difficult for some to see value in continuing broadcast ministry.

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