Christian Broadcasters SeekBetter Ways to Reach the Flock

NRB meeting to highlight new media, leadership issues, free speech debate

As religious broadcasters descend on Nashville, Tenn., this week for the National Religious Broadcasters convention that begins Feb. 18, one of the hot topics at the annual confab will be how to spread the Christian message to the widest possible audience.

With most trade shows, there is often a theme that highlights the important issues for that particular year. For the NRB meeting, however, Craig Parshall, the organization’s senior VP and general counsel, said that tying it down to one singular theme can be problematic. “The years that we’ve picked a theme, we find that it’s hard to [pin] one down,” said Parshall. “We’ve abandoned a single-theme focus because there is just so much going on.”

Even so, Parshall explained that “making sure we’re really on the cutting edge of a very fast and rapidly changing media landscape,” is one of the main goals for this year’s convention. Michael Little, president and COO of the Christian Broadcasting Network, one of the NRB’s non-profit members, agreed. “Digital media is one of the exciting frontiers for all of us involved in using the media to connect with a mass audience,” Little said.

Toward that end, Parshall said there will be “at least 20 different educational sessions specifically dealing with the interaction between so-called old media technology [TV, radio] and new media platforms [including] Facebook, Twitter, new Google applications and things like that.”

The folks at CBN have already embraced the multiplatform lifestyle. And CBN will receive the NRB’s “Best Broadcast Website Award” during the show’s awards dinner Feb. 21. “CBN.com has content touching virtually every facet of life,” said Frank Wright, NRB president & CEO. “Everyone visiting their site is able to find something to minister to them in their specific situation and life stage.”

“The volume of our users [CBN.com averages 1.7 million unique visitors per month] is an indication that we are doing a lot of things right,” said Little. CBN is also in the process of developing mobile apps in an effort to reach younger viewers.

CBN will also receive the NRB “Milestone Award” to honor a history that spans more than 50 years.

One of the scheduled presenters during the convention, film producer Phil Cooke, will lead an all-day seminar Feb. 17, the day before the convention opens, on developing content for online, mobile and broadcast platforms. Cooke, who is president and creative director for Cooke Pictures, will partner with TV Magic on the seminar, which will feature presentations by Steve Rosen, TV Magic founder and CEO, as well as Paul Crouch Jr., media consultant and former Trinity Broadcasting Network executive.

With the convention putting a big emphasis on finding the best way for religious broadcasters to deliver their message, another hot topic will be who exactly is receiving that message. Cooke’s presentation will cover, among other things, the question “Are You Creating a Media Ministry or a Media Myth?” and look into who exactly uses Christian media.

The Center for Bible Engagement—a division of the Back to the Bible ministry that focuses on Bible illiteracy and Bible engagement— conducted a study last year of 1,000 American teens and adults to break down who exactly uses Christian media, what drives their choices and what they would like to see.

Among the more notable findings in the report is that 36% of non- Christians use Christian media at least a few times a year. When all Americans—regardless of their beliefs—in the sample were surveyed, that number jumped to 61%. According to the report, “Of all Christian media users in the sample, one-fifth (22%) do not identify with the Christian faith.”

Cooke will also look to dispel what he calls the “myth that television is dead.” A recent report by Nielsen and The Wall Street Journal indicated that broadcast TV lost 1.2 million viewers in the last year, but Cooke noted that the report also stated that ad rates went up by 17%. “People need to recognize that broadcast still is really a viable medium” for reaching a particular audience, Cooke said.

Leadership workshops are also a big-ticket subject at the annual NRB confab. This year, one of the speakers Parshall is particularly looking forward to is Doug Lipp, former head of training at Walt Disney Co.’s corporate headquarters (“Disney University”), who is now president/CEO of G. Douglas Lipp & Associates. Lipp’s “innovative thought process and insights on leadership will challenge and encourage all attendees,” Wright said in a statement.

Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, will also be offering leadership presentations, as will Cooke. “Most organizations misunderstand the concept of a leadership team,” said Cooke. “Too many organizations advocate the decision-making role of the leader to their team.”

Another popular mainstay of the NRB convention is the public policy debate. This year’s debate will focus on free speech attacks against Christians under the guise of battling “hate” and promoting diversity. “Do hate labels, hate categories, hate speech regulations, forced diversity codes in universities help or hinder free speech?” said Parshall, who will be one of the fi ve panelists during the debate, to be led by his wife, syndicated radio host Janet Parshall.

It’s an important issue facing Christian broadcasters, said Little, especially since new media platforms such as Facebook and iTunes are censoring some religious content because it is deemed “hateful.” “Our concern is the level of access to the media,” said Little.

A new aspect of this year’s NRB will be “Zoom Lunches” events held in between some of the general sessions (which have more than one speaker). The Zoom events are for the attendees to be able to gather and “facilitate conversation guided to digest what they’ve heard” and figure out how to tie that to each individual’s company. “I think it’s going to be a welcome change,” said Craig Parshall. It’s also a chance for Christian broadcasters to network and catch up with acquaintances that they don’t get to see too often.

For some, that alone is worth the price of admission to the event. “We go to the NRB primarily to network, and see contacts that we only communicate with by phone or the Internet,” said Little. “We get to see them.”

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