Some key issues must be faced if we are to use the mass media effectively.
Several young men from the same city had been attracted to Arabic radio programs. Independently of each other, they started to follow Bible correspondence courses. In responses, it was suggested that they might welcome personal visits; one by one they agreed.
The visits were made to the men, who eventually were led to a Christian living in their city. They spent many hours over many months before some requested baptism. Last summer they helped in an outreach in Europe.
This is just one example of how God is using the media to reach people in restricted access countries. The diagram on page 280 shows which media are best suited to the different stages in a person’s growth from knowledge of the gospel, to making a decision, to incorporation into a local body of believers. Not all media are equally effective at all stages. The stages are not watertight compartments.
The integration of the mass media with personal ministries must be explored and developed at all stages, if we are to see the full potential of each ministry. Church planting in restricted access countries must be considered against the backdrop of complementary approaches.
Because the mass media engage people in personal dialogue, the corporate aspect of the Christian faith is often marginalized. We must not forget the Christian family of the church. It is all too easy to look at the mass media as the be-all, end-all of evangelistic tools for saving the masses.
Personal contact is normal at all stages. The media are both a complementary dimension and an environment into which the gospel is proclaimed and Christian truth taught. In many restricted access countries, we minister to deeply wounded people, and mass media agencies need to maintain personal relationships with their audiences. Even when the mass media have been the only means of proclaiming the gospel, the actual decision making invariably requires some sort of personal contact As the gospel was incarnate in Jesus Christ, so it must be seen in "living letters" of the gospel. The incarnate and corporate character of the gospel must be reflected in our evangelism.
MEDIA UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
To put flesh on what would otherwise be an academic exercise, I am going to use the Arab world as the context for this discussion.
1. Television. In the mid-1980s there was one television receiver to 3.5 radio receivers in the Arab world. In Egypt, in 1985 there was one television for every 12.5 people. In Algeria, illegal television systems are already capturing satellite programming from Europe. In the Arabian Gulf, private homes and blocks of apartments sprout satellite dishes. Those facing northwest have a wide variety of European channels to choose from, including an all-Arabic called the Middle East Broadcasting Center. Any strategy for reaching any of the major unreached groups that ignores television is overlooking an important evangelistic tool.
2. Video. There is a growing demand for evangelistic and teaching videos. From Mauritania to the Gulf, there is a voracious appetite for VHS cassettes. This is fueled by the monotonous quality of the television programming in some countries. A survey in the mid-1980s revealed that in one major Arab world country the ownership of VCRs was as follows: 42 percent among urban literates, 38 percent among urban illiterates, and zero percent among rural illiterates.
3. Film. Film is rather different from video with its high definition in strong colors on a large screen. These factors give it total impact Film has been used effectively in Sudan and Jordan among expatriate refugees fleeing the Gulf conflict. The equipment tends to be heavy and bulky, but films can be screened in the presence of large audiences, unlike television and video. There is a community dimension to film watching, a sense of all being in it together, which can move the audience in a common direction.
1. Radio. Radio is used extensively in the Arab world as a pre-evangelistic, evangelistic, and teaching tool. For example, in May, 1991,122.7 hours per week of Arabic broadcasting were being transmitted from seven Christian stations. It has been said that radio will remain the predominant mass medium in the developing world until the year 2000, before television begins to surpass it in popularity. It is being predicted that SW broadcasting will decline and AM broadcasting will be relegated to an information only role. Local FM and satellite radio stations will expand and become the main entertainment sources.
2. Cassettes. The Iranian revolution proved the effectiveness of an aggressive cassette ministry launched from outside the country. In the early 1980s, I saw Egyptians being searched and stripped of all cassette materials at Baghdad airport as they left Iraq to return home. Yet, in some parts of the Arab world there is a dearth of appropriate materials. There is room for growth, but careful market research must precede production.
3. Telephones. The telephone call-in ministry is being tried in conjunction with Arabic programming to North Africa from Europe. A European number is announced and listeners are encouraged to contact program presenters in the evening. Several calls are received each day. This is a very cost effective ministry, since the caller pays and indicates a certain level of interest. Recorded messages in appropriate languages, from one and a half to three minutes long, can also be used. This has been popular among immigrants from restricted access countries.
1. Literature. There is a universal hunger for the written word. Scripture translation and distribution, along with tracts, magazines, and books, remain the cornerstone of many media ministries. However, growing illiteracy challenges us not only to publish but also to teach literacy. In restricted access countries, there is an increasing tempo of encouraging national literature projects. They include training young national writers to write for their own people on subjects relevant to their everyday lives in a narrative, experiential, and illustrative style. Facilitating editors are needed to help these new authors develop their skills.
2. Bible correspondence courses and personal correspondence. Bible correspondence courses provide a link between the media and face-to-face visits. The courses enable viewers, listeners, to choose to learn more about Christianity, and the courses give them the biblical in formation on which to make their decisions. Where like-minded agencies share their responses, effective follow-up can be done. This avoids overlapping visits, which in some countries can endanger both the visitor and the person being visited.
GUIDELINES FOR EVALUATING MEDIA PROJECT
Media projects should be developed by and regional partnerships, in which national groups, mass media agencies, and mission agencies cooperate. Wherever and whenever possible, existing hardware should be used to the maximum.
Agencies should ask the following questions about media proposals:
1. Who is the target audience? Make a complete profile.
2. What is the Christian history of the group?
3. What are the present means of reaching the people?
4. What resources already exist, and what have been the results?
5. What partnership activities exist? If none, what is the potential for partnership activities?
6. What is the background of the local or regional group, or partnership making the proposal?
7. What interaction has there been with similar ministries in other language, people, and geographic areas?
8. Is there a clear proposal of objectives, including long-term ones?
9. What is the budget? It should be a comprehensive budget covering personnel, capital investment, operational expenses, orientation, training and networking expenses, and maintenance and replacement provisions.
ISSUES AND PRIORITIES
1. Research. In almost every restricted access situation there is a lack of professional research. The task requires permanent teams of trained researchers who not only know their fields, but also know the secular and commercial information sources. The establishment of the International Communications Research for Evangelism consortium under the auspices of the International Christian Media Commission is an encouraging development.
2. Training. Media production teams, recently recruited staff, and local and regional media groups need continual training to maximize the effective and appropriate use of the media.
3. Personnel and recruiting. Trained, experienced expatriates and nationals are our essential resource. Mission agencies need to make this a matter of policy and constituency education. Informal fellowships of Christians in the arts, media, and communications would help. These groups could act as catalysts and provide a pool of expertise for production, advice, and training, as well as new personnel.
Recruiting and training national Christians for media positions may need some new and/or revised procedures. There is no one fixed way to go. Some will be volunteers (e.g., those already doing professional media work), some will be salaried staff, and some will be missionaries.
The self-supporting salaried system is only viable in publishing, although this is not possible where there are few Christians. Other media ministries will never be able to become self-supporting. There is no income from and radio, unless commercial advertising becomes acceptable. There will always be a missionary dimension to these ministries, and financial support will always be required.
Support for nationals should be a key objective for the agencies. To do this, national groups, churches, and international agencies should be encouraged to cooperate in establishing recruiting strategies for their media ministries.
4. Partnership. Like-minded national groups and mission agencies working in the same languages, among the people, and in the countries should form strategic evangelism partnerships. Where these do exist, they provide the framework for comprehensive church-planting projects.
5. Vertical integration. It has been the tendency for each mass media agency to view its ministry exclusive of other forms of mission activity. However, smaller, ministry media agencies, often part of traditional missions, have been forced to think vertically for many years. Each medium is related to and integrated with the next medium in the progression of contact with national seekers. These interwoven relationships eventually lead to the planting of a church, through either a tentmaker or a national Christian, structure should become the norm in restricted access countries.
6. Cross-fertilization. Partnerships, consortiums, and vertical integration provide the environment for cross-fertilization. However, it is also necessary that such creative interaction should happen beyond the immediate common language, peoples, and countries. International conferences are one way to facilitate this interchange.
7. Evaluation and funding of current media production and distribution. In the main, new initiatives are built on current ministries. However, not all that has worked in the past may be appropriate for the present or the future. By engaging professional, mission-oriented consultants from the outside, and by doing regular internal evaluations of ministries, production can be improved and agencies better informed about which projects to support.
8. Maximization of follow-up of mass media contacts. Agencies should be encouraged to support face-to-face follow-up ministries that bridge the gap between the mass media and the tentmakers and national Christians doing follow-up.
THE NEXT STEP
If you are a missionary, discover what mass media resources are being targeted for your country. Get familiar with them. Use them. Discreetly publicize them. See whether you can follow up media contacts. Do you know Christians who could help: writers, producers, radio announcers, people willing to do follow up?
If you are an agency executive, that the media are working for your missionaries, and that they are integrated with your other ministries.
If you are a church leader, or represent a funding agency, look for strategic evangelism partnerships that use the vertically integrated approach to church planting.
Muhammed (not his real name) was one of the teachers at summer Bible school. His first encounter with Christianity was through listening to Arabic radio programs. He received various pieces of literature that nurtured his interest and brought him to a certain level of commitment. However, Ms interest waned until he went to the university, where he met another Arab world believer. He began to study the Bible and compare it with the Koran. Later, he concluded that the Bible was God’s word. He came to faith in Jesus Christ, joined a local church, and now teaches.
The Christian mass media are there to help all missionaries and agencies to do their work better. The media are playing a vital role in bringing many non-Christians to faith in Christ and membership in his body.
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