The brighter side of videocassettes.

More and more, what is appearing on home television across the U.S. is unrelated to the daily TV Guide listings. The videocassette recorder (VCR) industry is mushrooming, and people are frequently turning to prerecorded tapes for entertainment instead of to the major networks’ nightly offerings. Video stores with their countless shelves of programs—mostly movies—are popping up in shopping malls everywhere. Even Fotomat, franchiser of those bright yellow kiosks in parking lots, has gotten into the action.

Now Christians who own VCRS—and who are looking for someplace to obtain acceptable tapes without having to wade through the secular marketplace’s long catalogs with their proliferating lists of X-rated materials—are beginning to have their own needs met. A+ Video, for one (P.O. Box 33195, Tulsa, Okla. 74135), has introduced the Golden Apple Video Club. Calling it the industry’s first club “aimed directly at the inspirational and G-rated segment of the home market,” A+ Video has begun its club with over 200 titles, ranging from The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, and The Cross and the Switchblade to Fiddler on the Roof and Pinnochio.

But is entertainment the sole use to which Christians can put videocassette recorders in their homes? Maybe not. While publishers have accepted the wide interest in entertainment and are doing something about it, they are also beginning to look at other programming areas—home/neighborhood Bible studies, for instance. It just could be that another entire area of outreach is going to develop via the TV tube. Those of us with a gray hair or two remember the early days of television when half the neighbors on the block gathered in the living room of the one home where a single 12-inch screen was located in order to watch Uncle Miltie or Burr Tillstrom’s wonderful puppets. But while the novelty of those days has long since worn off, today selected videotape showings may provide a new opportunity to gather the neighbors to watch, and then discuss, a film or a program of contemporary interest.

For example, World Wide Pictures (1201 Hennepin, Minneapolis, Minn. 55403)—the Billy Graham film ministry—has announced plans to make several of its films available on videocassette by next fall. Initially for sale only (in the $50 price range), such films as Johnny Cash’s Gospel Road, His Land with British pop singer Cliff Richard, and Time to Run will be available nationally in a number of Christian bookstores.

Add to that the fact that Word, Inc. (4800 W. Waco Dr., Waco, Texas 76796), which broke ground early in the Christian record and book publishing industries, has just developed a new line: Word Home Video. Last month a tape rental library of 40 programs was introduced in selected Christian bookstores nationwide. Included are tapes by family life specialist James Dobson (with some brand-new material); Joyce Landorf’s film, His Stubborn Love; adventure films from the Moody Institute of Science; The White Lion from White Lion Productions; and concerts such as Amy Grant’s “A Circle of Love.” Larry Richards, Lloyd Ogilvie, Billy Graham, and David Mace are also available on Word Home Video tapes, as are a number of programs specifically for children.

Word’s rental fees will be $7 for 24 hours, $12 for 72 hours, or $15 for a week. Christian dealers renting the new library display the tapes in a case that contains a replay unit and TV monitor. Also, although the tapes offered initially are in the VHS format only, Beta and 3/4-inch will be available on special order.

One of the real pioneers in videotape production and distribution is Covenant Video (3200 W. Foster Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60625). Among their new productions are two excellent six-part family series by psychologist Kevin Leman: Sex and the Christian Family and Christian Parenting. Leman is personable and witty in the 10- to 15-minute segments, which were filmed before a live audience, and the accompanying leader’s guides can help stimulate lively and helpful discussion.

Also new from Covenant is a unique series of children’s programs with the improbable title of The Lovin’ and Livin’, Freed and Forgiven, Gettin’ Goin’ Gang. I use the word “unique” because the members of the gang’s cast actually interact with their audience of children—they do, that is, if the leader has previewed the tape so he or she knows when and how to react! A couple of trolls named Coot and Herm and a human named Hannah engage young viewers in their work (planting trees), quarrels, and good deeds, while teaching biblical precepts. The leader’s guides are excellent: they are thorough and well thought through. Covenant is again to be congratulated on responding to the 1980s challenge. These programs would, of course, work well in a church situation. But anyone with a TV set and VCR could gather neighborhood children and use these programs for a ministry of outreach.

The videocassette scene changes almost daily. In spite of current economic woes, VCR sales are brisk. Now that the people who produce religious materials are entering the video scene, let us hope new opportunities to witness will develop. The church in the world, in your neighborhood and mine, has some new tools to use.

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