Christians are learning to use secular products with spiritual truths rather than religious products with limited secular appeal.

Christians on every continent are waking up to the value of reaching the secular masses with spiritual truth through the secular mass communications media: print, radio, television, and motion picture film. Since the secular masses constitute the population majority in virtually every nation, this development holds immense spiritual potential.

Several characteristics distinguish this “new wave” of Christians mobilizing mass media:

Secular products are a new priority. Christians are concentrating on creating appealing secular products with the spiritual truths embedded, rather than religious products with limited secular appeal. C. S. Lewis suggested a similar approach: “We do not need more Christian books; we need more books by Christians about everything with Christian values built in.” A notable example of Christian truth in a secular product is the 1982 top-award-winning motion picture, Chariots of Fire.

In the U.S., the most successful move into the secular domain is that of Continental Broadcasting Network, created by Pat Robertson as a subsidiary of Christian Broadcasting Network expressly to enter the secular market. The Atlanta Journal noted with approval that the network is now marketing a new, more “appealingly secular” version of the “700 Club” with a “magazine style format including such things as exercise, gardening, nutrition, time and money management, and theater film reviews.” This commercially sponsorable “700 Club” loses none of its spiritual purpose as it attracts a wider audience.

Robertson and Continental’s most challenging and ambitious entry into the secular domain was the launching of “Another Life,” a Christian antidote to television’s daily fare of “soap operas,” with a first-year budget of around $4 million. The secular press across the country has been notably positive. Variety notes, “It’s every bit as good as the networks.” Terry Knopf, Boston Globe correspondent, sums it up: “ ‘Another Life’ is a new soap with a different scent.…” utilizing “a master program strategy” with “no resident preacher to pontificate nor characters going around quoting the Bible,” yet the “religious messages seep through.” According to the New York Daily News, Richardson-Vickes, the makers of Vicks Nyquil, Formula 44, Oil of Olay, and Clearasil, first signed on as a multimillion dollar, multiyear advertiser for CBN. A growing array of major national advertisers has since signed contracts.

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Pat Robertson’s entry into the secular domain, following years of pioneering in religious broadcasting, came, he said, “only after much prayer and study” leading to the conviction that “the Lord wants us to reach a larger audience—millions of unsaved people.” The changes have not always been easy, he admits. “It’s a bit scary to be an innovator; it’s frightening at times to go through changes. But I know the Lord wants this.”

Another U.S. group has entered the secular market with commercially sponsored programs. Campus Crusade for Christ, widely known for its religious emphasis, uses its nonreligiously named affiliate, Athletes in Action, to create the secular product with spiritual truth sown within. Athletes in Action has aired athletic events, inserting gospel content through halftime interviews, for several years. Recently it has recorded 18 half-hour network quality shows at a cost of only $20,000 per show. This program is a sports-magazine talk show interspersed with lots of sports action. Dave Hannah, creator of the series, explains why he entered the secular market: “Most people in the U.S. have heard the gospel in one form or another: we need to take a different approach to reach those who are unsaved.” His program strategy grows out of his belief that “TV is essentially an entertaining medium, and most of our efforts as Christians are not very entertaining, except to those already committed.”

In New Zealand, the Grapevine was born in 1981. Billed as Auckland’s most widely distributed community magazine, it circulates into 265,000 homes in greater Auckland alone, and by subscription throughout the nation. Owned by the Sunflower Communications Society, the Grapevine’s monthly issue of 40 pages with full-color covers is able to pay all its costs from advertising tastefully sprinkled throughout. Powerfully seeded with spiritual truth, it is already the largest publishing venture of its kind in New Zealand.

Commercial companies are a new impetus. The traditional mainstay of Christian media efforts has been a nonprofit company supported by Christian tax-deductible contributions. But this pattern may be changing. Christians are now launching profit-making companies designed to compete on a par with other commercial media corporations.

The most spectacular U.S. media project being developed by Christians to enter the secular marketplace throughout the U.S. and overseas is Dominion Satellite Network, DOMSAT, and its subsidiary corporations in 20 states. Founder-chairman Robert W. Johnson, who made a Christian commitment four years ago in Florida, where he had moved with his family, has already garnered an elite corps of coworkers, formerly managing directors with NASA, Walt Disney, CBS, Blair Advertising, and Radio City Music Hall.

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Initially DOMSAT’s goal is to raise up a standard for the Lord within the existing commercial TV network affiliate stations and independent network stations. Also, priority applications have been filed with the FCC for 30 low-power TV stations in major U.S. markets. Later DOMSAT plans to cover the entire U.S. with satellite direct-to-home broadcasting through a subsidiary, Video Satellite Systems, Inc. The FCC has already approved the vss application to launch two of its own high-powered satellites, whose reception will require only a small housetop dish costing less than $400.

Johnson is quick to point out that DOMSAT is not a “religiously oriented” operation but a secular one programming to the secular market, which, he maintains, “Christians for the most part do not understand.” He believes networks have become vulnerable because their competition with each other has led to neglect of the public. “Nationwide research shows there is an audience large enough to attract national advertisers for wholesome family programming that upholds Judeo-Christian ethics, and that’s what ours will do.”

In Norway, International Masscommunication Service, under the leadership of Aril Edvardsen and with ministries in 100 nations, has already successfully marketed through government and commercial stations around the world an English-language radio talk show with a built-in witness. More recently four secular nationwide programs featuring the history of gospel music in Norway were sold to Norwegian television, and a feature program to Swedish TV. Looking ahead, a pilot program for a secular TV series with a powerful Christian impact was produced for sale to Norwegian and Swedish television. Last summer IMS acquired a $1 million, four-color-camera mobile van with full editing capability, and ground was broken for one of the finest television centers in Europe. Just this spring, IMS has firmed up arrangements to use commercial European satellite to telecast into Europe programs financed by commercials. This will be a historic first for a secular, international European TV program with Christian purpose.

Friendships with predominant secular media are a new trend. Christians using media often feel the secular media are closed to them because they often reject their religious products. Christians then sometimes mistakenly feel that they and Christianity have been rejected, and they turn hostile to the secular media. Most of the “new wave” Christian media users are taking a new approach. Armed with products designed for use by secular media, they are entering into friendly cooperation with the secular media. As a result, entire nations are being touched for God.

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A promising venture overseas is Leila Productions PLC, headquartered in London, and capitalized at under $1 million by Charles Cordle, a successful Christian businessman. Leila’s stated purpose is to create high quality, commercially profitable television entertainment that affirms positive values, upholds family life, and encourages moral and social responsibility. Its programs are designed not only for England but also for the international market.

Joining Leila with Cordle are Robin Scott, former deputy managing director of BBC Television; William Fitch, chairman of Marshall, Morgan and Scott book publishers; and Geoffry Lavers, who is deputy chairman of two financial groups.

“All productions of Leila are to be coproductions,” says Cordle. Two BBC coproductions are completed. The first, “Day One,” a religious current affairs magazine series, started on BBC Television in 1982. Leila plans to sell the show around the world. The second, a secular, four-part series of 50-minute programs on converted singer Cliff Richard, coproduced with BBC Light Entertainment, has aired on both BBC channels nationwide with a powerful Christian witness. Another BBC drama coproduction for children will soon be produced. It is named “Baker Street Boys” after the fictitious boys who helped detective Sherlock Holmes.

Other forthcoming Leila productions include: a drama series on the Pilgrims, a labor documentary, a drama on C. S. Lewis, a drama series on a London mounted policeman and his horse, and a weekly magazine show covering in fast-paced style the world of pop culture.

Two New Zealand corporations have negotiated contracts with the government broadcasting service. Energy Source Television was capitalized, under the leadership of successful Christian businessman and professional chemist John McEwen of Wellington, to market wholesome family entertainment seeded with spiritual truth. Its first prime-time nationwide magazine format program has been accepted by government television and soon will be aired. ESTY is also scripting a comedy-variety series called “The Cleaning Company” for nationwide entertainment viewing in New Zealand, and for possible overseas sale. New Zealand Broadcasting will do the production. Also the newly formed Seven Seas Television has won a contract for a nationwide weekly series of field productions, using the beauty of God’s creation as its stage.

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From these examples and many others that could be cited, we can all learn something from the “new wave” strategy:

As Christians, many of us have assumed that religious or “Christian” programs, publications, and films are the primary, if not sole, province of the Christian user of media. This assumption needs to be reexamined in light of the unprecedented changes occurring in our world today.

It is to the credit of evangelical Christians that by being reasonably aggressive they have captured more than their share of the religious action. And Christians should not relax in appropriating as much religious space and time as possible and in seeking to open the media to more. However, media availably for religious use is limited both by the media system’s operating hierarchy and by competition among religious media users. It is easy to see why the preponderant secular masses are scarcely touched by religious media efforts.

Broadcasting is a case in point. Commercial broadcast interests and free world government-operated broadcast systems do not view it as their role or purpose to serve as a conduit for politicizing or proselytizing. This is understandable. Therefore they must either outright reject overtly labeled religious materials or else accept them and “slot” them into religious time segments as paid-for religious material. In England, for example, the BBC allocates only 7 percent of its broadcast time for religious programming. Yet the British are being quite generous, since just 2 percent of the U.K. population is church related! Similar percentages apply to most of Europe, and most European national broadcasting systems will not accept any religious programs.

Religious space in magazines, newspapers, films, and books is likewise limited. For example, virtually any city newspaper editor when given religious material will automatically assign it to a religion section or page.27.7. This situation is made worse in most nations by competition among religious media users, fragmenting rather than uniting the small religious audience. Each user and his loyal constituents support some facet of the religious effort: a movement, a teaching, a group, a ministry, or a person. Cooperation is rare.

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The message to the Christian is clear. Plying the religious market alone, admittedly valuable, is not enough. The larger secular market also must be entered (for example, the other 98 percent of BBC’s audience). How can a media product with a Christian purpose be developed to penetrate and even pervade the secular commercial media marketplace, which enters virtually every home in the nation every day?

What most of us Christians who are media users may overlook is that the spiritual truths and principles we support and want to communicate can be integrated into secular, commercially salable products for the vast commercial market and need not be limited only to religious products with a religious label. In fact, these truths and principles often can be communicated better this way because they also carry the intensification of the form into which they are integrated—for example, news, information, music, drama, documentary, feature, or interview. People have their “guard up” for straight sell, but they are open and vulnerable to the same ideas integrated into other communication forms.

The Beatles used this strategy with vast success. Rather than thinking of them primarily as musicians, try viewing them as among the most famous and successful “evangelists” of our century. Had they tried to propound their sinister spiritual values through religious meetings, broadcasts, and writings, their effect would have been relatively slight.

The Scripture admonishes us to be “as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matt. 10:16, NIV). We would do well to employ this shrewdness in using the mass media. Whoever heard of “The Satan Hour” as a TV show? Such a program would have to buy its way into the market as religious time or be given away as sustaining programming on religiously oriented stations. Moreover, as a straight sell by an obviously vested interest, it would have to contend with a constantly critical viewing audience, and would have no audience apart from persons having some religious interest. Yet, Satan’s shows are more “religious” than religious shows are. He sows his seeds—literally infuses his seeds—into them so that his values are caught. With an uncommitted audience, values caught are more pervasive than values taught.

And so, a “new wave” is surging around the world, penetrating to the secular masses through mass media. These Christians are bent upon nothing less than moving whole nations for the Lord. Their strategy emphasizes secular products, commercial companies, and friendship and cooperation with the secular media. Christians are reaching into the media marketplace to sow seeds of righteousness. And “Righteousness exalts a nation” (Prov. 14:34).

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