Many medium and large-sized church congregations (300+ members) have used the mediums of radio and television as a form of outreach ministry during the last half-century. By broadcasting the worship music and message of a Sunday morning service to the outside community, there’s the possibility that God will reach someone that might not ordinarily walk through the doors of the church. I know of at least one individual that joined the congregation I am apart of as a result of hearing the pastors messages on the radio.
The church I attend (Central Baptist) ended its radio ministry, which spanned for more than 60 years, during the middle of 2009 because of declining listenership and as a cost cutting measure. After doing a ratings check, our church found that the listenership had declined by about 50% during the last decade, likely as a result of format changes mandated by our partner radio station and as a result of declining use of the radio as a form of entertainment overall.
The last decade has also seen significant growth in opportunities for independent publishers to create their own downloadable and streamable internet radio shows called Podcasts. One network of podcasts, TWIT.TV now has several million dollars in revenue per year. The religious community has not taken this new form of broadcast ministry for granted. A number of popular radio broadcasts and ministries, such as Insight for Living and North Port Community Church (Andy Stanley’s Church) have embraced the medium of podcasts as a way to reach a younger generation that radio and television ministry will likely never reach.
Some radio shows, such as David Jeremiah, allow web users to listen to their messages online for free, but do not allow their shows to be podcastable, but attempt to charge for a CD of MP3 file of a particular ministry. To me, this is a non-starter. Most pre-Christians won’t meet Jesus the first day they attend church. Usually it takes hearing several messages before things start to click. By making one’s messages available in the form of podcasts, they can be automatically delivered to the user’s computer via iTunes (or another program if you prefer, such as Juice) whenever a new sermon or program is published to the web. Most listeners won’t take the time to intentionally visit a website every day and it’s much more likely that they will listen to a message if it’s automatically downloaded to their computer.
In our congregation, we’ve recently made a podcastable version of each week’s sermon available. We also post videos of each week’s message on our website using Vimeo. The software to create the podcast cost the church absolutely nothing. The account on Vimeo is $60.00 per year, but basically provides unlimited streaming of our sermons, which is well worth the cost. We haven’t moved into offering a video podcast yet, because of bandwidth limitations, but hope to in the future. Our numbers aren’t quite where the radio numbers were, but we recently had 110 people watch a message delivered by David Pierce of Steiger International, which to me, is a success.
Regardless of how specific ministries implement digital delivery of their content, the trend is clear. As the television and radio industry continue to face declining listenership and viewership, using the internet as a broadcast tool will become increasingly important to churches and other ministries that hope to reach the lost.