TV in Church

TV in Church

Duncan Macleod

Freaka and Wavehead watch TV at Church. Read on to find what they’re thinking of doing with it.

Freaka: Hey Wavehead, have you ever thought about why we don’t watch TV or videos at church when we watch it at home, like heaps? Wavehead: Freaka, I have. I can see a whole lot of churches behaving like ostriches.Some ostrich-churches have stuck their heads in hymn books pretending the challenge doesn’t exist.

Some have kicked the media around, complaining about its content and influence.

Some have swallowed television whole, malforming their over-stretched necks, using programme styles that glorify success for example.

Freaka: That’s freaky. Sticking your head in the sand. That’s what’s happening in my church, where the Christian Ed people refuse to use TV with the kids or young people. They just want books and talk. Wavehead:As if you can’t rely on anything unless it’s written down. People might take it the wrong way, or not get the full meaning. But let’s face it, most people under the age of 35 have grown up with television. The younger ones are growing up with the net and cyber reality.
Freaka: I’ve seen churches do more than ignore TV. Look at the constant complaints about the impact that vulgar TV shows like ‘Beavis and Butthead’ have on our children. The church is good at kicking around. Wavehead:Hey why shouldn’t the church kick butt? I reckon we’re not doing enough. If TV is the most influential educating force in our society, what are we doing to make sure it has a positive influence?
Freaka: Good point. But there’s a deeper question to ask here. What about the couch potato syndrome? I’ve heard TV watchers can end up as uncritical and gullible people. Wavehead: It’s not as if us viewers get to tell the TV companies what to put in the programmes.
Freaka: So, what can we do that’s not just “kicking the media around”? Wavehead: Why not a double approach. Use the positive messages of the media, as well as challenging the harmful bits?
Freaka: So do we just get young people to watch lots of videos? Wavehead: I don’t think we should adopt totally the concept of television. What is good for television is not necessarily good for a youth group or worship service.
Freaka: But we need to remember people have little tolerance for long periods of time listening to talking heads. Wavehead: So are you saying the Church needs to work on its imagery as much as spoken stuff.
Freaka: Yup. We need to become less dependent on the written text and produce more live drama and music. And of course we can use actual television programmes as part of our curriculum. Wavehead: Right. But first of all we have to come to terms with the idea of entertainment. A lot of people still feel uncomfortable with the possibility of enjoying Church. We can easily overlook the fact much of what Jesus did was entertaining. His parables, for example, were mental brain-teasers that entertained his audiences.
Freaka: What about the techniques of television themselves? How does the Church relate to people who have been brought up on short snappy ads?

Wavehead: We can keep people’s attention by using different kinds of communication tools one after another. Another thing we can learn from television is story telling. Can you imagine a narrator on television coming in at the end of a movie or cartoon to explain the point of the story?
Freaka: So should the Church avoid talking about stuff for the sake of keeping its audience? Are sermons a thing of the past now? Wavehead: I’m not saying we should give away the art of speaking to an audience. More than ever, we need to work at ways of keeping the attention of our listeners. But we need to help our listeners respond to what they hear and see. This is where the challenge bit comes in.
Freaka: We could become media prophets. Like using TV programmes to show how lots of people are seeing reality. Why is the news so entertaining, for example? Wavehead: And then of course the advertisements. These point to the consumer society TV panders to. “The viewer is merely a consumer.”
Freaka: Do we take that lying down? Do we let our values be dictated by film producers and advertising agencies? Wavehead: You’re onto it. Another thing we could do is work hard on our sense of community, so people can be more than passive viewers.
Freaka: You mean the church being better than the TV at encouraging feedback? Get real. Wavehead: We have potential TV doesn’t. I think the local church can work on its communication process so participation by all is encouraged.
Freaka: That’s something TV can’t offer: dialogue in the context of committed relationships. Wavehead: And then we could use TV to help us look at our own backgrounds and perspectives.
Freaka: A good mix. Being moved out of the comfort zone by the global picture, but interpreting our own experiences. Expansive. Wavehead: And of course, we can do reality checks together. All ages can do this. You know, working out what to accept and what not to accept. Critical analysis of the media.
Freaka: That’s classy. But haven’t we ignored the involvement of the church in TV programming? There’s a lot more to this than just waiting for the media out there to produce something for us, the consumers. We need more excellent producers. Wavehead: If the church wanted to compete with the television I believe it would generally fail. The amount of money available to the media from advertising means that the appeal of TV is stronger than most other media.
Freaka: You mean, who would choose a worship service for entertainment in preference for a movie with special effects? Wavehead: Yeah. Who would go to a minister for information when a documentary could present that information in a much more spectacular way in their own home?
Freaka: Hey but isn’t this a case of ‘If you can’t beat them, join them? We’ve had a few goes at this in New Zealand if you think about it. Credo, Praise Be, Zone 7, Getting it Together, The Herd, The Street. And even as we speak, Rob Harley is putting together the summer’s version of Extreme Closeup. Wavehead: Yeah. But I still think that religious TV doesn’t measure up with the standard of a universal medium. Some of those programmes you mentioned were still religion for the religious.
Freaka: We usually only get Christian funding for stuff that has high morals or potential to save someone. Wavehead: How about some side splitting comedy from the church for a change?
Freaka: Well Wavehead. Our space on this page is running out. Let’s check out a movie eh! Wavehead: Good move!
Wavehead and Freaka are good friends of Duncan Macleod. When he briefed them for this discussion, he used

Ostrich ideas developed by B Everist in the Christian Century, May 1981, and
5 strategies from the National Council of Churches, USA, found in their report of the Study Commission on Theology, Education and the Electronic Media.
Freaka and Wavehead’s pictures can be found in Tagged Image Format (TIF) on CD ROM, from ArtSource, Zondervan.
Check out the free international email discussion forum, Framework for Discussion of Faith and Electronic Media-Culture, moderated by Peter Horsfield, Australia.Check out Neil Postman’s books:

Amusing Ourselves to Death, Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1986
Conscientious Objections: Stirring Up Trouble About Language, Technology, and Education, 1992,
Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, 1993,
The Disappearance of Childhood, 1994
The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School, 1996


Check out Shootthemessenger, an Australian website dedicated to reflection on the media from a number of very interesting Christian perspectives.