This article came via a post by Thom S. Rainer of Growing Healthy Churches. Together. Several times a week I receive Pastor Rainer’s post on church life and culture, but this particular podcast episode #337 jumped off the screen because it looked like what many of us have faced and/or are facing in the “long form” talk and teaching genre. So with permission from Thom S. Rainer, I have changed the churches to radio stations; so, please indulge me.
These eight signs are almost always evident in radio stations that are on their way to death. Does your station exhibit any of these?
- There has been a numerical decline in donation dollars and cume for four or more years.
- The station does not look like the community in which it is located.
- The listenership is mostly comprised of senior adults.
- The focus is on the past, not the future.
- The listeners are intensely preference-driven.
- The budget is severely inwardly focused.
- There are sacred cow facilities and programs.
- Any type of change is met with fierce resistance.
IF this sounds like your station then an honest conversation with leadership and staff is in order. My honest station-related conversation came almost 20 years ago after a two-day meeting with John Frost.
John had spent the two days reviewing our station’s music, staff and goals for the future and as a part of that review he presented the groundbreaking Goodratings research project, “Why Christians Don’t Listen to Christian Radio.” As I sat with John and program director, Paul Anthony – John asked us the question, “Based on all that we’ve discussed and the research that you’ve seen, do you want to be a radio station for Christians only OR a Christian radio station that reaches everyone? Because, he went on to say, if it is the latter you have some difficult decisions to make.”
It wasn’t a trick question, but I knew that it was a life-changing one. The point is – the answer to John’s question meant honest soul-searching. It meant objective evaluation in light of the truth and it meant change. Real change; not cosmetic change.
I believe that for many of us in the long-form talk and teaching format we are at a similar crossroads. Do we keep doing what we’ve always done or are we going to take a step of faith and venture into new territory? Dr. Robert A. Cook, former President of the King’s College would often say, “Faith is nothing more than risking the situation on God!” He’s right, it is a risk to change. You may fail and for certain you’re going to make some people mad. But, please keep this in mind, the objective is not change for change’s sake; it’s changing to be relevant to a new community of potential listeners, while at the same time NOT forsaking our loyal listeners. It is a tricky endeavor, but the opportunity is great and the discussion is worthwhile.
As I think about the next generation of potential listeners, I am encouraged that many want to grow deep in their faith as evidenced by the increasing number of subscriptions to podcasts in support of their favorite speakers. Millennials love stories of adventure, believe in social justice and want to change their world for good. These are amazing qualities that God is using to further His Kingdom.
Today is an exciting time for anyone in Christian media, but to remain relevant our challenge is to find and give exposure to the fresh faces and voices who are already speaking to Millennials through digital media. We must find ways to give this same generation meaningful access to our airwaves. This challenge won’t be easy, but it will be rewarding.
My hope for you and honestly for all of us, is that we would take a fresh look at our long form talk stations and ask God what He would have us do to reach the next generation of Christ followers. You may face resistance, so it will take courage and a sense of mission to press forward, but if not you, then who?
Dick Whitworth, joined New Life Media (WIBI) in 1975 at age 21 and has been involved in Christian radio ever since. Over that 40+ year span, he’s been a morning show host, station manager, Network Director and now serves Northwestern Media as the Assistant VP for Media and General Manager of their long-form talk network known as Faith Radio. Dick and his wife, Jayne have been married 38 years and currently live in Woodbury, MN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.