TV MINISTRIES USE OF AIR TIME, FALL 2000
by Stephen Winzenburg
Grand View College, Des Moines
RAISING PROMOTION POLITICAL SPIRITUAL
Kenneth Copeland 8% 3% 0% 89%
Day of Discovery (+) 0 5 0 95
Creflo Dollar 7 8 0 85
Jerry Falwell (-) 22 27 7 44
Feed the Children (+) 50 17 <1 32
Billy Graham 3 13 0 84
Marilyn Hickey 13 6 <1 80
Benny Hinn (-) 8 7 1 84
D. James Kennedy (-) 6 3 13 78
Joyce Meyer 11 4 0 85
Mother Angelica (+) 1 7 5 87
Praise the Lord (TBN) 1 2 1 96
Fred Price 10 4 0 86
Oral & Richard Roberts (-) 27 5 0 68
James Robison (-) 23 10 9 58
Robert Schuller (-) 9 6 3 82
Charles Stanley (+) 2 1 0 97
Jimmy Swaggart (-) 10 1 0 89
Robert Tilton (-) 21 20 <1 58
Tomorrows World (-) 0 11 4 85
Jack Van Impe (-) 13 1 10 76
AVERAGE 11% 8% 4% 77%
(+) ministries that provided audited financial statement on web site or at first online request.
(-) ministries that did not provide any useful timely financial information on web site or at first request.
OTHERS provided incomplete financial information on web site or at first request.
TELEVISION MINISTRIES IN THE NEW MILLENNIUM:
A Study of 22 Religious Broadcasters in the Year 2000
by Stephen Winzenburg
Grand View College, Des Moines
Not much has changed over the past decade in the world of television evangelism. Broadcast ministries continue to average less time asking for money than commercial networks spend airing advertisements; political commentary tends to take up a relatively small amount of time on less than half of the programs; and most televangelists continue to do the same thing they have been doing since my first research study was conducted twenty years ago.
That may surprise some who think that the Jim Bakker PTL scandal of 1987 and the Jimmy Swaggart prostitution scandal of 1988 forever damaged all television ministries. But virtually all the religious broadcasters studied twelve years ago remain on the air today, though they have a somewhat smaller audience and less income than when they peaked in the early 1980s. And most of them continue to do the same thing they have been doing for decades, merely updating the music or message to reflect todays political situation or the information age.
In the fall 2000 study I monitored almost 150 broadcasts of 22 different television ministries. I averaged six to seven episodes of each program and selected the episodes randomly from September 5 to November 5, 2000. As in all the studies I have conducted since 1981, I used content analysis by timing segments of the program and categorizing the main theme of each segment into one of four groups: fund raising (which involves specific requests for money), promotion (which would market free ministry-related items such as salvation booklets or telephone help lines), political (which would involve commentary on current political events such as the presidential election or the peach process in the Middle East) and spiritual (which could include music, prayer, preaching or celebrity testimony).
The general conclusion I came to was that things hadnt changed much since I conducted the 1996 study. There were 15 programs I studied then that I studied again this year and the averages were similar in both research periods. The fund raising and promotion categories combined to make up only 15% of the air time, which tied 1996 as the lowest average in the 20-year history of my surveys. Political time was up slightly from 1996, but matched the amount used during the last big election year of 1992 and was still half the amount of time used in 1988. The spiritual aspects of the shows remained stable, with the only noticeable difference being the inclusion of web site information on the screen while the sermons were being preached on some programs.
1988 1992 1996 2000
FUND RAISING 27% 22% 15% 15%
POLITICAL 8% 4% 3% 4%
SPIRITUAL 65% 74% 82% 81%
When all 22 programs from the 2000 study were averaged, they spent 11% of their air time asking for money, 8% in promotions, 4% political and 77% spiritual. The "commercial" portions of all religious broadcasts was 19%, which compared to network television using 28% of its prime time programming for advertising and promotional announcements (according to a March, 2000, survey by the American Association of Advertising Agencies). Ministries actually do better than commercial TV in direct commercial appealsusing only around seven minutes an hour to ask for money, while the broadcast networks use up to 14 minutes an hour for advertisements.
Fund raising appeals cover a wide range of styles. Some, like Paul Crouchs Praise the Lord and Charles Stanleys In Touch, have separate short announcements offering an item for sale. Others, such as James Robison and Larry Jones Feed the Children, use larger amounts of air time to raise money for poor people by showing the hosts travelling to a needy part of the world. Then there are the old-fashioned stereotypical hosts who make direct appeals to the camera, such as Jerry Falwell (the salesman hawking his correspondence school) , Robert Tilton (begging followers to "make a vow" for $1,000 in order for them to be blessed) or Jimmy Swaggart ("weve given you something and now I need your help").
The amount of time used to ask for money also varies dramatically. Some barely mention the subject (such as Mother Angelica and Billy Graham) while others spend larger amounts of time on it (Falwell spends more time asking for money than he spends preaching, while Feed the Children uses its broadcast as a weekly telethon to ask for support). Two religious broadcasters did not use any air time to fund raise: Day of Discovery from Radio Bible Class (which also sent the most detailed financial information to those who request it); and Tomorrows World from the end-times oriented Worldwide Church of God (which provided no financial information).
My conclusion about the fund raising aspects of the broadcasts is that while the 11% over average is good, things could still improve. Billy Grahams organization operates on about 90 seconds of fund raising per hour. Mother Angelica and Paul Crouch run entire multi-million dollar networks on around 30 seconds of fund raising per hour! There is no reason why other ministries can not reduce their fund raising time so that most of their programs are devoted to pure ministry. Jerry Falwells program is a virtual infomercial combined with a religious broadcast and James Robison is a man of great depth who uses too much air time offering trinkets for donations. Everyone can learn from Graham, Angelica and Day of Discoverys Mart DeHaan that there are other appropriate ways of fund raising so that a ministry does not need to devote large amounts of airtime to commercial endeavors.
Though most ministries claim financial accountability, few were willing to provide the information to prove it. Just as I did in 1992, I asked all the ministries to send the type of financial information they would send to a person interested in contributing to their ministry, only this time I requested it via e-mail through their internet sites. Most of the ministries immediately e-mailed a computer-generated response thanking me for my request and letting me know that someone would be back to me soon.
After waiting over one month, half did not respond with any financial information (including Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, Oral Roberts, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, James Robison, Benny Hinn and Jack Van Impe). About one-fourth responded with inadequate pie-chart information that gave little details as to how much money was spent on salaries and who made up the board of directors. Two of the ministries, Day of Discovery and Mother Angelica, sent a detailed audited financial statement immediately. Larry Jones Feed the Children already had the audited financial statement posted on its web site. Charles Stanley sent the requested information after two months and Billy Grahams organization finally sent the information after a second request was e-mailed.
Four of the 22 ministries did not send any financial information but did put me on their mailing lists to ask for money! The ones who seemed least interested in providing financial information were the charismatic "prosperity gospel" preachers, such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, who preach sermons about giving money to the ministry yet fail to provide information to potential contributors.
My conclusion is that very few television ministries are as accountable to contributors as they claim to be. Most are willing to take your money but few are willing to give you detailed information on where your money goes. You are expected to have "faith" that the ministry is accountable to a board of directors who will properly use the funds. However, most ministries will not give details on board members.
There are exceptions: Radio Bible Class, producer of Day of Discovery, is the industry leader in providing necessary information quickly and completely. Within one week of e-mailing a request for information, a copy of the organizations IRS form 990 arrived, which included the addresses for the board of directors and the salary of president Martin DeHaan. That is everything I needed to know and, after seeing that they spend virtually no air time asking for money, would feel confident contributing to the Radio Bible Class ministry. The late material that was received from Billy Graham (after a second request) and Charles Stanley was just as helpful, though not sent in a timely manner.
Mother Angelicas nuns were the first to respond to the e-mailed request with a complete audited financial statement, though I could have used more information about the board members and salaries. As mentioned earlier, though Larry Jones did not respond to my request and his Feed the Children program uses two-thirds of its time in fund raising and promotion, the organization must be given credit for placing its audited financial statement online and offering a copy of its IRS form 990 with merely a click of a mouse.
In the area of politics, two events were of high interest to the television ministries: the 2000 presidential race and the escalating crisis in the Middle East. Over half of the broadcasters addressed one of these issues from their video pulpits.
As in the past, Pat Robertson again used a substantial portion of his 700 Club to discuss both issues. Though Robertson has responded to my past research by claiming that he does not talk politics but provides "news commentary," the fact is that he called his co-hort a "CBN political analyst" and expressed fear that George W. Bush was not doing enough to win the support of Robertsons Christian Coalition. Former presidential candidate Robertson used one-third of his program to discuss political issues, which is a dramatic increase from his 18% in 1996 and 24% in 1992, returning him to levels he achieved before the PTL scandal.
Robertson reflected the interest in the election that was communicated by others to a much lesser extent. Most of the hosts merely encouraged viewers to vote, but implied that there was a correct or godly way to cast a ballot. "Im going to vote for God," said Mike Hayes, guest host of Praise the Lord. "Dont vote for any other reason except for life," Mother Angelic told her audience. D. James Kennedy said that his followers "should elect Christians to rule over them." And James Robison added, "If youre just going to vote for big government, dont vote, because big government is not God."
Some religious broadcasters got very close to endorsing George W. Bush for presidency, but showed their hesitation because they could put their IRS tax deductible status in jeopardy by showing partisanship. Mother Angelica admitted, "I know Ill probably get in trouble saying it," then told viewers to vote pro-life. Benny Hinn told viewers he wrote two letters to the presidential candidate "who believes what I believe," telling the candidate that he would win the election and Hinn said, "Anybody with brains knows who Im talking about." After one of the presidential debates, Pat Robertson concluded, "Bush came through. He passed the test." And Falwell pointed out that though black urban pastors were allowed to endorse Gore from the pulpit, "What would happen if Jerry Falwell told the pastors to tell the people to vote for George Bush?"
As for the Middle East crisis, many preachers claimed it was part of the end times prophecy. Pat Robertson said, " I knew several weeks ago this was going to happen," saying the U.S. should stay out of the fighting. Others saw it as a sign of the end of the world, with Jack Van Impe predicting that the United States will "lose our freedom, lose our control as the one world leader takes over" and that "the next thing on Gods calendar is the rapture."
Is there too much airtime devoted to discussing politics? Since hosts like Robertson and Kennedy feel that Christians need to be involved in the political process it is natural that they would want to devote portions of their broadcasts to covering major political issues. However, there needs to be an honest evaluation of what is appropriate for a religious broadcast. Obviously there are moral issues that cross both spiritual and political boundaries, but there is also a fine line hosts may cross when attempt to use their religious broadcasts to organize and influence voters. Two or three of these ministries may not be communicating a strong understanding of where that line is.
As for ministry, nothing can be more inspiring than the uplifting singing and preaching on these programs. The programs tend to use one of two forms: either a televised church service or a studio production where the host communicates directly to the camera and interviews special guests.
The church service format seems too dated for todays audience that watches television with short attention spans. Charles Stanley can literally stand in one place and preach for 50 long minutes, making for very boring television despite the message being solid. D. James Kennedy continues to deliver his intellectual sermons from high above the congregation at his Coral Ridge church, communicating distance and lacking emotional connection to the audience. Robert Schuller continues to do the same Sunday church service, though it helps that the Crystal Cathedral is inspiringly beautiful. Billy Graham has attempted to update his crusade format by including younger musical performers, but Grahams preaching to a stadium filled with unknown faces no longer has the same appeal as when he addresses the camera directly in a television studio.
There are some charismatic preachers who have made their church services more animated. Marilyn Hickey prances across the stage and uses visual aids to communicate her points. Fred Price delivers his message directly from the crowd as he circle his round domed church. Creflo Dollar starts as quiet introvert on the altar and by the time he crescendos he is screaming and kicking his way through the people seated in the pews. So there are ways that preachers can use the church service method and keep it visually interesting, though some of the older TV ministries continue to use older, traditional methods.
Studio shows make for much more interesting viewing. Cameras can get up close to allow viewers to experience the emotion in the eyes of the host. Subtle points can be better made. Humor can be used and even a studio audience can be included. It makes for better television and ultimately better ministry.
James Robison has found success in switching from being a fire-and-brimstone pulpit preacher ten years ago to a smooth studio talk show host today. With his wife at his side he comes across as sincere and humble. Mother Angelica makes wisecracks about the Catholic Church while the studio audience chuckles in appreciation that someone is willing to stand up and speak the truth. Richard Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart and Paul Crouchs Praise the Lord program know how to use the studio setting to their advantage. Even Benny Hinn will mix videos of his healing crusades with quieter studio programs that have much more of a personal impact.
As these ministries begin to shift to the next generation of leadership, all should consider freshening their formats to keep the shows updated and attractive to viewers. Almost all have continued to use the exact same format (and in some cases the exact same set!) for the past ten to twenty years, not wanting to lose the traditional older audience. But there is no other genre of programming on television that remains so firmly entrenched in its past and religious broadcasters could update their programs to become more appealing to younger, media-savvy viewers.
Other short points that I noticed in the 2000 research:
When watching television preachers it is that last statement that rubs some
critics the wrong way. While most of the ministers claim to have direct revelation from God, some then carry it one step farther by stating that God wants the viewers to help "save the ministry" or "keep us on the air." For once it would be nice to hear a television minister admit that he or she doesnt have a clue what Gods will is in a particular matter or ask the audience to please NOT send in money because truth faith in God means not getting on national TV begging others to provide! It would be refreshing but, other than cranky Mother Angelica or new ministry CEO Franklin Graham or accountable Martin DeHaan of Day of Discovery, there is little hope of these television ministries changing their old ways in the near future.
INDIVIDUAL TELEVISION MINISTRIES
(F = fund raising; P = promotion; POL = political; M = ministry)
KENNETH COPELAND (F 8%; P 3%; POL 0%; M 89%)
Using the same approach that has worked for him over the past decade, Copeland and his wife Gloria co-host both a weekly pulpit preaching program and a daily show that is usually done from the studio. His theology is charismatic, with an emphasis on health and wealth. He frequently changes Scripture, telling viewers "some words dont belong," telling them to cross out a word or punctuation.
The program itself is rather boring, with the Copelands speaking as "led by the Spirit." Most of it revolves around prosperity, even taking Bible verses that have been typically interpreted as anti-materialism and twisting them to support the prosperity gospel. "Religious men have translated this and messed this up," says Copeland. Gloria agrees, preaching that " Your prosperity ought to be intact, your health ought to be intact you ought to be enjoying your life. Hes the one that gives us everything we need."
Copelands fund raising is only 8% and he uses pre-produced pitches for his audio or video tape series. The toll free number can be used for charge card purchases only. My request for information resulted in receiving a 1998 Partner Report and being put on the mailing list to receive the Copelands magazine. Nothing they sent explained where contributions went and they included a pledge card for me to make a donation.
DAY OF DISCOVERY (F 0%; P 5%; POL 0%; M 95%)
This program is an anthology that includes a wide spectrum of Christian topics. Co-hosts Mart DeHaan and Jimmy DeYoung were seen for two episodes in the Holy Land, explaining the locations where Jesus lived and some of the Jewish customs. In another program the black mayor of a Michigan town promoted marriage counseling. One episode was just a half hour of lullabies put to video, which ended with the ministry offering a free copy of the CD version of the music. This show is one of the few that has made improvements over the past decade and is now light years better than when the singers were lip-syncing their music from Cypress Gardens, Florida. Along with the improved entertainment value, add the lack of financial appeals and full financial disclosure to make this is one of the best run television ministries.
CREFLO DOLLAR (F 7%; P 8%; POL 0%; M 85%)
This introverted studio host comes out of his shell when he gets in front of his congregation, often screaming and shaking as he prances the aisles. His favorite topic, like many other charismatics, is financial prosperity. He said, "I have no shame where no man is concerned. Because my God gave me Jesus, so its alright for Him to give me a Rolls Royce to put me in a mansion to put me in a $3,000 suit." Even when wife Taffi is allowed to preach her topic is prosperity.
Though he only spends 8% of his airtime fundraising, usually offering his latest book or video series, his organization responded to my request for financial information by sending me a pledge form to donate to the ministry. Bottom line is that he is entertaining to watch but comes across materialistic and does not provide financial information.
JERRY FALWELL (F 22%; P 27%; POL 7%; M 44%)
He hosts the weekly Old Time Gospel Hour church service and a weekly Listen America phone-in program. Falwell spends about half the Sunday program in fund raising and promotion. In the episodes viewed for this study, Falwell relied on guests to do most of the preaching while he did the selling. Then the only week he preached from the pulpit, the subject was tithing and the sermon ended up being a shameless self-promotion for supporting his ministry! Falwells program should really be categorized an infomercial and not a religious broadcastthere is almost nothing here that would lead a viewer closer to Christ and is merely used by Falwell as a chance to promote his home Bible study course or his political agenda. His is also one of the ministries that failed to respond to a request for financial information.
FEED THE CHILDREN (F 50%; P 17%; POL <1%; M 32%)
Though founder Larry Jones has attempted to distance himself from the "religious broadcasting" label, those involved with the program continue to call this program a "ministry." Not that Larry would ever admit that on the air, mind you. Jones and his wife Frances do not talk about God on the airthey allow their celebrity endorsers do to make minor references to God, including appearances by Garth Brooks, Christian singer Carmen or Love Boat captain Gavin McLeod. Then the Jones use the starving children in Ethiopia, South America and urban America as photo opportunities to ask for money. This is a telethon for an admirable ministry idea, but the viewer should be careful of the wording of the appeals. A contribution may not actually feed a child, it will "move" the food "into the hands of the needy." Much of the food is donated; and what Jones is on television raising money for is the transportation and storage costs, plus the administration salaries and the purchasing of huge amounts of television time.
It is admirable that they have taken the lead in putting their audited financial statement on the web site (contributions of $47 million out of a total income of $204 million, though the information is two years old) and allow you to request their IRS form 990. However, this program could get much more serious about emphasizing the ministry aspects and use fewer repetitive shots of the same poor children sitting with Larry or Frances while the Jones ask for help.
BILLY GRAHAM (F 3%; P 13%; POL 0%; M 84%)
The most trusted television minister aired two episodes in early September as part of his quarterly programming specials. The crusades have a dated feel and the crowds do not appear to be as big or as energized as in the past. Musical performers were mostly young and seemed out of place. Billy was still shown preaching the same salvation message, though sitting on a stool in front of a podium, and son Franklin did the studio pitch asking for financial help (using only 3% of the air time). It is the same basic format that I have seen for the 20 years I have conducted these studies, with some minor updating to attract young people. It is a well-worn format that could use some changes now that Billy has decided to allow Franklin to take over as CEO of the ministry. It took two requests to have the financial information sent, which is one more than should be necessary.
MARILYN HICKEY (F 13%; P 6%; POL <1%; M 80%)
This overpowering pastors wife uses her daily half-hour to appeal to the charismatic prosperity-hungry audience. She claims to heal followers physically ("God supernaturally gave her a new hip" she said of one person she touched) and financially (though she spends more time than average asking for money). "70% of Jesus ministry was to heal the sick and do miracles," Marilyn said. "We can do the same." Marilyn likes to change scripture, saying that she was given "pure revelation" that Adam and Eve were "poisoned" by the fruit in the Garden of Eden. Daughter Sarah will occasionally host and preach, in a less shrill pattern than her mother. In response to a request for financial information, a one-page sheet was sent that claimed "financial integrity," yet it only provided percentages regarding how income was spent. No other financial data was provided.
BENNY HINN (F 8%; P 7%; POL 1%; M 84%)
This notorious faith healer has been in trouble with the American Christian community for some questionable theology. Much of what is shown on his daily half-hour program involves his foreign crusades. Benny healing a little girl in Belgium, Benny preaching at a Moscow crusade, Benny meeting with Chinese leaders. All are mixed with his famous laying on of hands, in which followers fall backwards to the ground.
He only spends 8% of his time asking for money, and preaches the prosperity gospel as well, such as one episode in which his wife, siblings (none of whom have Hinns accent), mother and in-laws all appeared to support his talk on "Your Financial Miracle." Because of the variety and the visual fascination of seeing the "miracles," Hinns program is somewhat entertaining to watch, but none of the miracles are verified for the viewing audience and the ministry did not respond to a request for financial information.
D. JAMES KENNEDY (F 6%; P 3%; POL 13%; M 78%)
Longtime host of the Coral Ridge Hour, this highly-educated Presbyterian minister has kept the same dry format for the past decade. His church, singers and sermon are nowhere near as inspiring as Robert Schullers, the telecast Kennedy most resembles. And his continued need to call the United States a "Christian nation" (as part of his 13% devoted to politics) shows him to be slightly out of date. In order to spice up his telecasts, producers follow his sermon with an edited package on a theme that usually revolves around politics or morality. Some of these reports are shocking in their frankness, such as showing clips of two men kissing. The idea of attempting to shake Christians into changing their culture is good, but Kennedys television personality is too wooden to inspire many dedicated followers.
JOYCE MEYER (F 11%; P 4%; POL 0%; M 85%)
This devil-fighting Missouri woman loves to share the trials she has been through: abused by her first husband, she lost a breast to cancer ten years ago, battled depression and then went through more health problems in 1999. So why is she claiming to be a faith healer? Most of what we see on the broadcast is Meyer giving long, wandering, depressing talks ("My gift is in my mouth," she claims) to the mostly-female audience that seems to enjoy her gender-based dry humor. She spends much of her time telling people to stop being so depressed and grab onto the hope of Christ. Then there are short clips of Joyce healing, in promotional spots that compare her to Jesus healing. At the end of the program the message has been communicated that Joyce wants you to be healed physically and emotionally, but it doesnt appear that she has overcome that need for herself. Her ministrys response to the request for financial information was a worthless pie chart that gave percentages but no raw numbers regarding how money is spent.
MOTHER ANGELICA (F 1%; P 7%; POL 5%; M 87%)
This elderly nun tells it like she sees it and that can make for great television talk. Though the shows production is rather quiet and dated, Mother will tackle the Catholic Church, politicians, disagreeable callers and even God Himself. Her fundraising appeals are limited to one sentence and she was even embarrassed to ask for one dollar from viewers to cover the postage for a book she wanted to send them for free. Her organization was the first to send the requested audited financial statement.
Due to her aging frailty, she has come to rely upon somewhat stiff male co-hosts to help her with interviews and often her eyes often appear to be distant. But when she looks into the camera and shouts "Were all just willy nilly stand up, for goodness sake!," you know that shes preaching what she practices.
PRAISE THE LORD (F 1%; P 2%; POL 1%; M 96%)
Trinity Broadcasting Network founders Paul and Jan Crouch are now so busy that they rarely appear on their cornerstone program. The two hour talk show is a mixture of revival preaching, gospel singing, celebrity testimony and devil bashing. Topics covered during this survey period were: people who died and came back to life to tell about the afterlife; financial prosperity; reaching teens for Christ; pop star Aaron Nevilles new gospel album; and a broadcast of a Benny Hinn crusade. The program goes to a short break once or twice an hour to encourage people to send a love gift to the ministry, but otherwise there is no other fund raising. When asked for financial information, the ministry responded with a pie-chart that showed total ministry income at $171 million and a letter explaining that Paul Crouch receives $350,000 and Jan receives $300,000. They would not send a copy of the IRS form 990 but said it was available to the public by visiting one of their stations. It would help if they would make it available by mail, for that openness would match the open attitude that permeates their broadcasts.
FREDERICK PRICE (F 10%; P 4%; POL 0%; M 86%)
The Los Angeles pastor of the Crenshaw Christian Center loves to talk about money. Every sermon I heard during this survey period was about tithingsometimes tithing in general but other times tithing to him. He told his congregation that they were "stealing from God" if they werent giving 10% to his church. Then he told viewers at home that they, too, were a "God robber, you are living your life under a curse" unless they tithed. And he welcomed viewers to tithe to him if they did not have a church home.
Price is a likeable guy who spends too much time focusing on finances. Certainly there is a better use of airtime than straight half-hour talks attempting to make people feel guilty enough to give him money. Though his sermons could have been considered fund raising, I categorized them as spiritual because he also insisted that he was emphasizing an overall scriptural principle and was not attempting to get people who already had a church home to give to him. However, he needs to spend more time on the dozens of other scriptural principles that have nothing to do with money or materialism and use his gifts to truly better his core group of urban followers. And he needs to provide contributors with detailed financial information, which was nowhere to be found in the packet of material that featured his daughter as president of his organization.
ORAL AND RICHARD ROBERTS (F 27%; P 5%; POL 0%; M 68%)
The elder Roberts no longer actively hosts the program, though he is occasionally seen giving speeches (but no longer does the faith healing as he did in the past). Orals son Richard is now regular host of the weekly Miracles Now program and uses the program to promote ministry needs. After viewers became skeptical of Orals claim that God would "call him home" in 1988 if he didnt raise $8 million dollars, the ministry backed off television fund raising in the 1990s, averaging only 2% in my 1996 study. But with Richard in control the fund raising number was back up to 27% this time, much of it for a new college dorm addition and the promotion of wife Lindsays stress-buster video. (The Roberts ministry did not respond to my request for financial information and their web site was difficult to use in order to ask for that data.)
Attempting to follow in his fathers Moses-like footsteps, Richard comes across as forced and overacting, hyping whatever scripture verse or ministry promotion he is talking about. But having second wife Lindsay at his side adds stability and balanceshe is a likeable take-charge woman who could host the show and become a ministry leader on her own.
JAMES ROBISON (F 23%; P 10%; POL 9%; M 58%)
This former fire-and-brimstone Texas preacher has turned into a first-rate talk show host. With his wife Betty by his side, James comes across as charming and caring, with a variety of topics that keep the viewers to his daily program tuning in. During this study period he brought Jim Bakker on for an interview, showed Billy Grahams son Franklin working with him in Africa, interviewed a Washington Times reporter about racism and had a presidential election discussion with commentator Cal Thomas.
However, Robison insists on cutting his guests short in order to spend one-fourth of his broadcast asking for money. This mans heart is in caring for the poor overseas, and while that is admirable viewers do not need to eight to fourteen minutes of each show devoted to clips of the children Robison cant afford to feed. So the show is good. The cause is good. He just needs to spend more time ministering to the viewing audience and less time begging for money. And he needs to respond to requests for audited financial information, which he did not provide.
ROBERT SCHULLER (F 9%; P 6%; POL 3%; M 82%)
"Celebrating its 30th anniversary as Americas television church," Schullers Hour of Power continues its top-rated format through a mixture of classical music, big-name (and often non-Christian) celebrities, and "possibility" preaching.
This is a well-produced show for the more traditional church crowd. The sun is always shining, the music always well rehearsed, even the guests are the right mixture of fame and humility. From healed country singer Naomi Judd to the wife of slain basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong to atheist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (who just happened to appear to praise President George Bush two weeks before election day), each guest provides another opportunity for Schuller to sparkle.
With his fund raising a stable 9%, his program may be considered trustworthy. But his organization failed to respond to my request for financial information. And Schullers son, with a rocky past, has had a growing presence on the Sunday program, often preaching this fall on his new book Possibility Living. There is no evidence that the ministry makes itself fully accountable to those who watch and contribute. That means that while it may be a nice way to pass an hour on Sunday morning, it still must prove itself trustworthy before viewers give money.
CHARLES STANLEY (F 2%; P 1%; POL 0%; M 97%)
One of the brightest ministries in my 1996 study, Stanley has since then gone through marital problems and his program has stalled any progress it had previously made. In Touch is now made up of merely an opening number from the choir and then 50 minutes of the pastor speaking. Unfortunately, Stanleys sermon material is just not strong enough to carry an hour, particularly in a day when viewers have shortened attention spans. He makes such innocuous statements as "Heaven is going to be a very active place," and "Slothful, lazy people have no right to expect God to favor them." In one rare episode he criticized churches that sprinkle children in baptism, but that was about as much fire as he ever showed. Stanley only spends 2% of his airtime fund raising, and my request for financial information was first met with me being added to his mailing list, though two months later I received the detailed financial information needed to contribute to his ministry.
JIMMY SWAGGART (F 10%; P 1%; POL 0%; M 89%)
To the surprise of many, Swaggart is still on television. He airs a daily half-hour scripture study and a weekly church service. Much like the Swaggart of old, Jimmy claims supernatural revelation that shows how wrong others churches are ("Most of Christendom is ignorant of these truths," he says). Much of his "teaching" revolves around himself, such as "I had a prayer life that I would say was second to none," "Ive read the Bible through at least 30 times" and "I saw Satan trying to stop me, destroy me." After being caught in two prostitute scandals, Swaggarts preaching is now focused on the pure grace of God and the inability for human sinners to merit any of Gods favor.
Swaggart appears to slowly be reviving his dying ministry. His playing the victim and the sinner sits well with a sinner-filled audience who can relate to his verbalized humility. Yet too much of the broadcasts revolve around him, and not enough around Christ. His fund raising appeals were mostly minimal and he did not respond to a request for financial information.
ROBERT TILTON (F 21%; P 20%; POL <1%; M 58%)
Another television ministry once thought destroyed, Tilton has survived marital problems, hidden network cameras and tax struggles to remain on the air. But every episode I viewed in the fall of 2000 was a repeat of a 1999 or 1998 program. He still asks for a $1,000 "vow of faith," still preaches that God will multiply that "seed" into thousands of dollars, still breaks into tongues without notice, and still asks people to touch his hand on the TV screen. But now he makes more spiritual references, particularly to "the devil" which put him through "problems," which he claims was "because I was teaching people to worship God through their giving." Tilton spends about half of his show in fund raising and promotion and does not advertise having a web site.
TOMORROWS WORLD (F 0%; P 11%; POL 4%; M 85%)
From the Worldwide Church of God, this weekly half hour is concerned with one thing: the end of the world. No time is spent fund raising (no response was given to the request for financial information) and the only thing that is promoted is the ministrys prophecy magazine and audio tapes. Everything the co-hosts discuss on the program, such as space treaties and the Middle East conflict, is tied to the book of Revelation and how we are near the return of Jesus Christ. These spiritual leaders interpret the scripture to say what they want it to say, though Dr. Roderick Meredith claims, "Let the Bible interpret the Bible let it explain its own meaning I dont ask you to believe me." That is good advice for a viewer who should turn off the set and spend time reading scripture instead of listening to this end-times view.
JACK VAN IMPE (F 13%; P 1%; POL 10%; M 76%)
Another end-times preacher, this program at least has a sense of humor about it and preaches traditional Christian doctrine. Jacks wife Rexella acts as anchor/reporter (they call the show a "newscast"), explaining the latest events in the news and then turning to Jack for his interpretation. He always brings everything back to the end of the world, whether it be world terrorism, the Olympics, health issues, global warmingeven kissing and Harry Potter! A typical discussion was about cloning, which Jack said "Has to do with the coming of the anti-Christ."
Thankfully the husband and wife team put a lot of energy into creating the image of two lovebirds who are bursting to share the scriptural view of current events. They spend slightly more time than average asking for money, but do almost nothing in promotion. The Van Impe ministry did not respond to a request for financial information.
TV MINISTRIES YEAR-BY-YEAR AVERAGES
Comparisons of the 15 ministries included in every study
by Stephen Winzenburg
Grand View College, Des Moines
1988 1990 1992 1996 2000
FUND RAISING 27% 25% 22% 15% 15%
POLITICAL 8% 8% 4% 3% 4%
SPIRITUAL 65% 67% 74% 82% 81%
TV MINISTRIES USE INTERNET, ENCOURAGE VOTERS
IN LATEST STUDY OF AIR TIME
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(DES MOINES) The latest analysis of television ministries shows that televangelists devoted a relatively small portion of their programs to fundraising but many used some airtime to comment on the 2000 presidential election and promote ministry internet sites.
The survey of television ministries has been conducted since 1981 by communication professor Stephen Winzenburg of Grand View College in Des Moines, with this years study covering almost 150 episodes of 22 different ministries from September to November. The televangelists averaged using 11% of their shows to ask for money, 8% to promote ministry offers (such as free booklets or phone help lines), 4% to discuss current political events and 77% for spiritual segments, such as sermons, prayer and music.
"There has been very little change in the approach the ministries have taken since the early 1990s," Winzenburg said. "Most television ministries spend much less time in fundraising than commercial television devotes to advertising," noting that the American Association of Advertisers reported in March at 28% of prime time network programming consists of commercials and promotional announcements, while religious broadcasters use only 19% of their time for fund raising and promotion. "And one-third of the ministries spend almost no time asking for money," adds Winzenburg.
A direct comparison of the 15 ministries he has studied since the 1987 PTL scandal shows that fund raising peaked in 1988, as the ministries attempted to recover from a dramatic drop in viewers and donations. Fundraising and promotion began a slow decline in 1990 and today these combined commercial categories remains at their lowest level since Winzenburg began his research in 1981.
Winzenburg says that half of the ministries studied got involved in discussing the 2000 presidential race. "Though no ministry leader directly told viewers to vote for Republican George W. Bush, for fear of losing their non-profit status, many attempted to spur voters to action. Many considered the 2000 election the most important of the past 50 years."
The study shows that Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and James Robison showed their preference for conservative candidates without directly telling viewers to vote for Bush; Robert Schullers program hosted former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev two weeks before the election, praising former President Bush as a peace maker; Mother Angelica told followers to "vote for life"; and D. James Kennedy warned of the devastating consequences to America if citizens continued to elect immoral leaders.
For the first time the internet became a major factor in religious television broadcasts. All but one of the ministries had web sites and often promoted their web addresses throughout the program. Some kept it on the screen during the entire sermon, while others flashed it briefly at the end of the program.
In reviewing the web sites, Winzenburg found that most were used as promotional and fund raising tools for the ministries. With only one or two clicks a visitor could quickly make a contribution. However, almost all the ministries offered very little financial information on their sites. When Winzenburg left an e-mail requesting information that would normally be sent to a potential contributor, only three of the 21 web ministries responded with an audited financial statement. One-fourth provided general information that was of minimal help in making a decision about contributing and one-half failed to even respond to the request for financial information!
"Unfortunately most television ministries fail to respond to e-mail requests for detailed financial information," Winzenburg said. "Instead of utilizing their web sites as opportunities for full financial disclosure, most televangelists use the internet as another marketing opportunity for selling materials or asking for donations. This raises concerns regarding preachers who claim to be fully accountable to their contributors yet refuse to release the financial information that viewers need to make informed decisions."
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