Thinking Out Loud

February 18, 2010

Christian Radio in Crisis

The names and faces are familiar as are the names of the various radio programs:

  • Insight for Living – Chuck Swindoll
  • Turning Point – David Jeremiah
  • Thru The Bible – J. Vernon McGee
  • Back to the Bible – Woodrow Kroll
  • In Touch – Charles Stanley
  • Grace to You – John MacArthur
  • Love Worth Finding – Adrian Rogers
  • Haven Today – Charles Morris
  • Let My People Think – Ravi Zacharias
  • Bible Answer Man – Hank Hanegraaff

Notice anything?   No, I mean besides the fact they’re all male.   (And all American.)  This is in every sense of the word, an “old boys network.”   Chip Ingram may still look young in his publicity shots, and James MacDonald may open with a cool David Crowder theme song, but exceptions aside, Christian radio is playing host to an older generation of radio preachers, which isn’t the generation they need to attract if the medium is to survive.

You may wish to suggest that maybe it’s just time for the medium to die off.   After all, look what YouTube has done to the hours people formerly spent watching broadcast, cable and satellite television.   The 42″ screen has unexpectedly lost ground to the 17″ monitor.    The plasma screen may be high definition, but the next generation would rather program their own visual channels, even if the images are jumpy, grainy or pixelating.

But is there an opportunity being lost?   Last time I checked, cars still come with FM radios.   It’s still the medium of choice if you’re caught in a traffic tie-up looking for an alternative route.   It’s still what you’ve got if the iPod battery fails or one of the earbuds isn’t working.   And it’s weather forecasts are still reasonably up-to-date and free-of-charge.

No, the problem isn’t with radio itself.  The problem is that a new generation of pastors doesn’t want to fuss with purchasing airtime and building that kind of media ministry.   Keeping the multi-site satellite link working weekly is enough technical challenge for one week.   The demographic they see on Sunday morning grew up with time shifting anyway.   They can PVR their favorite program and view it anytime; so they don’t need some guy on radio telling them, “Don’t forget to tune in tomorrow at 6:00 PM…”

I’ve never understood why an audio cassette version of the VCR never happened, but then I’ve never understood why for years, push-buttons allowed people to find AM and FM stations with pinpoint accuracy in their cars, while at home they had to slide a “dial” back and forth.   Even today, some digital tuners still offer frustrations unknown to driving with preset stations.

Furthermore, today’s younger pastors don’t want to start a branch of their ministry that might start bleeding red ink, which might lead to the type of on-air begging that has tainted the Christian radio medium.

No, radio just isn’t at the forefront for a new generation of Christians.   They know more about Francis Chan than Francis Shaeffer; they prefer Andy Stanley to Charles Stanley.    They download Rob Bell, discuss Greg Boyd’s take on the Gospel of Luke,  and work out to the latest Craig Groeschel sermon from Lifechurch.   They discuss the latest interview available at Drew Marshall’s website, debate the latest pronouncement from Mark Driscoll, and tell their friends about Pete Wilson’s sermon download page.

None of this is lost on Christian radio ministries.   Weekly podcasts from Focus on the Family, Greg Laurie and even John Piper rank among the top ten each week.   They’ve taken their content and propelled it forward into the new media.

Which brings us to the point of all this.   The proprietors of the new media need to make their content backward compatible.   All of this great, next-generation communication of the Good News, and so very little of it being heard over traditional broadcast frequencies.

Some visionary person needs to create a radio outlet for the vast number of sermon podcasts being created each week by younger leaders in a new era of multi-site, emerging, missional, or just plain newly-planted churches.   It’s time the computer-less, broadband-less, or those simply out-of-the-loop got to hear what some of us are already enjoying.    And personally, I think an older generation of Christ-followers would appreciate having some fresh new voices at the table.

The content is already recorded.    The radio stations already exist.   Let’s introduce the two to each other.   Before it’s too late for Christian radio.

Related post on this blog — A fictional story about Pastor Boone, who gets offered some free radio time and instead of just putting his church service on the radio…

Related post on this blog — My proposal to make Worship Network’s Sunday Setlists into a weekly Christian radio show.

Related post on this blog — This  links to a USAToday Religion story on how Christian radio is dealing with the new economic realities, attracting younger listeners, and keeping donations coming.

Related post at The Church Report — James Dobson and son Ryan Dobson are teaming up to launch a new radio ministry.

Appendix — Arbitron Podcast demographics worth knowing — and these go back to 2006! —


  1. Radio airtime is expensive. Music is free to listen to because radio stations sell commercial airtime. Preachers/churches have to pay for the 15 or 30 minute slots they broadcast their programs in. Christian radio stations like K-Love run pledge drives twice a year. When John Piper stopped by airtime for his program at dozens of radio stations across the country, his church saved thousands of dollars. The podcast costs almost nothing to produce in comparison, and reaches just about the same audience. Wasting money to buy radio air time is just not the way to be a good steward of our tithes and offerings, not when compared to the cost of blogging and podcasting. The audience is often the same or greater.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — February 21, 2010 @ 4:59 pm

    • I know a local church that does a lot of advertising on Christian radio because they want to support the station. Very, very few — if any — people come to their church and special events as a result, but they don’t see it as “wasting money” because they want to keep the station alive.

      But for a ministry organization, when you’re fairly certain you can take your listener base with you from AM/FM to internet podcasts, then sticking with radio might seem like bad stewardship. I hadn’t considered the example of John Piper, but his material is now ubiquitous online; he’s probably an example of someone proving you can increase your reach going from radio to online.

      All I am trying to say though is that is a glut of recorded material out there that the radio people should get to hear sometime. A potpourri of different speakers and teachers; a mix of doctrinal variations; all presented on a sort of “Best of Preaching” show.

      They could sell commercials before and after. They’re doing that now on many stations anyway, even though the radio ministries have already paid for the 30 minutes. That was the point of my 2nd-to-last paragraph.

      But it’s going to be hard otherwise for Christian radio to make the demographic shift when next-generation communicators have already established a loyal listening audience online, and may not want their material broadcast, when the alternative brings people to their website, which in turn brings increased relationship.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — February 21, 2010 @ 6:18 pm

  2. […] For a further discussion on the state of Christian radio check out this post. […]

    Pingback by Kevin Leman is Exceedingly Blunt « Christian Book Shop Talk — February 21, 2010 @ 5:46 pm

  3. As a pastor who has served 17 years faithfully I appreciate Christian radio. It provides the message of the Gospel in a non threading way, without the true results being fully known. This is consistent with the teachings of the scriptures, we are seed sowers, God will reap the harvest. I feel a calling to reach 1000s with the gospel, and I believe I have the support systems in place to fund this ministry. I plan to research the possibility and desire to partner with a successful, and progressive station. I have no desire to start my own station. The passion that I have for spreading the gospel in a easy to understand way, and providing guidance for following up on decisions made. Give me an edge on reaching young and old alike. “If God is in it” is the title I have chosen, and I pray that someone who God has prepared with the knowledge and connections to help see this ministry get started will respond to me, God Bless, please contact me, Rev. Marty Brim ph. 336-932-0334

    Comment by Marty Brim — January 22, 2014 @ 1:03 am

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