Thinking Out Loud

January 27, 2015

Dr. David Jeremiah: King of Mailing List Abuse

David Jeremiah Turning Point“Please, make it stop; make it go away…”

I have no doctrinal issues with David Jeremiah. Although his radio and television programs are not broadcast at times I can listen or watch, as far as I know he is very mainstream Evangelical.

His fundraising mailings however are relentless.

If you are the type of person who really enjoys getting snail mail, this is the mailing list for you. As a family member told me last week, “I got another one from D.J.;” she has now stopped using the name since understanding is implicit, “That’s three this week.” She doesn’t have my knowledge of printing processes, paper stocks, bleeds, color separations, etc., but notes, “They’re all on glitzy paper.” Well, the letters are on standard bond, but yes, the enclosures are all on glossy stock, and color envelopes unique to each mailing.

Lots of trees gave their lives.

The latest pitch is for the Turning Point Bible Strong Partners program. For $25 per month you can choose from a couple of gifts or curiously, this option: “Please apply my entire gift to the needs of the ministry.” Those needs however would include printing and mailing more appeal letters.

This is a beast that requires constant feeding.

We’re not even going to get into the whole ResultsSource thing here. This is one of the big Christian publishing stories of 2014, where authors including Mark Driscoll — and David Jeremiah is also listed in reports — paid the consulting organization to ensure placement of their books on the New York Times Bestseller List.source

Turning Point’s 2012 Form 990 shows it as having nearly $40 million income that year.source There is a principle in business that once something reaches a critical mass it is capable of perpetuating itself on its reputation; other factors have to start working against it in order for it to start to experience decline (market changes, competition, economy, etc.). But with charities you have to keep asking, keep begging. You have to keep your name in front of the public. Each mail appeal produces a bump in donations.

For David Jeremiah, there seems to be no law of diminishing returns. The appeal letters keep coming.

In 2012 the ministry paid nearly $700K to In Service America which operates call centers. $400K to Majestic Productions which provides equipment for large arena-type events. Officers, directors and trustees received just under $900K while general salary and wage expenses were approx. $4.6M.  (Jeremiah is also pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, an SBC church in California founded by Tim LaHaye.)

It’s a big ship, and it takes money to make money.

I wonder what God thinks of all this?

I don’t begrudge these people some fundraising or donor development costs. They believe in what they’re doing. While individually they would acknowledge the existence of similar ministries, corporately they are no doubt passionate about what they do. Just as Christians we believe we’ve got the hottest news on the rack, many organizations feel they’ve got a great distribution system for that news.

What you end up with is a group of creative people being paid to develop fundraising appeals because the ministry needs money in order to pay people to develop more fundraising appeals.

But when people are getting three mailings in a single week… That’s not right is it? It seems driven by an ambition that’s gone into overdrive, and historically, when that happens, often the organization experiences collapse.

The time to rethink all of this is now. It’s time to develop long-term sustainability that doesn’t involve the rape of so many trees, the theft of so much carbon. Otherwise, their ambition could lead them, like so many others, to find it impossible to sustain the minimum income they now require.

And that could be their turning point.


For an alternative view about fundraising costs, check out this 2013 TEDTalk.

May 12, 2011

Focus on the Family Canada Opens $9.4M Facility

According to a report in Christian Week, they paid $1.4M (CDN) for the land and $8M in constructing their own home, after paying rent for 27 years.  The Canadian branch of Focus on the Family, the organization founded by James Dobson, now has its own physical operations base in Langley, B.C.

But not everyone is excited.  The anonymous author of the popular Canadian Christian news and opinion site, Bene Diction Blogs On writes,

I really wish this organization would leave the country. But no, they’ve just completed an 8 million dollar building project, debt-free. Anything this group does should be wide open to public scrutiny and I wish Christians in Canada would wake up. FotF is no more committed to ‘the family’ than founder James Dobson is. The US extremist toxic religious right group has 65 Canadian employees. While the Canadian arm says it is independent of the US group, US leaders are on the Canadian board and start up costs of 1.6 million were given to the Canadian operation from the US. The Canadian group is fundamentalist, authoritarian, theocratic and lobbies against the same things the US group does, using language friendly to unsuspecting believers.

Here at T.O.L., thoughts are somewhat mixed.  On the one hand, it’s hard not to appreciate the work Focus did recently in developing The Truth Project, a comprehensive crash course in developing a Christian worldview on subjects like Philosophy, History, Science, Politics, Education, and the video series’ key question, ‘What is truth?’  Or its earlier contribution to parents on long road trips with its Adventures In Odyssey audio/video series.

But on the other hand, Canadians get skittish when Christian organizations wander too deeply into everything from politics to parenting.  Any elevation of Focus’ profile under a majority Conservative government is more conservatism than some people are comfortable with.

And it’s easy for Christians to second-guess any kind of capital spending project at a time when so much of the Church’s energies are being focused on the needs of the poor.  Adding an elevator to your church to give the handicapped greater access?  Be prepared for a firestorm over the costs.  Putting up a nearly $10M building for what some see as an outmoded media outreach, using something as quaint as radio?  Get ready to meet the critics.

Perhaps the facility is a bargain at $9.4M.  One would have to attend the June 18th Grand Opening to make that call.  And Focus, like so many other radio ministries, is probably active in online delivery.  So what is it about Focus that makes some of us a little nervous?

December 22, 2010

Wednesday Link List

Twas the night before the night before the night before Christmas, and all through the blogs…

  • Here’s a series of four television commercials produced by an online counseling ministry, Groundwire.   And here’s the page containing hundreds of mostly 60-second radio spots.   The spots encourage you to go to a website where you speak with a “spiritual coach.”   If anyone knows more about the doctrinal affiliation of this org., I’d love to learn more beyond what’s on the webpage.   The voice of Groundwire is Sean Dunn, but you can learn more at Daniel White’s blog.
  • With another Narnia movie on the big screen, the CNN Belief Blog notes that C. S. Lewis is more popular than ever.
  • At a deeper level, here’s an excellent piece by Jared Wilson at The Thinklings indicating clearly that Lewis did not regard The Chronicles as allegory.
  • With people lined up at airports across western Europe for the holidays, and children lined up to see Santa; it’s a good time to join Royal Ferris in asking, Where is the Line to see Jesus?
  • So is religion good or bad?   Depends who, and more accurately where you ask apparently, as this ipsos survey found out:

  • And while we’re running charts, here’s an interesting one.   While getting bogged down in a read of Revelation, Daniel Jepsen notes, “I know that ‘all scripture is profitable’ but that doesn’t mean it is all equally profitable. ”   Uh, okay.   So here’s his Bible Book Matrix graphing both his take on the importance of each Bible book with its level of difficulty.   Do you agree with his positioning of your favorite book?

  • Apparently there’s no extra charge for the extra white space.   And since we’re now on a chart roll, it’s time to flash back to the famous “I’ve got a thing for charts” edition of the Wednesday Link List, the “Millenium Matrix.”

  • Here’s a link to a blog called the SexRev blog.    Hey, we like to link on the edge here.    This is a post about a cool new acronym the youth guys at Willow Creek thought up to teach their kids how to pray.
  • And speaking of kids — well, younger ones — who says the present generation is Biblically illiterate?  The kids in this video, seem to have the basics — well, some of them — of the Christmas story.  (Major high speed internet connection; or lots of patience required.)
  • Some of this blog’s best work happens on the weekend, when some of you are away.  So here’s a reminder to visit Saturday’s When ‘OMG’ and ‘WTF’ Come to Church.
  • Canadian readers:  Only a couple of days left to respond to our Salvation Army ikettle.
  • Our cartoon this week needs no introduction… [HT: Trevin Wax]

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! —





December 10, 2009

Christians, Alcohol, and James MacDonald

Recently, the radio program Walk In The Word repeated a couple of programs featuring a message James MacDonald gave at Harvest Bible Chapel on the subject of Christians and alcoholic drinks.   MacDonald believes in total abstinence.   In other words, zero consumption of alcohol.   If there was a way to even further that position by inserting a negative number, that would be his position.   Don’t touch that bottle.   Don’t even look.

James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Northwest Chicago and host of the Walk In The Word radio program

James MacDonald is the kind of person you would probably listen to and decide you’d like to meet.   His radio show has a cool theme song.   He takes himself seriously but not 100% seriously.   There is a fair amount of honesty and transparency.  There is a request for money at the end of each broadcast but it’s tempered with some empathy for the pitch-weary listener.

But it would probably be a short meeting in which he would dominate the conversation.    James is a strong personality.   He understands brokenness, but projects having it all together.    Frankly, if there were 30 kids in a classroom, I think James would be the bully; and I’ve said that to a few people lately who agreed the analogy fits.

So if James says stay away from alcohol, you know you’d better do what he says because if you don’t it’s SIN.   That’s capital-letters SIN.

Of course, James believes Christian women should be homemakers, and it is a requirement of his male staff that their spouses not work, something he shares in common with Mark Driscoll.   I’m not sure if this means to do otherwise would be capital-letters SIN, but disobeying him certainly would.   I’m also not sure how he accounts for the various female staff members who work at Walk in the World and Harvest Bible Chapel.  But it shows that he has strong opinions on many issues that are non-issues elsewhere.

Sometimes, James MacDonald appears to get it wrong.   Occasionally everything from scientific statistics to Bible texts seem to get misquoted or misapplied.   Sometimes, this is due to the fact he’s broadcasting older sermons; one trusts that with today’s wisdom he might say some things differently.

He has six points for abstinence:

1. Because drunkenness is a sin and not a disease.
2. Because alcohol impairs wisdom.
3. Because alcohol is an unnecessary drug.
4. Because alcohol is destructive.
5. Because alcohol is addictive.
6. Because wisdom calls me to set it aside.

Some of them are given to subjective interpretation.   Let me explain.

I love Christian rock music.   For many years, I earned an income selling contemporary Christian music.   But every so often, I ran into people who were on that part of their journey that involved leaving the secular rock music scene.   And for them, Christian rock was not acceptable.    For most of my friends and customers however, Christian rock — the music, the concerts, the means of learning scripture and doctrine — was totally acceptable.

So I think that yes, alcohol is wrong for some people, especially if there is a family history of alcoholism or any addictive behavior for that matter.

But some people, like Zach Nielsen, don’t think you can make blanket statements on this subject.

Zach Nielsen writes the popular Christian blog, Take Your Vitamin Z, and is Pastor of Music & Teaching at the Vine Church, a church plant in Madison, WI -- just a few hours from James MacDonald -- starting in 2010

At his blog, Take Your Vitamin Z — a blog where eight different posts in one day is not unusual — Zach devotes six posts to engaging MacDonald’s six points.  You can read those posts here:

Ultimately, Neilsen concludes:

…Churches should not be divided on these types of issues. When it comes to this message, I fear that Pastor MacDonald has contributed to an ethos at his church that is unhelpful and unbiblical. We should be communicating freedom on extra-biblical matters and not give such a strong word on one side or another. Most Christians are spring loaded towards legalism and we should not add fuel to that fire.

I’ve deliberately avoided engaging the actual issue here. (Personally, as I indicated in the footnotes of a blog post a few days ago, I generally don’t drink, but I also don’t “not drink;” if you get the distinction.)   I think you should save opinions on the actual issue for Zach’s blog, if comments are still open.

As I commented there, I “find myself returning to Walk in the Word, as I think there is a need for people to confront their sin, as James so often reminds us.   But then I find myself getting frustrated with his style, and needing to take a week or two off.” and like Zach, find myself  “living in the tension of a similar ambivalence” when it comes to Walk In The Word.

On one level, great admiration for the man and what he has accomplished, and on another level a recognition that as Christians, we simply can’t depict everything in black and white.

A viewpoint and personal stand that James MacDonald has constructed on this issue is fine for sharing over coffee with someone who asks, but it should never have been presented dogmatically as either a Sunday sermon, or a prescription for all Christ-followers in all places, all situations, at all times.

HT: Though I have Take Your Vitamin Z bookmarked, I was alerted to this series there by Darryl Dash.

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