The vast majority of Christians around the globe believe they have the greatest message of all time for all humankind. But a recent survey reports that Christian books, movies, music, TV and radio are doing a poor job of reaching the secular masses — a full 65 to 75 percent of Americans with no religious affiliation or who don’t attend church never hear, never watch, and never read that message.
What’s going on? According to survey findings presented by the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB)/LifeWay Research poll* at the NRB national convention in Nashville, February 25th:
- 67 % of Americans rarely or never watch Christian television,
- 72 % rarely or never listen to Christian radio or music, and
- 65 % rarely or never read Christian books.
Ouch! That last statistic smarts for an author like myself who aims to reach a wide range of readers with stories that portray redemptive themes and Christian characters living out their faith in secular society. When I sit down to write edgy Christian fiction — my attempt to bridge this gap — my goal is to reach both camps of readers, the secular individual who is open to spiritually challenging subject matter and the open-minded Christian reader with firm beliefs who respects people with divergent worldviews.
Factors to consider
Unfortunately, stats like these reflect a long-standing malady: the Christian media’s failure to reach the world’s jumble of differing faiths (and non-faiths) with the greatest good news ever told. In my experience, a major reason is because so few American Christians rarely think of inviting secular friends and relatives to Christian movies, music concerts or radio programs. Is their reluctance due to embarrassment knowing the content in these media express Gospel-based messages that may confront their invitee, or lead to accusations of proselytizing?
Another reason may be because so few American Christians really believe it is their duty to witness to secular neighbors, friends and coworkers (“Sorry, evangelism is just not my calling”). Complacency and unwillingness rule. Numerous Christians resist venturing outside the comfortable confines of their cozy bubbles of fellow believers. When was the last time you heard about church members heading out to witness to the masses?
And then there are the limitations of the media itself. Most non-Christian adults would readily say Christian media is too tame. Having sampled a few movies or books perhaps and judged them against secular entertainment, they’ve concluded Christian media as a whole doesn’t reflect real life, that it’s too safe, too G or PG rated. (Let’s understand that entertainment and diversion are likely their main interests, not message-dense content.) Non-Christians know it’s been sanitized and invariably contains no sex, no drugs, no violence, no profanity — certainly very little that’s R rated and never X rated.
What would Jesus say?
Jesus’ final statement to his followers — “Go and make disciples to the ends of the earth”— is a command many American Christians find annoying and ready to dodge. The word “go” implies movement away from one’s current location, and “ends of the earth” involves crossing boundaries into unfamiliar places where unfamiliar people dwell, both geographically and culturally. Admittedly, different customs, languages, clothing, food, and opposing beliefs await the traveler outside his or her comfort zone.
For some Christians, the excuse that they don’t have the verbal skills, or because they dislike mingling with strangers, is justification. As I see it, Jesus’ claim that He was (and still is) the sole bridge to God — “Nobody comes to the Father except through me”— can be a tough sell. Making that a convincing argument can put a person who is witnessing on the defensive, or face a backlash, or magnify any latent insecurity and uncertainty of the individual’s own beliefs about Jesus.
In my experience, resistance may also have to do with a lack of empathy for our struggling brothers and sisters in sin — strugglers like I was once myself. For 33 years I battled depression, insomnia, headaches, a stomach ulcer, and a host of emotional grievances and addictions before accepting Christ as my Savior and Lord at the point of suicide.
The world is filled with such strugglers burdened by painful histories similar to mine, who never benefitted from attending church as youngsters or observed prayers being answered. Think of the hundreds of millions who struggle merely in their own power trying to manage the best way they can to uncover solutions to the humanly insoluble dilemmas of living on a fallen planet. Think of all those who’ve never learned spiritually sound principles they can depend on or heard an encouraging word from Christians to relieve their disheartening struggles.
Can the past enlighten us?
Centuries ago, the Apostle Paul traversed numerous borders and traveled to the edges of secular societies to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, all while facing great risks and obstacles. Paul was fearless, and edgy. He is my hero, a word-warrior — an out-spoken advocate for the lost citizens of the then-known world and a role model we can all look up to today.
Nothing stopped Paul. Nor did he condemn or look down upon the sinners who heard his declarations of the Good News, despite scoffers and enemies who sought to stone him. His attitude was, “all people are worthy of God’s love regardless of their sinful condition.” Are we today treating those in our daily path without judgment and with the same compassion as he did?
Christians believe they are to be like Christ more and more each day. And that includes the marketplaces and schools and stores where they work and play and shop. Jesus was famous for hanging out with all the “wrong” people: tax collectors, lepers, prostitutes, outcasts, and the “little” people. His ministry reached individuals and crowds wherever he went, regardless whether they accepted his message and miracles or not.
Like Paul, Jesus was edgy — the role model of the bold messenger impacting the edges of sinful society. He never stayed confined to a cozy set of traditions. Christians can “preach to the choir” or reach folks who are not part of it. As a storyteller with an edgy agenda, I can, with my own stories, come alongside those who are hurting in our increasingly secularized world and offer, through the lives of my characters, new choices of real-life Christianity lived out.
As for those 65-75 percent of Americans who ignore movies, radio, music and books with a Christ-centered heart, I mourn how much they’re missing out. No longer do I want them left out in the cold like indifferent bystanders on the sidelines of the championship game on the field. Let’s renew our kinship with the 2/3rds to 3/4ths of our neighbors and coworkers and friends who are missing out on opportunities to experience the Presence and Power of Jesus in their lives. Let’s be avenues (and even billboards sometimes) of a movement toward change. Enough passivity and inertia.
No longer can we remain just talking to ourselves. Jesus and Paul were word-warriors, and so shall I be.
How about you? Will you be edgy, too?
To learn more about “edgy”, check out my blog post, Why I Write Edgy Christian Fiction, http://jzhowardbooks.com/why-i-write-edgy-christian-fiction.
*For more statistics, see Christian Media: Talking Mostly To Ourselves, by Donald L. Hughes, http://www.christianwritingtoday.com/christian-media-talking-mostly-to-ourselves