This year marks the 40th anniversary of Mars Hill Productions! In this devotional series, president, Fred Carpenter is reflecting on the important lessons of God that have guided us in ministry and led us into a deeper understanding of His ways.
Televangelism in America is a multibillion-dollar industry. Many claim that televangelism is an effective way to reach the lost. The facts do not support that claim. According to studies cited in the book, “Televangelism and American Culture”, by Quentin J. Schultze, less than .01% of the people in America who attend church do so because of the influence of mass evangelism, including radio and television. According to Schultze, and those he cites, televangelism is primarily a confirmatory medium. In other words, the audience is mostly Christian, viewing content they already agree with.
On the other hand, Schultze also cites research revealing that friends and relatives count for 75%-90% of all the conversions in America. Plain and simple, relationship is key to evangelism! Believing this to be true, I’ve had to ask myself, as the co-founder and president of a media ministry, “How does this affect my view of what I do in creating and using media?”
To answer this question, I must first acknowledge this fundamental truth. Our God is a relational God, and He is all about relationship. The Triune nature of God defines for us, the ultimate and perfect model of relationship. As members of the Body of Christ, we are joined together in such a way that we cannot understand our true identity, or truth itself, apart from our relationship with each other. Consider Paul’s words in Romans 1:11 “For I long to see you so that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established . . .” Paul wanted to be there in person. What he wanted to give them was more than information, more than objective truth. It was something that could not be sent in a letter.
Apart from our relationship to the world around us, to other people and to God, there is no meaning or purpose in life. Relationship is key to understanding the answer to my question of the use of media in ministry.
Published in 1961, “The Moviegoer” written by Walker Percy, won the U.S. National Book Award. Time magazine included the novel in its “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”. The book’s main character, Binx Bolling, had difficulty engaging in lasting relationships. His alienation ultimately led him to find the meaning and intimacy he longed for through movies, more so than real life. He came to experience life vicariously through the images he saw projected on a screen. For Binx, Illusion was more fulfilling than real life.
Many Christians measure the value of media much in that same way that Hollywood uses the rating system; G, PG, R, and X. If a movie is laced with sex, violence, and profanity it is often considered to be unfitting for consumption by a Christian audience. But, I would submit that Satan has used media in our world to serve a far darker purpose than Hollywood, or most Christians, are even aware of . . . the demise of true and healthy relationships that glorify God.
Many in our world today have become like Binx. They are finding (or so they think) more meaning in illusion than in reality. And when those lines get blurred or worse yet, reversed, the consequences, both individually and collectively, are disastrous. Real life loses its value and color. And just as in Huxley’s, “Brave New World,” people live for the momentary pleasures that come from “soma” (their drug) and “the feelies” (their movies). And that is the human experience in exile from the Garden!
While Satan would use whatever he can to displace and destroy healthy relationships, I believe that God would use everything in our world to facilitate and foster healthy relationships. That includes the use of media. That is why, at Mars Hill, we do not view media as something that could ever replace the role of authentic relationship in ministry. But, it can be a powerful tool when used in the context of relationship.
Imagine a crowded movie theatre. The movie is over, but the people aren’t getting up and leaving. They have a need to stay and talk about what they have just seen. They need someone, another human being, to help them process what they have seen, and to understand why it has stirred something in their soul. Well of course, that never happens in the real world. It would be bad for business, though perhaps good for relationship.
At Mars Hill, we believe that the highest use for media is in the context of relationship. We love it when The HOPE is shown, and followed up with discussion, and there is a personal invitation to respond. Everything we’ve ever produced has been intentionally designed to be used in this manner; in a personal ministry context, be it a large group setting or one on one. That is the model we have been using for 40 years. It is a model that has brought hundreds of thousands of people to life-change in Christ.