LAS VEGAS — Television ministry used to be the province of a few prominent preachers like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell. But the business — and it is a business — has definitely come of age.
At this year’s National Association of Broadcasters convention, the “technologies for worship” pavilion drew hundreds of religious broadcasters, and they are only part of the picture. Industry leaders say there are some 10,000 TV ministries around the country, both big and small.
“If you turn on basic cable, and a public access channel, in communities all over — not only the United States — you’re going to find churches with a camcorder, a single camera shot, with an on-the-camera microphone, and a pastor who is sincere, who believes the word of God, and has a desire to teach that word and share it with other people,” said Rod Payne, media director at First Baptist Church of Wichita Falls, Texas, who attended the NAB convention.
While many ministries start small, lots of others invest big money in television — from high-definition cameras to digital transmitters, not to mention the airtime. Costs vary depending on distribution.
“If you’re going to go … to a network or something like that, you’re going to be really sticker-shocked with the price that’s out there,” said Brent Kenyon of the Total Living Network.
Some churches, like Frazer Memorial United Methodist Church in Montgomery, Ala., keep their costs down by operating their own low-power stations and selling time to other TV ministries.
“It’s a compact little operation but very effective,” said John Rogers, director of Frazer’s TV ministry, which reaches 100,000 homes 24 hours a day. “It’s outreach we feel we can offer that enables folks to become familiar with what church is all about, serving Jesus Christ and to bring them in and be part of the family here.”
Like many churches, Frazer relies heavily on volunteers for its TV production crew. It started its operation 24 years ago with donations from local businesses and money from the church budget. Now it offers training to churches that are just starting out.
The TV ministry business is getting so big that many churches have full-time media directors. Some hire consultants to help them develop new programs.
“Most Christian television that you see is very low quality, it’s not very good, and a lot of people have issues with it,” said Phil Cooke, a consultant who wrote the book “Successful Christian Television.” “We want to bring the best of the production world and the best of the media world in with it, and help people do it more effectively and make more entertaining shows.”
Many TV ministries get a significant portion of their income from product sales, such as CDs, as opposed to direct appeals for money. They say they have to raise cash to stay on the air, just as public television does.
But that hasn’t always been the case. In the early days of religious broadcasting, stations would donate time for programs. One of the pioneers, Roman Catholic Bishop Fulton J. Sheen and his “Life Is Worth Living,” eventually attracted a sponsor and drew 10 million viewers.
In the 1960s, under pressure from evangelicals who felt they didn’t have equal access, the government ruled that stations could sell time to religious broadcasters. Evangelicals started buying, and now they are the dominant religious presence on television.
The biggest “faith network,” Trinity Broadcasting, has more than 12,000 outlets worldwide and claims an audience of more than 100 million.
TV evangelist Joel Osteen’s program draws more than 7 million viewers a week and his audio podcast made the Top 10 on iTunes earlier this year. “The Hour of Power,” from the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif., estimates its worldwide audience at 20 million a week and its annual cost for airtime at more than $13 million.
“It’s an expensive proposition to be on television on Sunday morning, and obviously requires a lot of fundraising, a lot of $20 gifts and $30 gifts from people all over the country, to support that and make that happen,” said James Penner, producer of “The Hour of Power.”
Some TV ministries are organized as churches, some as not-for-profit organizations. Either way, they pay no taxes.
Rusty Leonard, who founded the watchdog group Ministry Watch to track the finances of televangelists, rates ministries on financial efficiency and transparency. Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network, for example, gets an A for transparency and four out of five stars for financial efficiency.
But some of the biggest names in the TV ministry business — including the Trinity Broadcasting Network and Benny Hinn — are on Leonard’s watchlist.
“They won’t tell you how they’re spending the money they’re asking you to give,” he said. “Your hard-earned money, and they’re not going to tell you where it’s going. I just don’t see why I should give to a ministry like that.”
Three mainline Protestant denominations — the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Church of the Brethren — have experienced steady decreases in U.S. membership rolls, continuing long-term trends, according to separate June reports.
A “state of the church” report issued by the UMC said its U.S. membership fell to 7.9 million — a loss of nearly 6 percent — from 1995 to 2005. In Africa and Asia, however, Methodist numbers are growing, with 200 percent increases on each continent during that decade.
UMC membership dropped about 1.4 percent in 2006, according to the Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.
Active membership in the Presbyterian Church (USA) fell by more than 46,000, to 2.27 million in 2006, according to the church’s Office of the General Assembly. Almost 1,000 fewer adults, and 230 fewer children, were baptized by the church last year, the church said.
Several large congregations have left the PC(USA) this year, choosing to affiliate with the more conservative Evangelical Presbyterian Church instead.
The Church of the Brethren reported a 1.4 percent decrease in membership last year, to about 128,000. Membership fell by a similar percentage in 2005, the church said.
(RNS) Hoping to improve America’s negative image in the Muslim world, President Bush said he will appoint a special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a political group of 57 nations home to more than 1 billion Muslims.
But at least one expert warned that while many Muslims will welcome the envoy, others will see it as just another empty gesture from an administration they say is at war with Islam.
“Some will say the damage done is far more complex and the solutions go beyond just setting up an envoy,” said Qamar-Ul Huda, a senior program officer for religion and peacemaking at the United States Institute for Peace, a think tank.
Speaking Wednesday (June 27) at a ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Center of Washington, D.C., Bush said the special envoy “will listen to and learn from representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America’s views and values.”
While much of the Islamic world sympathized with America after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that support has plummeted in recent years over Iraq, Afghanistan, and U.S. policy toward the Israeli/Palestinian disputes.
But the envoy, Bush said, would also advocate for American views and stress what the United States has done in the Muslim world. Indeed, Bush used the announcement to remind Muslims of American help to Indonesia, Pakistan and other Muslims countries struck by devastating natural disasters in 2005.
Bush also blamed Islamic extremists for suppressing religious freedom in the Muslim world, and promised to help Muslims defeat them.
“We must help millions of Muslims as they rescue a proud and historic religion from murderers and beheaders who seek to soil the name of Islam.”
More than 24 hours after Wednesday’s announcement, the OIC had yet to respond to the administration’s proposal.
A State Department spokesman said he did not know if members of the Islamic group — including nations such as Iran and Sudan that do not have diplomatic relations with Washington — would have to approve accepting the envoy.
The OIC’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, as well as the Pakistani ambassador to the U.N., whose country now chairs the OIC, could not be reached for comment.
Jefferson City, Mo. – People who carry out executions can sue others who disclose their identities, under a new law that followed reports that a doctor who attended Missouri executions had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times.
Some of the 36 other death penalty states also shield the names of their executioners. But the Missouri measure, which Gov. Matt Blunt signed in private Saturday and announced Monday, is believed to make that state the only one with penalties for disclosing their information, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.
Supporters say the law is an important protection against threats to workers just doing their jobs. The Department of Corrections said offering confidentiality would help in recruiting medical professionals to assist with executions.
“This legislation will protect those Missourians who assist in fulfilling the state’s execution process as directed by the courts,” Blunt said in a statement.
Critics contend the bill further shrouds the death penalty process in secrecy, violates constitutional free press protections and goes against the public interest.
“It prevents oversight and accountability of the execution process,” said Rita Linhardt, death penalty liaison for the Missouri Catholic Conference, which opposes executions.
The law, which takes effect Aug. 28, followed the revelation last summer by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch of the identity of Dr. Alan Doerhoff of Jefferson City. Doerhoff participated in dozens of executions and testified anonymously to a federal judge in a lawsuit challenging lethal injection.
Doerhoff came under criticism after disclosing that he occasionally altered the amount of anesthetic given to inmates, and after news reports that he had been sued for malpractice more than 20 times.
Post-Dispatch editor Arnie Robbins said Monday that the public has a right to know how the execution process works. But he said the newspaper isn’t planning a legal challenge.
The Missouri Press Association hasn’t decided whether to fight the law, but the group’s attorney, Jean Maneke, said the bill is “a direct attack on the public’s right to have people performing public service be properly qualified to do so.”
State Corrections Director Larry Crawford has said the bill should make it easier to recruit a doctor to assist in executions. For the past year, Missouri has been unable to find a willing physician with an expertise in anesthesia, as demanded by a federal judge.
“The value of the public’s need to know is trumped by the safety of both the guard and doctor and their family,” Crawford said in May.
Linhardt questioned that explanation.
“If the safety of the execution team members would’ve really been a major problem, we would’ve seen this bill long before we had 66 executions,” Linhardt said. “There’s a lot of people family members could take their revenge out on, but their identities are not confidential.”
The bill does make the state’s lethal injection protocol an open record, covering things such as the types, amounts and timing of drugs used, but not the doctor and execution team’s names or addresses.
A federal appeals panel ruled last month that Missouri’s lethal injection method is not cruel and unusual punishment, overruling a lower court’s effective freeze on executions. That decision is being appealed.
Missouri is among at least nine states that have put executions on hold as they grapple with whether lethal injection is humane. The state hasn’t executed an inmate since October 2005.