by Alan W. Compton
We must evaluate the human, physical, and financial resources needed for the use of broadcasting in missions.
As world population grows, mass communication becomes an increasingly important missions tool. While mass media like broadcasting cannot be considered a primary tool of evangelism, they occupy an important support role.
The Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention first used broadcast media in 1928. Missionaries saw in this miracle medium a way to speak to thousands. There were few missionaries, and radio was seen as a profitable extension of their efforts. No one was trained; they just did what they had to do. It was not until 1960 that the first media specialist was appointed. Today, 59 missionaries and 135 nationals dedicate full or part time to media support.
The mission uses radio in various ways, according to the state of the industry and opportunities in different countries. Radio programs are aired on commercial, government, and Christian radio stations and on international radio outlets.
The Board also uses television extensively. Regularly-scheduled programming, limited series, holiday specials, or spot programming are aired on commercial stations. Sometimes it has been possible to use government stations, when authorities have been favorably disposed, or when it has considered a series helpful to the entire television population. Occasionally local churches finance programs, but this does not happen often, as most overseas churches do not have enough money.
THE FUNCTIONS OF BROADCAST MEDIA IN MISSIONS
A recent analysis of Foreign Mission Board media ministries overseas showed that we use media to:
1. Acquaint the target audience in unevangelized areas with Jesus and the gospel message.
2. Establish the first contacts in areas targeted for evangelization.
3. Discover pockets of response that can be used as indicators in strategic planning for unevangelized areas.
4. Establish a Baptist/evangelical image in areas targeted for evangelization.
5. Support actions in a church planting strategy.
6. Broadcast over large areas to evangelize and prepare the area for future church planting activities.
7. Support discipleship and theological education.
8. Evangelize in areas closed to missionary presence. Also, experimentally, to support Christian elements operating in closed areas.
We must evaluate the human, physical, and financial resources needed for the use of broadcasting in missions. During the 1960s and 1970s, media users strongly emphasized specialization. People came to believe that some media, especially mass media, could not be used without professionally-trained personnel, state of the art equipment, and large sums of money. Reevaluation might show a different picture.
HUMAN AND PRODUCTION RESOURCES
It is important to train missionaries and nationals in the use of media. Church planters and developers need to know how to analyze their media needs and how to use media products. They can call on media production specialists to produce the broadcasts, but they must know what is needed, and how broadcasting might support their communication requirements. The media specialists could serve as consultants, work in media design and marketing, and provide training for nationals. They could work on regional production teams that serve a cluster of countries.
Production facilities should be equipped on the basis of long-range planning. Such facilities are not simply a temporary convenience, but an investment based on long-term commitment to the use of media in a country or region.
However, balance is needed. In some areas, too few people are trained to use products and facilities now in existence. The next 15 years will see an effort to correct this imbalance through increased training of media users. Hardware will be purchased as media users become competent in the use of broadcasting, and as they learn to use media as a tool in mission strategy.
THE COMMUNICATION PROCESS IN MISSION
The communications process in missions consists of five steps: research, target group identification, development of communication strategy, selection of communication channels, and communication.
Media effectiveness is dependent on adequate research. Research can provide information for the development of strategy and for the selection of target areas and target groups. It can provide criteria for communication with target groups, and determine the selection of the most appropriate media for communication. Research can provide information for effective content and format development, and for evaluation and response development.
The communication function can be determined only after the target group has been identified. Target groups fall into two broad categories: "insiders," those who are already involved with the body of Christ; and "outsiders," those groups yet unreached and uncommitted to Christ.
Communication strategy is vitally important. A strategy is a plan for proceeding from Point A to Point B and on, until the goal has been reached. Media are most effective when viewed as support tools for communication strategies. Media used outside of the context of strategy can only result in wasted money and time.
The next step is the selection of communication channels. The content (the gospel), the change agent (the missionary or national evangelist), and the target group cannot be brought together unless the right communication channels are used. The channels are the transport system that carries the change agent and his message into the culture for proper and effective communication. These channels may be impersonal or interpersonal.
Impersonal media channels are those that communicate without bringing the change agent into personal contact with the target. They are more commonly referred to as the mass media. They can be divided into two principle groupsâ€”the broadcast media, such as radio and television, and the print media.
Missions media may be used not only to communicate to broad masses of people, but to cultural groupings reached through interpersonal media. Interpersonal media are group forms: audio cassettes, video cassettes, films, slides, and filmstrips.
THE STAGES OF COMMUNICATION
Most communication occurs in four stages: awareness, persuasion, decision, and confirmation. It is important to know where the target group is, in order to select the proper media channels.
Target groups will not consider the gospel message until they know of its existence and understand its relevance in their lives. At the awareness stage of communication we make them aware of their need for the gospel. To simply assume they are interested in the gospel would be to fail to communicate.
The supreme need for the gospel must be communicated in the context of the target group’s cultural tendencies. This can only be done as it relates to the present lifestyle of the individual and to his needs, interests, and existing attitudes. People consciously or unconsciously avoid messages that conflict with their predispositions. If introduction of the gospel message attacks in any way the value system of the culture, it may fail to get past the first communication stage.
In the persuasion stage, the individual or group becomes more emotionally involved. They are motivated to seek more information; they are moved in the direction of decision. The decision to accept or reject the gospel message will be consistent with the attitude the individual holds. So an attitude change usually has to occur in the persuasion stage before adoption can take place. However an attitude change does not necessarily mean that a favorable decision will be made. Interpersonal communication is necessary in this stage.
The decision stage includes activities that lead to a choice to adopt or reject the message. The mission’s whole communication process requires a series of choices, but this one is critical. Communication must be finely honed. While there should be confrontation involving decision, some space must be left to allow for a return to an earlier stage if necessary. Some communication strategies tend to remain too long in the first two communication stages. A very definite part of the strategy is the timing when decision and confirmation take place.
Confirmation is the stage where the decision is reinforced. Continued support is needed for change to survive. Therefore it is important that contradictions or conflicting messages not be communicated, and that satisfying results be seen quickly. The person must feel that his decision was a right one because of the way it positively affects his life. If the correctness of the decision is not confirmed by a pattern of rapid growth, many will be lost. Confirmation may be the most important stage of communication. It will probably require creative endeavor to bring rapid growth to the individual and solidify the results of the communication process.
MEDIA PHILIOSOPHY OF THE FOREIGN MISSION BOARD
The Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention uses media to support strategies for evangelism and to develop strong indigenous churches dedicated to duplicating themselves many times over. Where media ministries are planned and conducted on other tracks, the Foreign Mission Board will continually evaluate its involvement.
The Board emphasizes sound indigenous principles with media work. The primary goal is to help develop media support in countries with established conventions, unions, and associations. In developing Baptist work, the goal is to plan and assist in ways that will lead to national Baptist ownership of the work. The exceptions to this are the six international media centers designed to serve several countries. Three of these have boards of directors with national representatives. The board presently uses broadcast media in 62 countries. There are 36 radio and nine television studios. In 1984, there were 339,560 domestic and 83,790 overseas radio broadcasts and 78,000 domestic and 773 overseas television broadcasts.
We consider the mass media as a viable tool for mission strategy. However, we see diminishing potential for the support of broadcast ministries in the future. We prefer to view media as support tools for evangelism strategies that result in churches.
Faithfulness to this kind of strategy requires expertise in programming and planning. The broadcasting industry has come of age and the competition is fierce. Only a professional approach in producing and marketing mass media will provide viable results. More media specialists are needed to make the products, but more important is the need to increase the number and effectiveness of media users. Physical resources must be constantly updated. More priority must be given to funding for media as support tools for missions strategies.
It can all be accomplished with dedication to planning, prayer, and commitment to the task of communicating more effectively to a world so wrapped up in its felt needs that it cannot understand its most basic need — ”to know Jesus Christ.
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