Guidelines for World EvangelismGeorge Gurganus, editor
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Perhaps no other phenomenon of the twentieth century has provoked more discussion, inquiry, and argument than the rapid proliferation and exploding technology of the modem mass communications media throughout the world. Elaborate and expensive research studies are conducted by the hundreds each year, heated disputes, are conducted, glowing reports are heard about the media's potential, and sobering protests are made about the many calamities and damage being wrought by the media upon society.

Religious mass media users also seem fascinated by the marvels of the new technology. Some acclaim the media as a modem-day miracle wrought by God, while others seem adamantly unconvinced that they can be used effectively in religious work.

At least three distinct viewpoints toward the power and potential of the mass media seem to exist within religious circles:

A. "The mass media are virtually unlimited in their ability to carry the gospel throughout the world." Committed to allowing every individual in the world to hear the gospel at least once, many dedicated Christians firmly believe in the unlimited power of the gospel to produce results, if only people can be exposed to it. Their philosophy seems to be: "Preach the word, as often and as widely as possible, and God will produce results." The media are seen as an almost magical means of proclaiming Jesus, and thereby converting the entire world.

B. "The mass media are powerful, but only under certain conditions; these conditions must be delineated so that wise choices may be made in order to achieve maximum results. While believing strongly in the power of the gospel, this second group of media users feels that maximum effectiveness in proclaiming the gospel can be achieved only through a thorough understanding and wise use of the mass media. They believe not only that some media activities may be worthless, but that unwise or uninformed usage of the media may even produce harm to the evangelistic effort. Thus, true stewardship would demand considerable research and planning, before media efforts are initiated.

C. "The mass media do not produce enough conversions or prospects to justify their expense." This third group of Christians also believe fervently in the power of the Gospel and are devout in their convictions that the Gospel must be proclaimed widely, but remain unconvinced that the, mass media are effective enough in evangelistic work to warrant the thousands even millions-of dollars required to use them. They make such assertions as "Only personal work can convert the sinner," or "Nothing can ever be as powerful as. a one-to-one relationship." Thus, they prefer personal conversations, private teaching sessions, and one-to-one contacts, rather than mass media efforts.

Which of these three views toward the mass media is correct? Without presenting a full discussion of the complexities involved in the question at this point, we can say that both the first and third viewpoints are based on an overly simplistic and naive attitude toward communication in general, and toward mass communication in particular. The remainder of this chapter will set forth in fuller detail the many problems and opportunities presented to those who would use the mass media in missions, and suggest a model for their most effective utilization.

The Nature of the Communication Process

The word "communicate" comes from the Latin word communicare, which means "to make common." 1 Communication therefore involves a striving for mutuality, commonality, or sharing.

As reasonable as this now seems, such a view of communication has not always existed. Many of the early writing; and analyses of the communication process have been faulted by an unfortunate, emphasis on a single communicative act, seen basically as a unilateral activity, something the communicator does to the receiver of his message. Although terms such as "source" or "receiver" are still retained in discussions of communication, more recent analyses of communication have emphasized the activity as an ongoing process, a simultaneous interaction occurring between the individuals involved. Such a view elevates the activity to the larger context of a continuing relationship between two or more individuals who alternately switch roles as "'Source" and "Receiver" and who constantly and simultaneously act upon and react to each other, so long as the communicative relationship exists. The cybernetic term "feedback" has been seized by communication theorists and used to epitomize this continuing interaction, especially the flow of reaction from the "receiver" back to the "source."

The communication process may be illustrated by the following diagram emphasizing the continuing interaction.

Communication Process

A given individual involved in an interpersonal communication activity is not only acting as an encoder of a message which he sends forth to another, but he is simultaneously decoding and interpreting "feedback" messages from the other person. Similarly, the "receiver" in the situation is not only decoding messages from the "Source" and interpreting them for his own use, but is also simultaneously (perhaps subconsciously) encoding "feedback" messages and sending them back to the other person.

Now, let us look specifically at mass communication. Is mass communication basically the same process as just described, with no significant differences? First, let us consider the unique characteristics of mass communication.

The Uniqueness of Mass Communication

A moment's reflection reveals that communication through the mass media (newspapers, magazines, books, movies, radio, television) is significantly different from communicating to another individual in a private conversation, or even communicating to a large group of people in a public assembly. Certain characteristics of mass communication make it unique, and demanding of special attention.

A. Mass communications generally require large formal organizations for their production and distribution (broadcast stations, printing plants, publishing firms).

B. Mass communications are aimed at large audiences, numbering often in the millions of people in many parts of the world.

C. The audiences for mass communications are highly heterogeneous in composition.

D. Mass communication messages are aimed at the largest "common denominator" within the audience. That is, messages are constructed so as to appeal to the largest possible portion of the audience. Aim is taken, not at the elite, the affluent, the educated, nor at the impoverished, the unlearned, the socially impotent, but at the "typical" individuals, the people who are present in largest numbers within the reading, listening, or viewing audience.

E. Feedback, described above as vital to effective interpersonal communication, is generally slow or non-existent; being supplied either by formal research, correspondence, or other similar means.

F. The source of a mass communication message is generally seen as impersonal by the audience, since he is unknown to the audience in his private life.

G. The audience is located at a distance from the source, and individual members are separated from other members of the audience, yet all can be reached simultaneously by the mass communicator. Thus the mass communication audience differs from all other communication audiences. As McQuail points out,

It is an aggregate of individuals united by a common focus of interest, engaging in an identical form of behaviour, and open to activation toward common ends; yet the individuals involved are unknown to each other, have only a restricted amount of interaction, do not orient their actions to e ach other and are only loosely organized or lacking in organization. The composition of the audience is continually shifting, it has no leadership or feelings of identity.2

Such psychological factors as "social facilitation," often mentioned in public address studies, or acceleration of effect due to interaction among audience members, are generally missing with mass media audiences.

To the religious communicator, perhaps most familiar with large assemblies such, as exist in public worship services, or with small groups such as exist in private Bible studies, such mass communication characteristics are highly significant. One who approaches mass communication with the assumption that the same tactics used elsewhere will prove effective in this situation also is due for sad disillusionment.

Advantages Shared by All the Mass Media

Because of their inherent characteristics, the mass media do have several general advantages that make them especially useful for religious communicators:

A. The mass media can place a given message within reach of more people in a short period of time than any other form of communication. The sheer magnitude of the numbers involved prohibits the use of interpersonal contact, or even mass meetings, when one wishes to reach a large group of people (such as an entire nation, or a continent) within a short time. There are now more than two billion non-Christians in the world. Mass media present the logical alternative in such situations.

B. The mass media can penetrate locations where personal presence may not be possible. Although economic and/or political factors may present problems in some cases, the mass media generally are able, as no other medium, to reach areas and places where it would be impossible for a missionary to be in person. The mass media can leap physical, geographic, social, and even political barriers, and convey the message of Christianity.

C. The mass media can disseminate the Christian message with great financial efficiency. One unfamiliar with, the huge numbers of people reached through the mass media may be staggered by the seemingly prohibitive cost of producing such a communication. But, one must weigh the many. dollars involved against the many hundreds of thousands of people who can be reached. Professional mass communicators speak of "CPM" (cost per thousand) in mass media work. For example, a given radio program may cost $ 10,000 per year to produce and broadcast, but if 100,000 people hear the message and respond in a desired manner, then the CPM would be only $ 100, a most efficient usage of funds. D. The mass media permit the presentation of the message in a highly attractive format. The use of specialty prepared audiovisual aids to the message (recordings, photographs, art work, etc.) can be of inestimable value in proclaiming the Gospel. Mass media make possible-even demand-the production and use of such highly attractive materials for maximum effectiveness.

E. The mass media make it possible to use highly credible and effective spokesmen as an aid to proclaiming the message. Research indicates that a spokesman who is perceived as highly trustworthy and expert will have greater effectiveness in communicating a message than an individual without these characteristics. The mass media permit such an individual to be brought before large numbers of people over an extensive area, to help overcome the apathy or resistance of some people to the message.

Not all missionaries or evangelists are equally capable communicators in all situations. Some are more effective with small groups or interpersonal contacts, while others are more effective in public speaking situations. Very capable, effective mass media spokesmen can be used to augment the work of local missionaries, by programs or publications carefully chosen for their value in that specific situation.

Specific Advantages of the Print Media:

Beyond the general advantages outlined above, the print media of mass communication possess certain specific qualities that make them useful in religious communication:

A. Permanence. Many an oral communicator, or religious broadcaster, has wished he could somehow preserve his message so his listeners could ponder the meaning more deliberately, or review the message after its initial presentation. The print media make such preservation possible. Studies indicate that many print publications may be read not only several times by a given individual, but may even be passed on to others, so that the message may have its impact multiplied.

B. Multiple exposure. A listener to an oral proclamation, or a broadcast message, may have only one, fleeting exposure to a certain thought or point. The print media permit a re-examination of the point, or even continuing discussion of the point with others, since the printed message remains accessible. This is especially valuable with new or difficult teachings, which may require some time to be fully understood and absorbed.

C. Flexible rate of exposure to the message. With a broadcast message or any oral presentation, the listener is at the mercy of the speaker, insofar as rate of exposure to the message is concerned. A rapid speaker, presenting new or difficult material, may easily outdistance his listeners' thought processes. The print media, however, permit the reader to pace himself. He may read as slowly and deliberately as needed or desired. The advantages are obvious.

D. Circumstances of exposure to the message controlled by the reader. When a public assembly is convened, or an oral presentation is made through the broadcast media, the listener must be physically present when the message is given, if he is to hear it. An uninformed or apathetic listener may not find it convenient or desirable to make his schedule conform to the speaker's schedule, and thus may miss the message. With the print media, however, an individual may take the printed message with him, and examine it later, when he has adequate time, and is in an unhurried frame of mind. He is not forced to react to a deeply significant message in the midst of other activities, when he may not be prepared to give it favorable or even courteous attention. Every missionary or evangelist should try to insure that the message of Christ will be given adequate consideration by his audience.

E. Purposive selection of portions of the message. Not all portions of a given message will be equally relevant or interesting to an evangelist's listeners. However, during an oral proclamation, either in a public assembly or a radio-television program, the listener has no choice but. to sit patiently (or not so patiently) through those portions. of a message which are already highly familiar or are less relevant to his needs, until more significant portions of the, message come to his ears. With a printed publication, however, the reader may skim through certain portions until he comes to a paragraph or a section that speaks directly to his needs at that specific time. While such skimming of a message obviously is subject to abuse by uninformed or untaught readers, the practice has certain obvious inherent advantages.

F. Use of illustrations, photographs, artwork, or typographic devices. "Redundancy with variation" is a well-known technique of effective communication. That is, permit the receiver of your message to have more than one exposure to your message, in more than. one form. Illustrative material such as photographs, drawings or other graphics may clarify and enhance an otherwise difficult or uninteresting message. Printed publications seem especially appropriate for this type of mass communication.

Weaknesses of Print Media

Printed publications have a number of disadvantages and weaknesses which should be considered by the religious communicator when he is planning his strategy.

A. Motion and animation are not provided through the print media. Even with illustrations and graphics, printed messages are relatively static, in comparison with film or television. Even with photographic illustration, a given event or activity is presented in "stop-action," form. Choosing the right stop-action photograph to typify a complex or extended activity may be difficult. Cultural or semantic differences among readers may produce misunderstanding or misperception. of the intended meaning. For example, a fairly standardized picture of Jesus—quite familiar to Western eyes—depicting Him with his hand raised in benediction, was interpreted by a large number of African viewers as "a white man telling a black man to stay down." 4 The inability to illustrate an entire event, in sequence, is a liability of print media that should be recognized.

B. The print media demand that readers be at least functionally literate. In many emerging nations of the "third world,"' large numbers of people cannot read or write. In some specific locations, a tribe or sub-culture may not have a written language at all, thus posing a serious obstacle to the religious communicator Even the use of drawings, photographs, or other non verbal messages presents problems with receivers who are not accustomed to the use of printed matter

C. The print media demand considerable time and space to adequately describe or explain a complex principle. Verbalization of certain Christian concepts such as love or righteousness or spirituality is difficult any time, perhaps being better explained by a living example or object lesson. Trying to communicate such abstract principles becomes doubly difficult when you must work only with printed words on the page. Apathetic listeners may not be wining to dedicate enough time or energy to reading a long dissertation on some difficult theme, in order to understand the Gospel message.

D. Once a message is formulated, printed, and distributed to the readers, modifications or explanations of misunderstandings are difficult. Although the writer of a religious tract, book or pamphlet may spend considerable time making sure his message says just what he would desire, a misunderstanding of that message in some remote comer of the world, where the print medium is the only contact, may never be corrected. The religious writer may have only one opportunity to correctly communicate his message. If he were personally present, he might easily answer a question, or correct an error, but when he must rely totally on the printed message, such interaction is not possible.

E. The print media do not permit the use of the warmth, tonal inflection, and varying emphases of the human voice. Familiar as we are with the Gospel, we may sometimes forget how important the proper use of emphasis, inflection, and vocal expression are to the correct presentation of the message, especially to one who has never heard the message before. In comparison with the vibrancy and warmth of the spoken word, the printed word may seem somewhat lifeless or uninteresting to a pagan. In trying to overcome this problem, missionaries or evangelists should avoid dull, technical discussions of theological concepts when using print media for proclamation of the word to non-Christians, but should attempt to "write as you talks,'' as personally and cordially as possible.

Specific Advantages of the Broadcast Media

The electronic media (radio, television, and sometimes film) also have a number of inherent strengths which make them useful to the missionary or other religious communicator.

A. The broadcast media can reach people who might not be accessible through other media. Many people might be uninterested or even antagonistic to a "religious tract," or book or Bible study lesson, but may still have their attention caught involuntarily by a message from the Christian communicator on radio or television, in the midst of a line-up of other programs. Although many might never purposely seek a religious program on radio or television, many will listen (perhaps only tolerantly, at first) to a striking or interesting message from a religious speaker, even while using these media primarily for entertainment. or other purposes. Such fleeting opportunities have produced dramatic results at times, and ought not to be neglected by the Christian speaker.

Furthermore, the broadcast media can reach people who cannot read or write. The transistor radio, capable of being produced in great numbers, at relatively low cost, has been distributed in virtually every part of the world. Radio can speak to people in remote, uncivilized areas, where schools and literacy pose serious problems for the print media user.

Donald McGavran has pinpointed the significance of radio in remote regions of the globe:

The cheapness and portability of the transistor set has given the medium a new portability and a new dimension and a vast measure of influence ... In Guatemala, six times as many people listen to radio as read newspapers . . . And once it is turned on, it is left on from morning to night, pouring out fuel for hopes and dreams. The possibilities that exist in this force are enormous. 5

B. The broadcast media can locate and surface interested prospects for conversion. Radio and television programs typically create their own audiences, by offering content or formats that are specially appealing to certain people. Those individuals with an existing interest in Christianity (regardless of their source of knowledge) can be reached and encouraged to respond through religious messages broadcast into a given target area.

C. The broadcast media can provide a warm, personal touch in the presentation of the message. The sound of the human voice, and, in television and film, the sight of the speaker himself, can bring a valuable added dimension to the message of the gospel. Compassion,, concern, kindness, and genuine interest in the listener can often be expressed most effectively when both the audio and visual channels of communication are used together.

D. Radio, especially, is an intimate medium, producing a unique relationship between the speaker and the listener. The novice may mistakenly visualize the radio audience as a faceless, impersonal mass of indefinable people. But the experienced radio broadcaster knows that he is talking to very small groups of people, perhaps only one person. In the mind of this listener, the imagination is creating an image of the personality, appearance, and characteristics of the speaker, all based upon the quality of his voice. The listener, if the speaker is effective, has the feeling that the performer is speaking to him alone. Often, especially with long-running programs, a sense of intimacy and deep loyalty to the program can be established, more distinct and pronounced than that produced by any print medium of communication.

Weaknesses of Broadcast Media:

As with each of the other mass media, broadcast media. also have their specific weaknesses, disadvantages and limitations, including the following:

A. In some cases, especially in some parts of the world, the broadcast media may have a negative image. In a number of despotic monarchies, for instance, radio and television may be totally censored or controlled by the national government, or may be used by the national government for propaganda purposes. Thus, these media may be perceived in a very unfavorable light by the inhabitants of these nations, making their use for evangelistic purposes questionable if not impossible. Certainly the missionary or radio-TV evangelist should avoid any impression of affiliation with- the authorities, or any identification as being officially sanctioned or commissioned by those in power. Of course, the converse is also true; i.e., the religious communicator should avoid any affiliation or identification with illicit broadcasting operations such as "pirate" stations, or "blackmarket" operations. In some cases, radio-TV programs by anyone other than nationals of the country may be forbidden by the authorities.

B. In many areas, the religious broadcaster may have great difficulty in obtaining an acceptable broadcast time. One may discover that access to prime time is either forbidden or prohibitively expensive, or that religious programs are permitted only on the weekends or very late at night. In such cases, one must carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of the alternatives and make a solemn evaluation of the feasibility of the program. In some instances, broadcasting funds might be more wisely allocated to other purposes.

C. The attention span for broadcast messages is very short. Although the frenetic pace of radio and television programs in the United States is not characteristic of media systems throughout the world, it is still true that people generally will listen to a given program for only a limited time. Not only will listeners tune in to the program after it has already started, but many will become impatient or lose interest, and turn to other stations or turn the set completely off. Changing the station of a radio or TV set is one of the easiest things in the world to do, and a listener may quite casually tune away from the message of salvation, or give it only partial attention. This one factor alone should motivate a radio or television speaker to attempt to captivate his listeners immediately and maintain a high level of interest and attractiveness throughout the program. This is difficult but is vital to the effective use of the broadcast media.

D. The broadcast media provide only a brief exposure to specific facts or points the listeners may need to remember. Although some might jot down an address, a name, or a scripture reference while listening to a radio or TV program, many will not or cannot. The broadcast message does not have the inherent permanence of the printed message. Thus, the broadcast evangelist must provide repetitive exposures to those parts of the message that he wishes his listeners to remember; e.g., address, name, facts, etc. Even then, many will miss the information or soon forget it.

Unique Limitations of Mass Communication

The mass communicator, especially the religious mass communicator, faces certain obstacles and limitations which are either peculiar to the mass communication situation, or are found to a greater degree in the mass communication situation.

For instance, the audience's tendency to perceive the source in mass communication as an institutionalized, impersonal messenger impedes any effort by the source to deal warmly and sensitively with personal needs and problems. The communicator is seen as a "representative" of some organization or institution, not a feeling, concerned individual who can empathize with the reader or viewer of the message.

This leads to a second problem for the religious communicator; viz., how to avoid institutionalizing the gospel. That is, the gospel proclaimed via the mass media may be perceived as the official pronouncement of some church or religious organization, rather than the deeply intimate, personal word of salvation from a loving, sympathetic Savior

Thirdly, the very size and heterogeneity of the audience in mass communication inhibits any attempt to deal with individual needs, or problems experienced by only a small portion of the total receiving group. For example, the mass communicator should strive to speak or write to each group within his listening or reading audience in its own language, if possible. Yet many language groups and dialects are spoken only by a relatively small number of people in a small geographic area. Since mass media are especially adapted to large numbers and large geographic areas, their utility for a specially focused usage may be questionable, from an economic and efficiency viewpoint.

The absence or slowness of the feedback in' mass communication means that the source must send messages to his intended hearers with no other guidelines than previous experience, hunch, or personal opinion. To some extent, he is "flying blind" in trying to communicate; no responses or reactions from his audience reach him until it is too late to modify his message for greater effectiveness. Of course, the experienced mass communicator can use his acquired wisdom and experience with considerable success, and research and study can tell him much about the general characteristics of his hearers, but misunderstandings and communication breakdowns are easier to avoid or rectify when the communicator is able to read instantly the feedback coming back to him.

Another problem frequently encountered in mass communication is the divided attention the average person gives to any mass media message. Even when a mass media message captures our attention, it is often only for a fleeting moment, or must compete with other activities for the concentration of the reader or listener. Far from being assembled in a secluded church building with other religiously oriented people who have the same purpose in mind, the average mass media listener in many nations of the world is caught up in the hurly-burly of everyday activities.

He therefore listens to a television program with only half an ear, he generally is busy doing something else while listening to a radio program, or he is willing to give only a few moments to a given printed message, especially one from an unknown or distrusted source. To say the least, to speak meaningfully to such a person in this frame of mind is difficult.

Closely related to the problem of inattention is the mass communicator's difficult task of finding the proper message content, and the proper rate of presentation of that content, for his audience. Although seen most vividly in the electronic media, all mass media are beset with the problem of pacing. Too much information at one time, or given without adequate time for the audience to digest the information, will inhibit understanding. Time considerations in the broadcast media, and space considerations in the print media make this problem especially relevant for the mass communicator. "Information overload" is often committed by religious communicators because of the pressure of the urgency of the message, or the source's deepseated compulsion to "declare the whole counsel of God." However, a good rule to follow might be: Don't give too much information at one time, or the whole communication will tend to block.

The final problem associated with mass communication that we shall mention is somewhat abstract and difficult to grasp quickly. It also overlaps to some degree the other problems we have discussed. It is this: the medium chosen for the presentation of a message has a profound effect upon the content and effect of the message.

To see the importance of this concept, consider how, in the world of secular mass media, the coming of televised news reports affected the communication of the news. Not only does the news get to us more quickly now than it did in the days of newspaper reporting, but we feel the impact of the news stories more deeply. Marshall McLuhan has gone so far as to say that "the medium is the message," and then subtly modified this expression to say "the medium is the massage," to point up how the media mold, form, and influence our lives while we are blissfully unaware of it.6

Furthermore, research indicates that each of the mass media has a given image or reputation for the average viewer or reader so that a magazine article, has quite a different reception than a radio message, or a television program, or newspaper story.

Transferring this idea to the field of religious (communication, can you see how a Christian evangelist should use wisdom and discretion in choosing the medium for his message? At the very least, surely one should consider the general image of the magazine or paper he is using, the reputation of the radio or television station on which he is broadcasting, the context in which the message will be presented to the reader or listener.

What goes before, or follows after, the message? What kinds of material surrounds the message? For what kinds of message content, is this publication or broadcast station generally known?

A problem of even deeper significance is tapped by the question: Does a mass media presentation, so tightly confined by time and space limitations, have to offer such an over-simple, superficial version of the gospel that its real vigor and beauty are lost? Such queries must continuously linger in the periphery of the religious mass communicator's awareness, and. keep pulling him back toward the center, the heart and core, of the gospel story, and away from the empty showmanship and crass commercialism that characterizes much mass media work today.

Ways Mass Media Are Used in Missions

Mass media are being used widely, in a broad assortment of ways, by those engaged in mission work today. The following list, although not exhaustive, will illustrate the major approaches:

A. Many mass media programs may be designed to instill awareness and impart introductory information about the church and the mission effort. Quite logically, many who hear a newly-arrived missionary in their country, or who are exposed to literature or broadcasts being distributed by an unknown missionary, will want to identify and evaluate this new message they hear.. Although the gospel itself is the hope of salvation, one cannot really separate the message from the messenger. Thus, effort can legitimately be expended in providing historical and descriptive information about a group of missionaries, especially those moving into new fields.

Of course, many foreign governments demand proper identification before allowing entry into their country. But, simply establishing legitimacy with the governmental authorities is not enough. The recipients of your message need to know who are you, and what group you represent. "Is this new group different from the other 'Christian' missionaries we have heard?"' "Is this some little splinter group that will not amount to anything, or does it represent a substantial, enduring effort that will continue?" "Who are your sponsors?" "Who provides your financial support?" "Why are you here in our country?" Such questions are entirely legitimate, and the missionary should not be offended by them. He should welcome the opportunity to fully identify himself, and legitimize his presence in the place.

B. Many mass media programs are designed to prepare the way for a major missionary effort. This has been described as the "softening-up process", or "seed-sowing". Just as John the Baptist was sent before the Lord to prepare the way for his coming, mass media programs may be very effective in providing initial exposure to the Gospel, to lay the foundation for an intensive evangelistic effort later. The objective with this technique is to accomplish preliminary acquaintance with the missionary and the message, so that the mission team will not be confronted with people who are unfamiliar-perhaps even hostile to the mission effort.

C. An extension or adaptation of this technique is too continue to use the mass media for this "seed-sowing" operation, even after becoming established on the field, to open doors and stimulate inquiries from the people, which may be followed up with personal contacts.

Donald McGavran has cautioned against being content with mere "seed-sowing", and mistakenly assuming that proclamation alone fulfills our responsibility:

... many Christians are firmly committed to a theology of seed sowing, which might also be called a theology of search. It arose in the era of missions just ending. It maintains that in Christian mission the essential thing is not the finding, but going everywhere and preaching the Gospel ... the trouble is that mere search, detached witness without the, deep wish to convert, without wholehearted persuasion, and with what amounts to a fear of -the numerical increase of Christians-is not biblically justified. Mere search is not what God wants. God wants His lost children found...7

D. Mass media are sometimes used to provide both basic and advanced study of the Bible, and aggressively seek conversions. Missionaries in certain areas have achieved some success in offering a complete array of gospel messages, including discussions of the "deeper things of God", leading the listener all the way to acceptance of Christ. Such a technique is generally used only in areas where mission efforts have been in existence for some time, where one might expect to find people who are ready for more advanced study of the Bible along with, the spiritually illiterate. For instance, a verse-by-verse study of -the Gospel of Mark was conducted through a daily radio program in Mexico, with reported success. Such an approach in another area, however, might produce few results.

The assortment of the media used in mission work is broad and varied, including:

International stations, broadcasting fulltime Christian programs.
International stations, broadcasting Christian programs along with secular programs.
Local and regional broadcasts designed for one city or one region of an area.
Gospel tracts, books, pamphlets centered around one theme.
Free distribution of Bibles and portions of Bibles, translated into various languages and dialects.
Bible correspondence courses.
Gospel magazines, carrying both exposition of scriptural teachings and news about the work of the church.
News letters and personal correspondence, directed both to fellow missionaries and to prospective converts.
Bible study guides, outlines, and workbooks.

With such a wide variety of communication media being used by evangelists and missionaries, one might expect great results to be produced. However, close evaluation of the techniques being used frequently reveals a number of significant errors and misconceptions existing among religious mass communicators.

Errors Frequently Committed By Religious Communicators

A number of religious leaders and knowledgeable scholars have deplored the mistakes and weaknesses found in religious communication. A former speaker on the well-known "Mennonite Hour," Dr. David Augsburger, has declared:

If we do not change our methods, we change our message, because we only reach those who understand old words and techniques ... A good share of Christian communication techniques are still in the 1930's. 8
Donald McGavran, well-known church growth authority, has pointed out that one reason churches do not grow and proliferate is that many churchmen use too simplistic communication methods.

As the Gospel is broadcast in North America the message falls on the ears of a potential audience of at least 150,000,000 persons, to whom ... it is more or less familiar.

Christian broadcasting in Africasia, however, falls on the ears of Marxists, Hindus, Buddhists, animists, and Moslems. At least half of these are illiterate. The Christian message is not familiar. On the contrary, it is totally strange. Under these conditions, it is simplistic to suppose that even the unchanging Gospel, beamed over the radio waves to this audience in substantially the same way it is in North America, will bring non- Christians of many different, cultures to Christ ... radio should convey the message of salvation to each community in ways which make it possible for obedience to the Gospel to become a real option to its members. 9

The following list, while not exhaustive, includes some of the more glaring errors committed by religious mass communicators:

A. Use of the English language only, in cross-national and cross-cultural communication.

B. Few, or extremely limited, ethnographic studies or audience analyses of the audience to whom the message is being directed.

C. Failure to separate elements of American politics, economics, social customs, and cultural trappings from the pure and simple Gospel of Christ.

D. Little or no research regarding success or failure of the communication effort.

E. Choosing topics for presentation which are of concern to the speaker 'or writer, but having little relevance or significance to the audience.

F. Failure to commit enough work and/or money into mass media work to permit a significant impact.

G. Expectation of results before enough time has elapsed to permit the effort to bear fruit.

H. Placing too much faith in the mass media alone, without complementing them with personal follow-up or additional materials.

I. Acceptance of undesirable air-time for radio programs, without protest or efforts to obtain other times.

J. Failure to devote enough preparation time and effort into mass media messages. Mass media work is often perceived as highly secondary to more popular mission work, and is allocated only incidental attention.

K. Failure to deliberately set specific purposes and goals for a mass media program to accomplish. Much mass media work is done simply because it is traditional or expected, and no real objective is established.

L. Failure to recognize the unique characteristics of the mass media audience, with the result that many broad casts are presented as if the listeners were identical to the speaker's personal acquaintances.

Of course, no one mission effort commits all of these errors, but many of these mistakes are widespread. Many who are dubious about the ability of the mass media to produce results either have no clear idea of what the mass media should be used for, or commit one or more of the above mistakes. In the following section of this chapter, we shall delineate where the strengths of the mass media really are, and offer suggestions for their effective use.

Lessons from Diffusion Theory

Diffusion (the study of the spread and adoption of new ideas, devices and technologies by a particular group or social system) has a body of theoretical concepts and principles that are related significantly to the use of mass media.

With its origins deep in the writings of early sociologists and anthropologists, diffusion theory is now recognized by communication experts as contributing much to our, knowledge of the process of change, and the problems of gaining acceptance of innovations. Several research findings and principles from this area apply to the field of religious mass communication.

For instance, diffusion theorists tell us that the innovation decision-making process consists of four steps:

1. Awareness-the gaining of first knowledge or preliminary information about an innovation.

2. Persuasion-the consideration of arguments, both pro and con, leading to attitude formation or change.

3. Decision-the arrival at a decision to adopt or not adopt the innovation.

4. Confirmation-the strengthening and reinforcing of the decision to adopt or not adopt the innovation. 10

Numerous research investigations have revealed that mass media have great power during two of these steps: the awareness step, and the confirmation step. On the other hand, the interpersonal communication media (personal contact with friends, family, trusted associates, etc.) are most influential at the persuasion step, where the potential adopter discusses the feasibility of the new idea with his friends, acquaintances, or opinion leaders.

This has considerable significance for religious mass communication. Consider the parallel between the innovation decision-making process, and the process by which one becomes a Christian:

Innovation Decision-Making
   Becoming A Christian
Hearing the word, Rom. 10: 17
Believing the word, Mk. 16:16
Repentance from sin
Baptism into Christ
Luke 10:3, Acts 2:38
Growth in grace and
knowledge, 2 Pet. 3:18

Although the parallel is not perfect, one may see that the innovation decision-making process is very similar to the process in which one is first exposed to the gospel of Christ, and then moves through various stages of decision making to the point of actually committing his life to Christ.

Applying the research findings regarding the power of the mass media (and assuming that the parallel is valid), we can see that mass media should be used primarily (a) in the proclamation of the basic fundamentals of the gospel, to make people aware of the message, and provoke interest in it, and (b) to strengthen, confirm or encourage people who have already become Christians. Although conversions may occur through the influence of the mass media alone, these conversions will be comparatively few in number. Most individuals who become Christians will do so after personal contact with ministers, Christian friends, or trusted associates. Insistent admonitions and pleadings to become a Christian are most effective when done in- a personal, face-to-face relationship with the prospective convert, either as an individual alone, or part of an assembly.

This should not be taken to mean that the mass media are to be used only to "publicize the church," or to conduct a "public relations campaign" for the missionary; far from it. But it does mean that the most frequent results seen from mass media work among non-Christians, especially pagans, will be inquiries, requests for more information, or perhaps clarification and discussion. These are entirely legitimate and worthy contacts, and represent opportunities for follow-up and initiation of personal teaching and persuasion to become a Christian.

Further, the mass media may be used to strengthen and encourage those who are already converted. One of the continuing problems in virtually every mission program today is the large number of "drop-outs," people who respond to the gospel, but then grow weak and discouraged, ultimately going back to their former life. The mass media can be powerful instruments to help teach, encourage, and strengthen new converts, confirming them in the faith. This is not done by presenting messages designed solely for them, but their continued exposure to the messages proclaiming Christ to the world may produce reinforcement and recommitment in their hearts.

In the third place, both research and personal experience have shown that mass media are most effective when used as part of a multi-faceted, many-pronged program of outreach and communication. In view of the fact that mass media are most effective in imparting awareness of a message, and in reinforcing those who accept it, and the interpersonal media are most effective at the persuasion and decision steps of the conversion process, it seems logical and reasonable to combine both mass media and interpersonal media, thus capitalizing on the strengths of both.

Numerous examples might be cited to show how such a multi-media approach might be implemented. Since 1958 the Southern Baptist mass media ministry has utilized a concept known as "televangelism," in which evangelistic films have been broadcast on various network programs, and viewed in numerous viewing and discussion groups, in churches, private homes, or other small assemblies. Both "churched" and "unchurched" people view and then discuss the films, which are televised according to a previously announced schedule. The producers of these programs consider them very effective.11

Roger Shinn of the United Church of Christ produced a series of 30-minute films for television in 1965, for much the same type of viewing and discussion by small groups. In Pittsburgh alone, 800 viewing and discussion groups met regularly to watch and discuss the program. 12

The Herald of Truth, produced by the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, has produced a number of 30-minute films for prime-time television showing in selected markets. Pre-broadcast efforts were directed towards publicizing the programs, arranging for private or small-group viewing and discussion groups, and even including an additional half-hour segment on the broadcast where a panel of ministers and teachers could respond live to telephone messages and questions from the audience. Impressive figures on total audience, and follow-up personal contacts have been reported.13

Even in the secular field, similar multi-media programs have proven remarkably effective. In the early 1950's, in India, Dr. Paul Neurath found his "Radio Farm Forums", combining radio broadcasts and small group discussion, to be more than twice as effective as either radio or personal contact alone.14 Similar results were reported for the Canadian Farm Radio Forums 15 in the 1930's, and for the "Telescuola"16 government educational programs in Italy.

The secret behind these results is simple: The communicator takes the best of two worlds-utilizing mass media for what they do best, and personal contact for what it does best. Such a strategy would seem, directly applicable, with few problems, to religious mass communication in the mission field.

Even when small viewing and discussing groups are not possible to arrange, an aggressive, vigorous, personal follow up ministry should accompany any mass media effort. The "climate" can be set, first awareness can be accomplished, good impressions and stimulation of inquiries can all be accomplished through the mass media (either print or broadcast), and then personal contacts can be made through the inquiries and questions that come. Such a flexible and effective combination is far more productive than placing all trust and confidence in any mass media, pulpit preaching, private Bible class, or small group work alone.

The following additional generalizations about the use of the mass media should be considered by the missionary or other religious communicator:

1. The short-range effectiveness of mass media may be small, but the long-range, cumulative effectiveness may be great.
2. The mass media are able to establish a "climate of acceptance" for the message of Christ, by saturation of the receiving population with the message.
3. Mass media may legitimize and authenticate a work of mission, thereby encouraging mass, conversions and people movements.
A Suggested Strategy for Missionary Mass Media

In summing up the discussion in this chapter the following points seem to be especially significant. We have accepted the notion that mass media are powerful, but only when used knowledgeably, The mass media do accomplish much in religious communication, but not what many dedicated evangelists and missionaries think they accomplish. The religious communicator who wishes to avoid wasting money and prevent eventual frustration and disenchantment had best spend considerable time investigating the theory and concepts that guide the utilization of mass media, and in planning in great depth just how the media will be used. The success of the national radio ministry called "Heartbeat," heard several times daily on the NBC radio network, can probably be largely attributed to the fact that the speaker, Landon Saunders, spent more than one full year in intensive research and planning before a single program was broadcast.17

Now, what specific strategy can be suggested for the use of mass media in missions? The following points can at least serve as a stimulant for thinking in the proper direction:

1. Identify clearly and precisely just what you wish to accomplish by your mass media work. Don't begin a radio program or a Bible correspondence course simply because "everybody else does it," or because it seems like a "cheap way to reach a lot of people." Know just what you hope to accomplish, and let that objective be your guiding star for all that follows.

2. Invest enough time, money, and effort into your mass media program to permit success. This minimum investment is often much higher than some think. One could question, for instance, whether one 5-minute radio program per week will accomplish enough to justify its cost. A small two-inch ad in a local newspaper may not be noticed by enough people to pay for itself in results. Bible lessons, religious tracts and other publications printed on cheap, unattractive paper with sloppy copy and artwork may well do more harm than good. Don't fail because you are unwilling to spend a few more dollars, or invest a little more effort, which may be vital!

3. Don't place all your trust and energy into mass media alone (or any other medium of communication alone," for that matter.) As suggested earlier in the chapter, use a broad scope, multi-media approach. Determine just what percentage of your time and money should be allocated to each individual area of concentration, and maintain a diversified, well-balanced program of evangelism.

4. Promote group study, group commitment, and group conversions, through your mass media and personal contact combination.

5. Use the mass media to strengthen, inform, legitimize, and publicize your ministry.

6. Use a localized focus by including local references as much as possible. Although broadly-aimed programs can be effective, their success can be increased when the listeners can know that you are talking specifically to them and their locality.

7. Conduct research both qualitative and quantitative) into the characteristics of your audience. No mass media communicator can reach his readers or listeners effectively unless he knows what kind of people he is attempting to reach! Don't assume that, since everybody needs the gospel, every individual can be approached in the same way! Study your audience. Know their special needs. And then, show how the Word of Life can help solve their problems!

8. Be as warm, friendly and personable as you can be! No suggestion is being made here that you should assume an artificial personality, or adopt an obsequious, fawning manner in your communication. This would not only be dishonest, it, also wouldn't work! But, mass media have the problem of being an impersonal medium. The radio, or printing press, or microphone interjects itself between you and your audience, so they see you as somewhat removed from their lives. Fill your heart with love and concern, and then let it show in your voice, your writing, and your whole demeanor.

9. Use repetition. Remember that not every person is going to hear or read every word you say. Give opportunities for adequate exposure, even multiple exposure, for maximum effect.

10. Don't demand that God give you instant success, and don't usurp credit from the Lord for the success you do achieve. Even though we know a Christian mustn't "cast his pearls before swine," or waste his time and energy in an unproductive region, we also must remember that success requires time. Sow the seed! Then, water it! Then, trust the Lord to give the increase!


1The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. (1970), s.v. "communicate."

2Denis McQuail, Towards a Sociology of Mass Communication, Themes and Issues in Modern Sociology (London: Collier-Macmillan Ltd., 1969), p. 10.

There is no footnote 3.

4B. F. Jackson, Jr., Ed., Communication Learning for Churchmen, Vol. 1, Comm. for Churchmen Series, (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 47.

5Donald McGavran, "Radio and Church Growth," Church Growth Bulletin, VI (November 1969), pp. 17-18.

6McLuhan, Marshall, The Medium Is the Message; An Inventory of Effects. (Bantam Books, N. Y., 1967).

7Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), pp. 34-40.

8Huffman, James, "Christian Broadcasters Tune Toward Future." Christianity Today, XIV (May 22,1970) p. 35.

9McGavran, Donald. Understanding, Church Growth, (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1970), p. 104.

10Rogers Everett and Floyd Shoemaker, The Diffusion of Innovations: A Cross-Cultural Approach (New York: Free Press. 197 1).

11T. Harold Ellens. Models of Religious Broadcasting (Grand Rapids; Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974), p. 104.

12Ibid, p. 104.

13Clois. Fowler, "Herald of Truth", personal conversations with author, 1973-74.

14J. C. Mathur and Paul Neurath, An Indian Experiment in Farm Radio Clubs (Paris: UNESCO, 1959.)

15Daniel Lerner and Wiebur Schramm, eds., Comm. and Change in the Developing Countries (Honolulu: East-West Center Press, 1967) p. 13.

16Ibid, p. 14.

17Landon Saunders, "Heartbeat", personal interview, 1973.


DeFleur, Melvin L. and Ball-Rokeach, Sandra. Theories of Mass Communication. Third Edition. New York: David McKay Co., 1975.

Ellens, J. Harold. Models of Religious Broadcasting. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1974.

Jackson, B. F. (Editor) Communication—Learning for Churchmen, Volume One. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968.

Television–Radio–Film for Churchmen, Volume Two. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1969.

Lerner, Daniel and Schramm, Wilbur. Communication and Change in the Developing Countries. Honolulu: East West Center Press, 1967.

Nida, Eugene. Message and Mission. New York: Harper and Row, 1960.

Rogers, Everett and Shoemaker, Floyd. The Diffusion of Innovations. A Cross-Cultural Approach. New York: Free Press, 1971.

Schramm, Wilbur. Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1964.

Sellers, James E. The Outsider and the Word of God. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1961.

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