The figure jumps to 60 percent for people who say they are religious but not evangelical.
The results led the Total Living Network, which commissioned the study, to conclude that "religious television is not currently meeting the needs of viewers," according to a summary provided to Religion News Service by TLN during the recent annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters. The meeting here concluded Feb. 8.
The study, produced for TLN by the New York marketing firm Zoetics, surveyed 1,000 randomly selected viewers in July 1998. The study carries a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points.
The 24-hour Chicago cable network has been analyzing the data for over a year as part of an attempt to understand its viewers, said Christine Moore, TLN's publicist.
The survey also looked beyond religious programming to television in general.
Among the additional findings are that 73 percent of adults believe that "a lot of TV is often violent, sexually explicit and even shocking," the summary indicated.
For 54 percent, "today's TV has very little redeeming value."
The results don't surprise some media experts.
"They're very consistent with everything I've read and studied," said Ken Waters, who teaches media ethics at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif.
"It's preaching to the choir," Waters said of current Christian television programming. "There's not enough variety....How many preachers can you watch in a 24-hour period?"
For TLN President Jerry Rose, the study showed a mismatch between what many Americans want from religious programming and what it delivers.
"There was a disconnect between their feeling and need," Rose said, "and what they saw on Christian television."
TLN commissioned the study so that it could be "intentional...in designing the format rather than letting the format just happen," he said.
A television veteran who is also an ordained Assemblies of God minister, Rose said that a lot of people in Christian television come to the medium from a background in ministry. Because "their passion is to build a church," he said, "television becomes a conduit" for their ministry goals.
By showing more awareness of the unique character of the medium, Rose wants to transform Christian television. He hopes to foster joint ventures among religious broadcasters and producers and plans to experiment with new formats.
Referring to recent mergers by media giants like AOL and Time Warner, Rose said secular companies realize they "have to form strategic, synergistic alliances." He wants the same for Christian broadcasters, who he said perennially lack funds to compete with the slick production values of their nonreligious counterparts.
Rose said he is planning a programming format that will combine short dramatic episodes with interviews and other segments to gently connect with viewers' needs.
Instead of being preached answers to questions they may not even have, viewers would see the positive results of faith and get a sense of hope for their lives, he said.
"The idea is not to be so declarative," said Rose, who served as NRB president from 1988 to 1990.
Calling for new concepts from religious broadcasters, Rose said "we're not trying to change the way people feel about Christian television, but we're trying to change the way Christian television feels about people."